Design for Social Value: Design and Politics

Faculty: Manuel Toscano and Natalie Balthrop




The systems that shape our society have been built incrementally over time and have evolved to serve myriad agendas: cultural, social, economic, political. Incremental change makes long-term impact difficult to anticipate as changing one part can unexpectedly change the system as a whole. Political forces in particular play a significant role in the development of these systems and political interest outweighs that of the individual. This directly impacts our society resulting in invisible and visible constraints on services and limited individual engagement and access.

Throughout this three-week course we will explore a specific area of civil society and identify where and how it is falling short for those it is intended to serve. From this discovery, we will develop design interventions and solutions that explore how to circumvent and alleviate the design constraints that are politically motivated.

Past courses have explored two highly politicized arenas: healthcare and the electoral process.


Course Objectives:

Students are encouraged to think critically how political forces shape the environments they are designing for. This requires not only challenging assumptions and identifying specific constraints, but also the understanding of the forces that shape the political discourse and the legislative process. This course will challenge students to conduct small-scale interventions, rapidly prototype ideas, and quickly iterate based on feedback.


Class Experience:

This course combines a studio experience with a workshop model and research. Students will conduct research and think critically through a process of system mapping, concept development, and prototyping. Students will work in teams and be responsible for contributing to in-class discussions and developing presentations to explain findings and concepts. This is a discovery and process-focused course that places more emphasis on concept development than finished product.


Course Deliverables:

Students will be responsible for presenting their teams’ design interventions at various points throughout the course. Critique and comments from classmates will drive later iterations of the concept and inform the final presentation. Each team will be responsible for submitting a final presentation that includes research and explanation of concept.