What do we mean by design?

This research builds on a working definition of design that encompasses complex systems and participatory processes– its not just about shiny designed objects and glossy images. We began by considering three categories of design, traversing different fields from communication to fashion to environmental design and defined by innovative theoretical developments. Adversarial design (Di Salvo, 2012) considers how means and forms of design are fundamental to democracy in their capacity to question and contest the political and social status quo, beliefs and values. In an Indonesian context, this could include the design of an online platform to expose corrupt politicians, such as ‘korupedia’ ((http://korupedia.org/), the map produced by the Jakarta design group AirPutih (Crosby and Nikholas 2012).

Secondly, Citizen Design is used to explore design produced by citizens who are not professional designers, drawing from the concept of ‘citizen media’ (Rodriguez, 2010). Citizen design is related to the field of participatory design, where designers and users work together. I define citizens’ design as practice where people enact their political subjectivities by producing and enacting design interventions. In an Indonesian context, this could include the work done by Salatiga design group Sapu and Festival Mata Air to include local communities in researching and mapping the privatisation of water sources.

Open Design (Van Abel, Evers, Klaassen and Troxler 2011) borrows its definition – and at times technologies – from open source software design, to advocate the production of design objects based on fluid and shared circulation of design information. Open Design deploys sustainable strategies that blur the distinction between designer and user, between computational technologies and product design, encouraging the rise of ‘users makers’ and ‘makers culture’. A clear example of this category in Indonesia is the work done by self-proclaimed design hackers Life Patch, located in Yogyakarta. These three categories are useful for understanding design innovation in the areas of sustainability and democracy, but they have not previously been tested in a diverse range of local contexts, and rarely beyond the geographical scope of Europe and North America. The focus of my project on Indonesia offers an opportunity to test these categories and to build on the contribution they make to the field of Design History and Theory.

In addition to building on these categories, Luke has raised the idea of ‘design in the public interest’ as a possible way to think about the design as an action people take that impacts on our societies and biospheres. For Luke, this practice comes from experience designing and building ‘civic tech’ and independent journalism. Like citizen design, this distinction of something being ‘in the public interest’ comes from journalism. Since both journalism and design are both so morally fraught as professions and practices, this might be a useful way to think about design collaborations. Luke mentions Victor Papanek’s Design for the real world, human ecology and social change (1972) and C. Wright. Mills’ The Sociological Imagination (1959) as two texts that explore the responsibility designers to act in the interest of others.

Crosby, A. and Nikholas, Y. 2012, ‘No room for broken promises in an online Indonesia’ Global Information Society Watch, APC and Hivos.

Di Salvo, C., 2012. Adversarial Design, Cambridge MASS and London: The MIT Press. Evers, L. et al., 2011. Open design now: why design cannot remain exclusive, Amsterdam: BIS Publishers. Hagel III, J.

Rodriguez, C., 2010. Citizen Media. In J. Downing, ed. 2 The Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media. London: Sage, pp. 98–103.

Van Abel, B., Evers, L., Troxler, P., & Klaassen, R. 2014. Open design now: Why design cannot remain exclusive. BIS Publishers.

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