The role of politics in design/The role of design in politics – A reflection

There was a quote in the paper “Difficult Forms: Critical Practices of Design and Research”. It is a quote from an old paper (1972) written by Ambasz. “…social change through design, regard their [a generation of designers] as a political one.” This piece of sentence made me think how design is influence by politics and how design influences politics. I will focus on critical design as it is most relevant for both class and this discussion.

How critical design influences politics is fairly easy question to answer. Dunne & Raby describe critical design as the following “Critical Design uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens about the role products play in everyday life. It is more of an attitude than anything else, a position rather than a method.” “A position” implies that there is an opinion from the designers that they want to be discussed. Summarizing several papers the role of critical design is to let people think about social and societal problems. Critical designers want people to think about this problems for a reason, they are the people that can influence politicians. Critical designers try to change the world in this way and therefore I certainly can say that critical design influences politics.

A direct result of this is the politics influences critical design. Where there is an opinion there is also influence from politics. Maybe the influence of politics is minimal and would one have had the same opinion with a different government, maybe the opinion would be completely different or maybe one just would not think about it at all. Therefore one can say the politics is embedded in critical design.

Maybe a more interesting question to ask is how does interaction design influence politics and vice versa. In this area it is much less about opinion and therefore politics is less apparent. Generally speaking (and this is more looking around me, than it has a foundation) designers do not want to be affiliated with politics, let alone the fact to be involved in it. It is true that (again from my own experience in this world) that most designers have an outspoken political opinion, but as a person and not a designer. From Thoughts on Interaction design by John Kolko “A simpler way to think about interaction designers is to think about them as shapers of behavior. [Interaction Designers], all attempt to understand and alter things people do, the way the feel and the things they think. It sounds manipulative – and it is. And because the manipulation of behavior is so tightly related to power, politics and control…” This is certainly true in my opinion. Though on the surface not obvious the role of interaction design in politics maybe even more present than in critical design. If not, at least more influential. Therefore also interaction design has influence on politics and vice versa.

But probably the most interesting question to ask is whether there is so much difference between politics and design. “My policy colleagues say they went into politics because they wanted to challenge the status quo and make things better for ordinary people. That’s certainly why I went into design. So maybe design is more political than you think” [Winhall]. Is it not true to both politicians and designers strive for the same goal, they try to tackle the same problem from a different perspective. So maybe we, as designers, should embrace politics more and should politicians embrace designing more.


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