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Politics of Design

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

To design is to devise courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” Simon’s oft-quoted definition begs the question, who gets to decide what is a preferred situation? Design shapes more than just products, services, and experiences. 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 which inherently reifies discrimination by masking the biases of designers and co-creators. The empathic designer still possesses their own history, politics, and intentions that color the orientation of that empathy. This course will explore the interrelationship of the politics of design across individuals, practices, organizations, institutions, and systems. By politics, we mean political beliefs, actions, practices, and policies as well as the arrangements of power and authority between actors (human and non-human) in society, not whether you identify as Republican or Democrat. How do design and designers intersect with social and cultural sources of power and authority? How do design decisions affect the distribution of resources and opportunities? How do design and designers extend practices of oppression and exploitation? How might design and designers create for a just world? How might we ethically and responsibly engage with design and this power?

Learning Objectives
Through readings, discussion, and design activities, we will examine how design exerts politics through its creation of “preferred situations.”

Enrollment Restrictions
No prerequisites. This course is open to all Institute of Design students.