Scott Boylston reveals how designers can use the Social Design Pathways matrix to clarify the scale of engagement and the range of expertise of designers working in social innovation.
- It's time to think back to when we explored the differences between green design, eco design, sustainable product design, design for sustainability and transformative design. The last two categories, as you may remember, describe design frameworks that grapple with all four domains of design discussed in that video. Symbolic and visual communication, design of material objects, design of activities and organized services and design of complex systems or environments. There are, in fact, many names that describe this kind of design.
Social design, design for social impact, public interest design and transition design, are just a few of the terms you'll hear. The social design pathways matrix was created by the Winterhouse Institute to help designers better understand the relative value of different design solutions in the social innovation arena. The matrix defines design initiatives along two axis, range of expertise and scale of engagement. Examples of how the tool can be used can be found on the website, socialdesignpathways.com.
Its true strength, in my opinion, is in helping designers compare the impact of different design strategies to clarify their ultimate intentions and to join, or convene, the appropriate mix of disciplines for the challenge at hand. It also helps designers clarify the skill sets they bring into multi-stakeholder initiatives. As an example, let's say the design task is focused on creating healthy and social lifestyles for people living in a city. Starting in the lower left quadrant, the focus of design is simple.
A single artifact designed by individuals within the same discipline. A park bench, for instance, designed by furniture designers to provide citizens with a public place to rest after physical activity. Moving to the right along the X axis, the level of engagement, or the collaborative breadth of the project, expands. In an interdisciplinary endeavor, the design team might be comprised of landscape architects, physical therapists and furniture designers, with each discipline bringing different research tools, resources and mindsets.
Solutions from this group can include walking paths, flower gardens, and yes, even a bench or two. This kind of collaboration leads to solutions that move beyond the lower left quadrant along the Y axis and opportunities develop into more systems-based solutions. The last quadrant on the right defines an even broader collaborative effort. Perhaps with city planners, public policy professionals and social workers. Solutions go beyond facilitating physical activity in traditional places like parks, and address issues of economic inclusion by replacing car lanes with bike lanes, for instance, and developing bike share programs that might benefit Medicaid recipients.
When solutions reach this level of systems intervention, they impact our way of thinking in an all encompassing manner. Healthy and social lifestyles are not constrained to expected geographical locations or groups of people. Instead, they branch beyond typical boundaries and impact cultural attitudes of entire cities, thus addressing the uppermost level on the Y axis. A key insight, exemplified by this diagonal line, is that the more designers step out of their comfort zone to work with people unlike them, the more likely their work can contribute to larger scale change.
The other boxes reveal different ways designers work with different levels of focus. As one example, moving vertically along the left edge, an individual designer will be forced to think differently by asking questions about how their designs can trigger larger changes in the ways people think or behave. The four domains of design that Buchanan identified, by the way, loosely align with the quadrants in the matrix, and a point should be made here, that there is no hierarchy in terms of which kinds of design interventions are more important than others.
The emphasis is on always being aware that it's the inner dependence between them all that makes the quality of the whole dependent on a quality of the smaller parts, and vice versa. Some of my classes in the Design for Sustainability program at SCAD, use this tool to prioritize their brainstorming results. After distilling insights from their secondary and primary research, they brainstorm extensively. Then they place those ideas onto the matrix and the vibrant conversations that follow lead to new insights about how different solutions work on different levels and how they can result in second and third phase solutions that ripple positively through the community.
No matter how you use the social design pathways matrix, it will help you better understand the complex social dynamics that you, as a designer, are attempting to address in social innovation work. And if you share it with a community as a sketching tool, you'll be surprised at how quickly community members can direct their own creative thinking towards holistic solutions with long-term impact. Over the course of the next few videos, I encourage you to imagine using this tool to help you clarify some of the key points discussed.
- What is sustainability?
- Sustainable development goals
- Nature as a mentor
- Changing behavior through design
- Innovating technically
- Earning sustainability certifications
- Social innovation and change