A Method in Politics
1. Within the current landscape of toolkits, literature and conferences on design for social innovation, humanitarian design, or social design—I will stick to the short ‘social design’ here—two terms from its lexicon have been instrumental in its rapid global adoption: design methods and design thinking. No toolkit, book, lecture or workshop opens without a clarification or homage to these two terms. One cannot (presumably) practice social design without clearing them. Some examples of this include IDEO’s toolkit Design For Social Impact Toolkit (2008) and Nesta’s Design, Impact and You Toolkit, books such as Andrew Shea’s Designing for Social Change (2012) and most recently, Ezio Manzini’s Design When Everybody Designs (2015), and also conferences like Big Think, A Better World By Design.
The first generation of design methods were developed in the 1960s with the explicit aim of externalizing and formalizing the design process, demystifying what had hitherto been considered as a largely black boxed process1, and opening it up so that other stakeholders could be involved in the design process.
A Politics in Method
After almost a year of trying to persuade sceptical institutions still rooted in a craft-centered, product-driven, expert design approach to develop a practice incorporating field research, we were finally given the green light by the Liberal Arts department to teach a methods course at my old alma mater, the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, one of the more elite private design schools in Karachi. My colleagues and I had selected a site which would be used as an object of study: Karachi’s Civil Hospital, a venerable public institution established in 1898. Over the course of the semester we were to lead undergraduate students through the basics of designing research for complex systems.
Essay originally published in Modes of Criticism 2 – Critique of Method (2016).