Ezio Manzini        5.04.2017

We are in difficult and dangerous times. For many years, we lived in a world that, despite its problems, was nevertheless committed to principles of democracy in which human rights, fundamental freedoms, and opportunities for personal development, were increasing. Today, this picture has changed profoundly. There are attacks on democracy in several countries – including those where democracy had seemed to be unshakable. Faced by these developments, we believe the design community should take a stand, speak out, and act: practitioners, researchers, theorists, students, journalists, publishers and curators – all who are professionally involved in design-related activities”.

This is the beginning of the Open Letter Victor Margolin and I sent to the Design Community and which the DESIS International Coordination Committee decided to receive and promote in different ways (see the Open Letter and Carla Cipolla’s statement).

I know that this topic is a sensitive one: in different contexts it has different significance, different interpretations and different political implications. However, I think that the whole design community and, in particular, those who are working on social innovation cannot and should not avoid discussing it.  To trigger this discussion, I propose a possible map of what design experts can do at the crossroads of democracy and design.

Starting from Victor Margolin’s proposal of 5 years ago (Design and Democracy in a Troubled World, Conference given at School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University, April 11, 2012), and after a recent discussion with him and with some other colleagues, I propose here four main domains, which include initiatives ranging from the most direct, professional ones, to those in which design experts help to create a better environment and enrich it with democratic content.

  •  Design of democracy: It addresses the structural elements that function as frames and regulators of human action in a democratic system. It focuses on institutions (as: branches of government, agencies, bureaus, courts, and offices) and procedures (such as: laws, regulations, rules, and protocols).
  • Design for democracy: it increases the opportunities for citizens to participate in deliberative processes. It focuses on transparency (which enables citizens to be aware of the on-going process of governance) and deliberative methods (which means the opportunity to be better involved in decision making processes).
  • Design as democracy: it sets a stage on which diverse actors can come together and democratically collaborate in shaping their present and future world. It engages diverse people and publics in co-design and co-production processes concerning different aspects of their everyday life.
  •  Design in democracy: It refers to all the design initiatives that are particularly responsive to the goals of democracy. It may deal with the provision of human rights, and fundamental freedoms (such as access to food, shelter, health care, and education) and, more in general, with the transition towards a more resilient, fair and sustainable society.

What do you think? Please, send some feedback and, if you like, respond to Victor’s and my Open Letter by writing a statement with your personal views and organizing a related initiative.

If you do so, please send your statement and the information on the initiative you intend to organize to DDP: the Democracy Design Platform (DDP has been jointly realized and managed by Design Policy Lab, Density Design and DESIS Lab of the Design Department – Politecnico di Milano. You will find further information about DPP and instruction on how to use it here alongside).