What is social design, really?

Just met Liam Healy who’s a graduate of Goldsmiths (just like I’ll be next year!)

This is his website.

Had a good conversation about social/service design. I haven’t got my head around what makes service design any different to a normal service, but through my conversation with him and Adriana Paice, I’ve got a better handle on it. It’s really just about how you frame it with words. Adriana said that service design is more rooted in the community than commercially driven, which is sounds right but I don’t think it will stay that way. Liam said it’s also where the money comes from. But ultimately it’s how you choose to describe it. You have to get the lingo together. Liam calls his work ‘trans-disciplinary’ – that’s what I’m talking about. Making up your own terms to describe what you do. Nobody really understands you apart from a small circle of people. If you explain it in terms of ‘I make stuff’ (even if it’s a system) then people won’t push you too much and leave it at that, but I don’t know… you see I’m still not really confident about this issue. I just feel a bit silly calling the Adopt-a-Grandma project a design project sometimes, although Goldsmiths people would call it that.

Liam called it problem-finding, which is a phrase I quite like now that I know what it means. With a design proposal for a complex problem, you’re not sure if it’s going to work, so it’s not really problem-solving. It’s in your head – who knows if it’s going to work? So you try it out, and it’s a sort of research to see how people react to it – and you find new problems through trying to solve one problem. More issues are uncovered. So some design projects are a way of uncovering issues.

For example, Jimmy Loizeau’s spy tooth isn’t real but was advertised as real so that people would believe that the technology is possible. Through their reactions to it, we’ve been able to find out about what people think about this sort of controversial issue. Although now I think about it, it’s not that controversial… is it? Anyway, it’s an interesting thing to talk about, and makes you wonder what else they can do with technology. (They being my fellow designers and perhaps one day me!)


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One response to “What is social design, really?

  1. Pingback: Critical Design | Design Inspiration

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