The best part of teaching is learning what it is that students gain from the course that you’ve offered, and where they have encountered obstacles that could be removed in future iterations.
I have just finished teaching a new course in innovation by design under the title Design Thinking for Social Change. It was new to me in pointing the frame of innovation towards “social change” rather than the commercial opportunities presented by emerging technologies and markets. The student body was also new to me – rather than the design, engineering and business majors I have encountered in the past, this time I met a group of students enrolled in a two year Master of Divinity (M.Div) program at the Pacific School of Religion here in Berkeley.
The third difference from “traditional” design thinking coursework was the content I introducted under the heading of “design consciousness”. I’ve offered some of this material before, but aplified it into the intersection between “social change” and “divinity”.
After completing 5 amazing projects oriented towards social change to benefit historically marginalized and disenfranchiched groups, the students each wrote a short essay reflecting on what design thinking, and design consciousness meant to them, what they learned they might be helpful in their work, and, of course, what they found challenging or obscure. Reading them was my education. I abstracted particularly revealing passages from every essay I received, and offer them below – without attribution to respect student confidentiality.
The Design Wisdom of Design Thinking for Social Change Class of Spring 2021
I learned the true power of intention setting…As a group, we had to continuously take reflective moments to ensure we were still designing with our intention in mind.
The most important thing that I have learned in this course was not settling on the first idea that comes to mind…I learned here that the ideas we threw away were not a waste of our time. They helped us to form a better, more practical idea.
This process also broke us free from preconceived notions…it reminded me how important it is to listen first and do research before designing any program or project.
We don’t expect to have to try over and over again until something is right. We assume we will get it right on the first try and all we have to do is modify. Sometimes we get it completely wrong.…The magic is in the creating.
Each one of us is a jewel in the net. We all reflect one another. What effects one, effects all. Every problem is a problem that belongs to all of us.
Design thinking ironically does not focus on the talking and thinking but rather the doing and action needed to make appropriate change.
Design is in many ways an eschatological tool. Rev. Dr. Rebecca’s framework of radical realized eschatology says that there is no other or better world to come. Instead, we should recognize that we live in a world (and within bodies) that were created in goodness and love, and we have the responsibility to live into that identity in this world here and now.
Design is the tool we can use to reorient our imagination…I imagine each of us as gardeners…It is our responsibility to design the garden we want to live in.
The systems that oppress, marginalize, exploit, and even murder – white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, etc.- were designed. Just as these things were designed, we can design something new…Justice is creative work.
Are the design tools we need really the ones created by white men and popularized within Silicon Valley. As Audre Lord says, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house…The design consciousness we have is often limited because we too are made and exist within oppressive systems…Adrienne Maree Brown’s book Emergent Strategy provides a framework for social change that is rooted in patterns seen in the natural world. Afrofuturism was created and has been utilized as a design tool…as a framework for imagining a world outside of white supremacy.
Maybe soon, someone needs to be tasked with that design challenge of incorporating faith-based beliefs into a corporate environment.
It was so fulfilling to be among a community of like-minded individuals who were working together toward a shared vision.
My covenant with ancestors known and unknown is to ensure that the design processes of which I am a part not only engage impacted communities with a listening heart but promote their active and celebrated creativity as valued contributors/contributions to the process… Transforming the carried, silenced ancestral legacy into inclusive leadership and social change requires the acknowledgment and acceptance of marginalized people as vital, contributing creatives.
My heart ached considering how in our desires and movements to modernize, professionalize, and specialize that we can lose what is core – that we are all indeed designers, creators, and artists. The arts have been placed behind red stanchions and under sealed glass and removed as celebratory and revered in our everyday lives of waking, eating, working, and dreaming.
my commitment is to not only actively listen but also provide space for and “permission” to indulge and “dance” with the co-creator self – not limited or made exclusive by income or status.
The iterative nature of the design process has the potential not only to recenter “humans” in innovation but also to validate and co-reimagine the centeredness of individuals in the creation of our communities and in the remembering our relationship to creation and the Creator.
“Reformed and always reforming.”…constantly seeking to faithfully adapt and respond to a world in which we believe the Spirit of God is still at work.
The need for change and new design is not a failure. It is an inevitability.
I got feedback that gave me clarity on just how badly I need to slow down and simplify…It turns out, just sitting with purpose at its most upper layer is where innovation has the greatest opportunity to happen. Maybe the work of giving form to intention primarily happens here, in a place where there’s really no particular form at all.
I have not had the best experiences with group projects. Unexpectedly, I ended up loving my group and our different personalities made the process much better, and I think contributed to the success of our final project.
…can I participate in and make a significant contribution to human-centered design if I have wrestled with the Divine design of my own humanity?
When we are thinking over social solutions, which could be goods or services, human centered design thinking for social change drives us to change our style from commands to invitations, from laws to ideals, from threats to persuasion…, from coercion to conscience, from monologue to dialogue, from ruling to serving, from withdrawn to integrated, from vertical to horizontal, from exclusion to inclusion, from hostility to friendship, from rivalry to partnership, from suspicion to trust, from static to ongoing, from passive acceptance to active engagement, from fault-finding to appreciation, from prescriptive to principled.
While failure is inevitable…it is perhaps even more important to redefine success altogether.
If we can make ourselves more process focused than outcome focused we can see small efforts that we learn from as successes in and of themselves from the beginning, rather than failures at all. In fact, even “successes” can be improved upon.
We cannot stir up social change without dialogue with people who are different from ourselves.
LOVE is the power embodied in the state of being manifest through radical action, healing individuals, community, environment, and the entire world. This is the design consciousness that I have and the design consciousness that we need.
God is our Divine Creator and as Children of God how can we not think as our heavenly parent relating to design concepts. I now view everything I lay my eyes upon, from marketing campaign ads to apps and automobiles, as something which began with a design concept to foster an environment of social change.
Design thinking has left me with little patience for the idea that some obstacles simply cannot be overcome…This is where design thinking and activism meet.
Our big ideas inspire my hope in design thinking; our ability to act on them informs my despair. The ability to act on one’s big ideas requires education, access to power, a basic level of income, and more…We simply cannot pursue design thinking alone. We must also pursue in equal measure the fulfillment of design justice.
Trust the process. Be inspired, ideate, implement and when in doubt return to the mantra: trust the process.
The human design is the most flawless imperfectly perfect design.
My new mantra for the past few weeks: I am beginning to see what is possible! YES!
The spiral conceptualization of iteration reminds me of adrienne marie brown’s explanation of fractals…Like fractals, the patterns we create at a small scale have repercussions in our society at large. By implementing iteration into workshop development, we transform the idea grounded in white supremacy and capitalism that there is only one opportunity to find the “right” solution.
By becoming friends with the ambiguity, we were able to trust our ability to think on our feet and respond to the needs of the moment.
“Stop and look.” Is it the voice of the Divine? I don’t know, but I do understand that this is the sacred invitation given to all of us, and especially to those of us who would deem ourselves called to be “making things better” in the world.
Audacious courage is indicative of a Womanist’s tendency toward action in order to create justice and “wholeness” in a world where oppression fractures communities and cracks the psyches of individual people.
I took much more away from this course and feel like my HCD “tool belt” is much heavier…the confidence I gained in my belief that I am creative, that I am a designer, that I can tackle creative challenges, that I will take creative actions is much more important. If this course was the solution to that design challenge, then my feedback as one with lived experience is that it worked!