Seeking stronger plurality: Intimacy and integrity in designing for social innovation
Authors: Yoko Akama, Joyce Yee
A seminal post-colonial scholar, Deborah Bird Rose (2004, 154) exclaims, ‘the west collectively is the leader; it is closest to the future, and the rest of the world follows along behind’. Similarly, Design and Social Innovation is largely populated by case studies in Europe and the US, further reinforcing global hierarchies and certain paradigms. We speak to this politics and dominance from the periphery and share early insights from two international symposia on Design and Social Innovation in Asia-Pacific (DESIAP) to highlight the importance of exchanging ideas in various directions. We use Kasulis’ (2002) heuristic of integrity to frame design that emphasizes rational, impersonal, discrete, externalised principles and models, in contrast to intimacy that starts from an interrelated view of designing that cannot be disentangled from the ecological, relational, intimate contexts in which it is performed. Using integrity and intimacy in our analysis, we heard practitioners undertaking community-led change speak of empathy, humility, respect, trust and emotional resonance that enhances the intimacy between entities already interrelated, embedded in contextual specificities. These cannot be abstracted by a model or a method for scaling or replication elsewhere, often desired in the dominant, integrity view of design. When relationships are foundational and heterogeneity is a contemporary context of designing with communities, we propose that the intimacy orientation can help shift from a weak form of pluralism towards a stronger one, and bring attention to cultural, emotional and relational entanglements that are integral to Design and Social Innovation – to work with, and through difference.