The emergence of social media and the networked society, as exemplified by [but not limited to] The Internet of Things [Ashton, 1999], generates enormous potentials that reposition design as a means to synthesize emerging social complexities into new constellations. These have the capacity to foster new social forms and social design as a knowledge field in its own right.
One of the ways design in this context becomes reconfigured is as the dynamic interconnections of people, practices and artifacts, in which the interactions lead to relational rather than objectified forms of design. Such approaches tend to be process driven rather than outcome based, and activate design’s potential within both knowledge generation and knowledge transfer processes – that can be understood as ‘information’ or as design before design and design after design. This provides pathways for innovation in the development of new processes, systems, networked and relational outcomes. Changes in social systems therefore evolve the ways design develops towards these forms of knowledge, utilising collaborative processes and cross-disciplinary practices [Sanders & Stappers, 2008]. As design disciplines and design schools seek ways to respond to broader social changes, there is a need for new a research praxis to engage design processes in social contexts to contextualise, codify and define this emerging praxis as Design Social.
As a case in point, participatory design, and the related fields of co-design and co-creation, employ methodologies that involve users and stakeholders within the design process as an iterative process of design development [Koskinen & Hush, 2016, Krivy & Kaminer, 2013]. Used in diverse ways in a broad spectrum of design fields, variations such as participatory planning have become a relatively normal part of urban planning for instance where social or collective actions have a determining influence on public spaces and amenities, whilst participatory design often engages end users and stakeholders within the process. Often misconstrued as purely design approach, participatory design is in fact a “rigorous research methodology” [Spinuzzi, 2005] involving a complex system of knowledge generation and co-design processes where the interactions of people, design artifacts, technologies, practices [activism] and knowledge, steers a course between participants’ tacit knowledge and the designer-researchers analytical or technical knowledge. Whilst criticisms have been drawn on the positivistic and sometimes simplistic nature of participatory design leading to lowest consensual outcomes, a current tendency shifts emphasis from the user as a ‘carrier of needs and problems’ to an active ‘non-design expert’ with local knowledge, skills, organisational capabilities and entrepreneurship. In this process the designer-researchers roles become facilitators of specific design knowledge transfer processes. Leading to the reformulation in which design is understood as a contextual practice engaging the social working “in an economy of reciprocity” [Janzer & Weinstein, 2014], generating design-research processes aimed at social innovation. The inherent social enterprise and knowledge transfer processes can become strategic directives and motivation able to instigate and drive larger social changes through design and lead to paradigm shifts in the silo-like definitions of conventional design practice. An extended definition of participatory design can therefore be as a “constellation of design initiatives aiming at the construction of socio-material assemblies where social innovation can take place.” [Manzini & Rizzo, 2011]. Design in this context is a complex mesh of tangible and intangible factors, [anti] social forms and networks, information, contexts and people, able to frame design processes and praxis that are adaptable for inter-disciplinary collaboration [horizontal]; and for user and designer collaboration [vertical]. Moreover, this allows for the engagement of a wide range of different sectors, groups, stakeholders in dynamic communities of practice that can lead design beyond its mere capabilities of synthesis into new forms of a social design praxis whereby design is co-dependent on synthesis as well as analytic practices.
Issue Editors: Peter Hasdell & Gerhard Bruyns