In a short, but intens, periode of time five Master students at St Joost defined what social design implies for them on a personal level and for designers and design students in general. Read their manifest here.
Proclaiming yourself to be a Social Designer is one thing, actually being one is another. A Social Designer should always aim to define his or her moral levels first. So what do you believe in? What do you want to do? These are very important questions Social Designers need to ask themselves. By keeping focus on the intentions (i.e. ‘what do I want to achieve with this project?’) a Social Designer will be able to come up with a design that promotes more than just “showing the Designer helping a fellow man” but actually adds something to other people’s lives too by improving on their skill set, their living conditions or their interests (i.e. their lives in general). All of which is done by reaching out (there) and exchanging knowledge with the people involved in the project. As Charles Leadbeater states: ‘You are what you share’.
Social Design can never be commercially oriented. Being commercial means a certain person or party has an interest to gain something from another person or party. Social Design is not based on commercial interest but focuses on improving people’s lives and expanding their horizons by the concept of sharing and creating a fertile ground for the people involved to grow on. Social Design itself is self initiated and sponsored/funded by the Social Designer, the people involved, and (whenever possible) the government by different means. This can be done by monetary means but also by e.g. providing a project space to work in or by making tools available for everybody to work with.
There’s however one common misconception and that’s that Social Design is always a good thing and therefore could be considered the utopian way of designing. Sadly this is not true. The intentions of the Social Designer may be good but as Metahaven tells us: ‘It would be naïve to assume that a social design is always good, just because social processes are always good. Neither is true. Social design can be used to ends as good, or bad, as the social processes it reflects.’
Therefore a Social Designer should always keep in mind when asking the important question: ‘What want I to achieve with this project?’ that the answer to this question always excludes other possibilities which in turn result in “exclusion”. This may not be deliberate but should always be thought over and considered.
With this in mind we can come up with a set of conditions that make Social Design ‘social’:
- Begin anywhere or begin somewhere. A project can and should emerge out of personal interests and beliefs. Find an inspirational context and connect with people that share common goals and not necessarily common views on the matter.
- Social Design is about working with people, and everything that goes with that. So be ready to let go of controlled plans, don’t be afraid of the apparent chaos and recheck your views as the project evolves.
- Social Design offers facilities that promote and expand on the networking capabilities of the people involved (both on- and offline).
- Social Design should actively aim to be outreaching to outsiders, looking to expand itself by tapping into new disciplines, sectors, skills and knowledge.
- Everybody should be able to tap into the project. There should be no ‘job offer’-like situations involved (i.e. Social Design should look in all directions: 360 degrees involvement: bottom up + top-down + sideways).
- Active participation in Social Design is required at all times from everybody involved.
- Social Design should look to build an active community around it’s projects.
With these conditions set out we have defined for ourselves what Social Design actually is and what it’s not. However there’s one really important thing we forgot to mention and that’s, like most thing in life, to have FUN doing it.
Bas van Haren
Ka Yuk Tong