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Politics of Design

Politics of Design

An overview of how designs and design activities exert political agency.

Designers constantly make choices about which users to privilege and which will have to do more work…the point is that these decisions need to be made explicit.
—Sasha Costanza-Chock

Objective & Outcomes

During this course, students will explore the interrelationship of the politics of design across individuals, practices, and policies and the arrangements of power and authority between actors (human and non-human) in society. To design is to perform an ideological and political act that has the power to fundamentally shape societies and systems. And yet, design utilizes methodologies that possess an illusion of neutrality situated outside of a societal or systemic context. Students will explore topics such as how design decisions affect the distribution of resources and opportunities and how designers might create a just world.

Upon completing the course, students will be able to understand their own identities as nested within many other ideologies and systems. Through a practice of self-reflexivity as a designer and co-creator, they will be able to evaluate and challenge how design exerts politics and power through its creation of “preferred situations.”

Typical Schedule

  • Session 1: Introduction
  • Session 2: Sense Making: How do we make sense of inequities that lead to power asymmetries?
  • Session 3: Meaning Making: How do the methodologies of design shape power relations?
  • Session 4: Choice Making: What decisions can designers make by clarifying affordances?
  • Session 5: Value making: Where can designers challenge biases and redirect power asymmetries?
  • Session 6: Impact Making: How might prioritizing justice work to counter oppression?
  • Session 7: Final Critique