A conversation proposed for DRS2014 in Umeå
by Philippe Gauthier, Alain Findeli and design ∩ société


  • The recent cross-breeding between design and social innovation and the discussions it raises about the adequacy and real benefit of design in the search for answers to our political and social problems, sparks some interesting debates about what is the characteristic intention of design, what can be meant by social, and what it is to innovate. What is so social about design, anyway ? How can we link local design innovations, that does have the potential to rearrange, at least for a short while, the relations between members of a community and between them and their institutions, with the large, systemic transformations that shaped our modernity : democracy, feminism, worker’s right, wellfarism, etc. ? Or maybe, instead of focussing on the effect, large or small, of social innovation, we should consider the intentions of its agents. Indeed, designers are frequent social entrepreneurs, and in that sense, should be counted as such. But do we know better what is so social about social entrepreneurship ? If it seems unclear to pinpoint what is so social about design from those two perspectives, we should maybe try to reflect about what it is to innovate socially. We propose to consider social innovation as an act that resorts from a critical engagement. That is also what design is. To transform one’s world into a preferred one, one has to engage himself into a disqualification of some state of affair deemed unsatisfying. To innovate socially is to try to transform this moment of critic into new capabilities with respect to human flourishing. That is also what design is. Transforming one’s world is an act of emancipation. (à suivre)

  • [Vieille version]
    In these discussions, design seems differently qualified depending on which of two topics the focus is put on. Whereas some will look at the methods and tools made available through the design approach, others will mainly give attention to the very nature of the intention pursued by designers. The first topic usually tends to present design as a beneficial ally for social and political innovation. It encompasses the emancipatory capacity of design as it taps on narrative imagination diffused in communities to foster new worlds.

    The second seems more problematic as it often points to incompatibilities between that for the sake of what design is engaged (the internal good of design, as Alasdair MacIntyre would put it), and the foundamental project of social innovation. But is design really a practice that bears his own good ? And if so, what are the critical capacities that this good provides, and that could engage a truthfull emancipatory mouvement in a community ?

    This conversation aims at analysing the often heard claim that design would be a mean of citizen empowerment and democratic renovation.


The discussion will be organised as a design critic, considering that such moments of critics represent one of the most common situation to see design being theorized.

A call for posters will be launch during the winter to gather a certain amount of cases of social design projects. The posters will serve as support for illustrating arguments about the adequacy of design as a sound socio-critical practice.

By mixing the discourses of practitioners of design, and of social design, with discourses based in humanities, our goal is to see the shaping of a « critic of the critics » that could foster a better understanding of the social capacities of the design practice

The discussion will be organised as a design critic, considering that such moments of critics represent one of the most common situation to see design being theorized.

EXPECTED PARTICIPANTS (invitation being launch or launched, any proposition welcome)

    • Otto Scharmer
    • Stéphane Vincent/Romain Thévenet (La 27e Région)
    • Derek Miller (UNIDIR)
    • John Thackara (Doors of perception)
    • Goeff Mulgan (The Young Foundation)
    • Nina Eliasoph
    • Stéphane Vial
    • Bernard Stiegler
    • Tony Fry
    • Ferran Sagarra


  1. L’idée à intégrer : tenter de déployer le thème dans le temps, sur deux ou trois phases de rencontre.

    1er phase : DRS Umeå : convier des directeurs de programme de formation explicitement en design social (Alain Findeli, Rudi Baur, quelqu’un de Aalto, OCAD (?), et d’autres) à une séance de critique de projets de design social obtenus par un appel à affiches.

    2e phase : ARD Montreal : construire la critique de la critique.

  2. On pourrait pousser l’expérience un plus loin encore en organisant une vrai séance critique. Les affiches c’est pas mal, mais c’est définitivement moins représentatif de la dynamique de la séance de critique. On se sens on pourrait penser, mais c’est plus complexe comme organisation et surtout plus couteux, d’organiser une séance de critique où des étudiants de différents programmes viendraient présenter leurs projets. Ensuite les responsables, intervenants, des programmes commentent en tant qu’expert comme ils le font en atelier. Enfin, dans un deuxième temps les participants des sciences sociales et les théoriciens du design pourraient, après avoir tenu le rôle d’observateur, tenir une table ronde sur la critique.

Répondre à Sebastien Proulx Annuler la réponse

Votre adresse courriel ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *