Design for Public Engagement

April 10, 2013 Leave a comment
Not my job

|Image by Andy Mangold||

In his post yesterday, Seth Godin offers up sage advice for designers of all kinds, including “social architects” like ourselves who are aiming to create convenings and collaborative processes that bring out the best in people and lead to greater social justice and regenerativity.  Among his points:

  • “Who gets left out is the most important question.”  In our convenings and social change processes, we can certainly overlook inviting key participants, unusual suspects, unheard voices.  And even when we have diverse gatherings, we can privilege certain people through our chosen methods of engagement- all spoken methods that privilege the extroverts, all written materials that privilege the literate, all PowerPoint presentation that privileges only those with incredible stamina, only speaking to English-speaker, including only “token” representation from under-privileged groups, etc.  Inclusion is not just about getting folk to the table, it’s about selecting methods that appeal to a broad array of proclivities and create more equitable opportunities for participation and development.
  • “Great design tells a story.”  And I would add to this point that it tells a story that aligns with our intentions.  Another way of putting this is the systems thinking adage “Structure is purpose with design.”  How we design and facilitate experiences for and with people speaks loudly about how we view them and our greater aspirations.  Often we can be saying one thing while undermining that with our chosen methods.  It reminds me of the cartoon that shows a teacher in front of her class saying, “This class will spark your interest and imagination.  Now close your mouths and open your books to page 12.”  What story are you telling with your chosen processes?
  • “It’s design that improves the experience for the public that is the best public design.” Indeed, and this means creating holistic experiences that tap our full human potential including our multiple intelligences as expressed in intellect, body, and spirit.  And it is good to be nuanced about who “the public” is.  This takes us to a question that is somewhat of a hybrid of the two points above – Whose experience is being improved and to what larger end?

Thanks, Seth, for continuing to show us how considering design is everyone’s job.

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