Design for Social Value: Design and Ideology

Faculty: Rachel Abrams




Design Ideologies is a 7-week seminar class in which students explore the underlying social and political narratives and agendas that organize and impose design constraints on the products and services that shape our everyday lives. Through readings, discussions, in-class exercises and collaborative assignments, students will sharpen their critical faculties as they interpret the built environment (in physical and digital space) that most of us take for granted. 



Design Ideologies will draw the students’ attention to design as a form of social intervention, an act of individual agency, from a given stance (whether implicit or explicit), an inherently political undertaking. The aim of introducing some basic ‘-isms’ to the students is to give them a sense of the social, political and economic contexts in which design activity takes place, the dystopian and optimistic stories we tell ourselves about what is good, bad, worthwhile, transformative, disruptive. By the end of class, students will be attuned to these ‘scapes’ so that the new experiences they conceive next might reflect this new awareness.



Through talks, group discussions, individual and group exercises and assignments, students will become aware of their own stance as they give form to a particular social-political narrative, be able to read that of clients and other seminal designers, all serving specific agendas. Once we’ve mapped a few of these, we will identify some key themes, methods and tools and rehearse them against a brief for a short project, for completion in small groups for presentation in week 7. 



Students in this course will come away with a set of tools to:

  • Appreciate the implicit social and political narratives embedded in familiar designed products and services
  • Understand what it means to design with intention, from a specific, stated stance
  • Become literate in one or more of these ideologies
  • Prototype and present a design concept that makes one of these narratives legible, explicit
  • Appreciate the potential of taking this critical approach to designing new experiences, to generate new possibilities, whether to reinforce or subvert the underlying narratives identified.