A personal introduction: Why “Beyond Projects”?
This research stems from my practice-based experience as a design researcher and social designer. This experience includes founding De Voorkamer in Utrecht, working as a researcher at STBY, and collaborating independently with organisations and programmes such as What If Lab, What Design Can Do, Social Design Police, and BAK. I’ve had the opportunity to be part of highly collaborative design labs and challenges.
While working with and within these different professional environments, I have encountered many cases where collaborative design projects for social challenges do not achieve their full potential. They are either not fully implemented, or they fail to achieve continuity. Although much attention has been given to research, co-creation and process guidance in many of these collaborative experimental structures, many promising design proposals remain on the shelf at the end of the research and development phase.
These projects, and their shortcomings in terms of implementation and/or continuity, invite the following questions:
Who is responsible, able, and/or motivated to realise these ideas?
Is it the role of the org asking the question — often a public organisation — to implement design solutions?
Should designers start a new organisation to implement each of their proposals?
Can non-profit social organisations implement ideas developed by designers?
No matter how collaborative the design process was in each of these initiatives, it was difficult to ensure before and during the conception phase that the results had the right place to ‘land’. In many cases, the main value remains in the collaborative process of developing the concept rather than in the following phases — when the project begins to live in the social world.
I believe in the contribution design can make to socially urgent issues. But it is essential to acknowledge that our field is facing critical challenges that must be addressed. How do we understand the value of social design? Why do many social design projects remain a short-term intervention? How can we go beyond the symbolic enactment of promising ideas? Which attitudes, methodologies, and infrastructures are needed to bridge some barriers to the long-term continuation of design for society?
These questions are crucial for the creative sector, which is now being taken seriously for its contribution to positive social change. With this essay, the culmination of a year’s research ↗, I hope to contribute to the dialogue around implementation and the maturation of the social design field.