Design Activism and Design Justice


“Participation emancipates people by making them active contributors rather than passive recipients. It is therefore a form of design humanism aimed at reducing domination.” Alastair Fuad-Luke

…if you don’t recognize that design can also be strategic you cannot imagine that design can play an important role in triggering, supporting and scaling-up social innovation. Ezio Manzini

Democratising design is a political act. Co-design done well has profound impact of the system it is in. For that reason it is an approach to design activism. To define ‘Design activism’ it is a for-purpose movement that uses design to create social impact. It became official the 90’s when social design and service design first emerged from Politecnico di Milano. Before that all we had as professional was eccentric gurus like Victor Papanek and Buckminister Fuller or artists like Emory Douglas.

Illustration of buckminister fuller, emory douglas, victor papanek

I’m not sure if there are folks officially called ‘Design activists’ but the big names for popularising the term design activism were Ezio Manzini and Alastair Fuad-Luke. They strove to redesigning services and systems for sustainability advocating for openness, collaboration and co-design with communities to make change real.

Fuad-Luke’s Design Activism highlights how co-design is different to other practices, while Manzini’s Design, When Everybody Designs describes how to facilitate inclusion in the design process.

Picking up from that the Design Justice Network has been doing some great work in this space. Their angle? Well…

Design mediates so much of our realities and has tremendous impact on our lives, yet very few of us participate in design processes. In particular, the people who are most adversely affected by design decisions — about visual culture, new technologies, the planning of our communities, or the structure of our political and economic systems — tend to have the least influence on those decisions and how they are made.

Key concepts, tools and techniques: Citizen’s assemblies, Emancipatory researchSocial Action skillsPower mappingStorytelling, Theory of changeThe Design Activist’s Handbook: How to Change the World (Or at Least Your Part of It) with Socially Conscious Design, Design for the Real WorldDesign Justice NetworkDecolonising Design

? Read more

  1. Design Activism – Beautiful Strangeness for a Sustainable World by Alastair Fuad-Luke
  2. Sustainable Everyday – Scenarios of urban life by DESIS network with Ezio Mazini
  3. Design as Activism: to resist or to generate? by Ann Thorpe

? Watch

Illustration of ezio manzini, alistair fuad-luke, sasha costanza-chock and dori turnstall