Social design is design, that is mindful of the designer’s role and responsibility in society; and the use of the design process to bring about social change. Social design is also a critical discipline that challenges the pure market-orientedness of conventional design practice, and attempts to see past, into a more inclusive conception of design, in which user groups who are marginalized are also given priority.
Within the design world social design is sometimes defined as a design process that contributes to improving human well-being and livelihood. The agenda of social design is inspired by among others' Victor Papanek’s idea that designers and creative professionals have a responsibility and are able to cause real change in the world through good design. Papanek writes about responsible design. Designers can contribute to designing more ecological products by carefully selecting the materials they use. Papanek also remarks on designing for people's needs rather than their wants. Responsible design includes many directions and one of these is design for the Third World. Designers have responsibility over the choices they make in design processes.
Social design thinking within the design world joins developing human and social capital with new products and processes that are profitable. Profitability and ownership of the processes are the cornerstones of sustainability that underpins human well-being. Another author that contributes to the development of this definition of social design is Victor Margolin. He writes in "The Politics of the Artificial" about the "designer's ability to envision and give form on material and immaterial products that can address human problems on broad scale and contribute to social well-being." This ideology is something that social design is built on. In this view social design is an activity that should not be framed with connotations of charity, aid donations, help etc. It is not voluntary work, but it should be seen as professional contribution that plays a part in local economic development or livelihood. At the same time Social Design also challenges the conventional market model of designing. While traditionally, Design has been approached as a profession that remains strictly answerable to market forces, Social design envisages the possibility of a more distributive conception of surpluses, by ensuring that the benefits of services and systems reach a wider range of user groups who may often fall outside the market system.
Another starting point for outlining social design is strategic thinking of design. Creating policies and implementing them on a civil level. The two poles: tradition and the market economy can, in one of the models for social design, be placed in interaction, rather than in competition, with each other. An author that has to be mentioned here is Jacque Fresco and his Venus Project. He proposes that the future of the social systems needs to be designed by the scientific method. Social design can then be seen as a process that leads to human capabilities that in turn contributes to their well-being. As Amartya Sen writes, poverty is seen as deprivation of capabilities. By focusing on capabilities, rather than e.g. income, Amartya Sen suggests that development within various social aspects of life can contribute to general development. Understanding and using social design processes can contribute to the improvement of livelihood
As social media becomes integrated with live performance, social design has become a term to describe someone who designs how online tools connect to a performance. Just as there are lighting designers, sound designers, set designers, costume designers and video designers - social designers work with a team to complement a production with social media tools and content. In this context, social design is defined as: "The strategic implementation of social media to deepen or broaden the nature of an artistic performance."
Another dimension of social design focuses on designing systems that join the elements of communication, new product development and the environment. It is argued that no single area of design is, by itself, sufficient to drive sustainable social development. What is needed is a system of design, one that encompasses all of the areas of design, towards an open system with multiple, self-adjusting and complementary actors that aim for a vision of a loosely defined common set of goals.
Outside the design world social design appears in a number of professional environments. There are a growing number of artists, especially in Scandinavia, that use the term social design to describe their work, though the work is exhibited within the art world. These are artist like FOS and Superflex. They come out of a tradition of social art that can be led back to the Futurists, the Dadaists and e.g. the German artist Joseph Beuys. In the realm of practice, however, Social design can be rooted more specifically in developing world contexts, within unequal spaces, where design is not merely an attempt at serving the few, but many simultaneously. This approach is particularly taken in the MDes Program in Social Design in Ambedkar University, Delhi, India.
The term social design is also increasingly used to describe design of the social world. This definition implicates a perception of a man-made reality, which consequently can only be changed by humans, and is changed by humans all the time. In this view social design is inescapable, it is there whether people are aware of it or not. The social reality is created as a result of the sum of all our individual actions. There is an emerging discussion of this concept of social design, which encompasses all other definitions of the term.
- The Center for Social Design, at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), is dedicated to demonstrating the value of design in addressing complex social problems and to preparing the next generation of creative changemakers. The Center is home to the first graduate-level, degree-bearing program in social design, the MA in Social Design (MASD), launched in 2011.
- The World Design Research Initiative aka Worldesign, at the University of Art and Design Helsinki. Worldesign aims to explore issues relevant to social, welfare, and responsible design and to generate theory, as well as applicable systems or models. Its members produce exhibitions, workshops, and publications, which work as tools for testing and evaluating different social design applications.
- Architects Arup Associates designed The Druk White Lotus School in the Indian Himalaya along social design principles.
- The University of Applied Arts Vienna has a master's degree dedicated to the challenges within urban social systems and related issues. The master programme is oriented towards graduates from diverse fields of study using transdisciplinary teams. Art in synergy with project-related scientific methods and knowledge is seen as a tool for urban innovation.
- The University of Technology Sydney introduced a Bachelor of Creative Intelligence & Innovation (BCII) degree in 2014 which must be completed in combination with another undergraduate degree. With a strong focus on developing novel solutions for social issues, it enables students "to participate in a future-facing, world-first, transdisciplinary degree that takes multiple perspectives from diverse fields, integrating a range of industry experiences, real-world projects and self-initiated proposals – equipping students to address the complex challenges and untapped opportunities of our times."
- The School of Design Ambedkar University, Delhi, India, offers an MDes in Social Design. The program commenced in 2013 and has been through many iterations. At its core, however, the philosophy of the program is to make design more inclusive, at the level of creation and also at the level of users.
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- among the publications are :
University of Art and Design Helsinki, Working Papers F 31. Potentials: Design in the Field : New Discourse on Craft Development 1-2.Helsinki 2006 (http://www.taik.fi/tutkimus/julkaisut/working_papers.html)
Miettinen, Satu: Designing the Creative Tourism Experience. A Service Design Process with Namibian Crafts People. Publication series of University of Art and Design Helsinki A 81. Doctoral Dissertation. Gummerus kirjapaino oy. Jyväskylä 2007.
Miettinen, Satu (ed.): Design Your Action. Publication series of University of Art and Design Helsinki B 82. Gummerus kirjapaino oy. Jyväskylä 2007.
- award winning Druk White Lotus School Archived 2007-12-24 at the Wayback Machine.
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