Part 3

A draft for a society-centred mindset

Thinking about society

Society Centered Design is not a new idea, far from it, it is the model we’re slowly moving towards. It is the logical evolution of the Human Centered Design approach that redefined our discipline, an approach that actually considered society within its scope but in practice we got a narrower version.

Right now it’s important to discuss it, to put it in the public sphere and build the groundwork before we can even hope to begin adopting it. And as every designer knows, the best way to discuss something is to have a prototype, something tangible to talk about. With this article I aim to draft a proposal of what I believe to be the core of a Society Centered Design mindset.

As I said, I’m not the first one to talk about this idea. I recommend reading IF studio’s Society Centered Design as it provides another perspective on this same issue.

The principles of Society Centered Design

How can a designer approach a project from a society centered perspective? What makes it society centered? Defining some principles helps us better understand a direction.

Above all Society Centered Design is concerned with the common good.

We design actively with the wellbeing of all of society in mind and we put the collective needs over individual interests. This is built upon the idea that what’s good for society is good for all of its members. This is the purpose of Society Centered Design, to fight for the betterment of all of society.

Driving principles

Society Centered Design is Social in nature.

Even though this might seem redundant it is fundamental to be mindful of the fact that our design will operate within a society, defined by a culture that drives behaviours, practices, moral frameworks and that our design will have to respond to the necessities of the whole social system. We are designing for all the people within that system, not just the “final” user.

Society Centered Design is Systemic.

Society is an extremely complex system, full of interdependencies, in constant flux and change that can have unpredictable consequences. Any solution we implement is going to change the original problem condition, creating new issues. Nothing we design is going to be a permanent solution, everything we do is a work in progress and we have to be always looking to understand the interconnectedness of the context and the impacts of our work.

Society Centered Design is, ultimately, Human.

As such it has to take into consideration emotional needs, behaviour and treat individuals with respect and care. Society is not just an abstract entity, so while we might be designing for society we must never forget that society is composed of humans, each of us unique in our own way.


Society Centered Design is Collaborative.

As designers one of our responsibilities is to make people heard and we do this by incorporating them into our design process. If we are designing for society we can’t do it without the people we are designing for. Society Centered Design is all about democratizing design, designers are no longer the owners, the stars but we are here to help people help themselves. Society Centered Design is something we offer, not something we impose.

Society Centered Design is Political.

Designing is a political act. Our work reflects and has an impact on culture and society, whatever we do has ramifications on how we interact with the world. We’re always expressing an ideology through our work, wherever we want or not, so we have to be conscious and make that act one that benefits society, an act that leaves a positive impact.

Society Centered Design is Responsible.

Since our work touches people’s lives, as it impacts the context in which it operates, we can’t ignore the consequences of its existence in the world. As designers and human beings we have a moral imperative to act ethically and to take responsibility for the things we help create.

“You are responsible for what you put into the world. And you are responsible for the effects those things have upon the world.”

— Victor Papanek

Moving forward

These principles describe a way of looking at our work and discipline that is focused on the common good, that aim to bring visibility to its consequences and thus making us aware of the potential for good and evil. Responsibility is an important word, but I believe it is half of the picture, the other half is also the amazing opportunity for designers to unlock Design’s potential to shape our world for the better, to resignify our role in society as something more than just making things pretty. As designers we are cultural producers and that alone sets us as a force for change in society, we just have to own it.

Entries in the series

Designer with a passion for design and culture

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