24. November 2015, 19:00-20:30 Uhr, Kesselhaus, MKH
Anna Meroni, Politecnico di Milano, Italy
Today debate about social innovation is very rich and multidisciplinary. Besides the social sciences, Design plays a prominent and recognized role for the creation of favourable contexts for social innovators. It is an acknowledged disciplinary approach that can prompt society at large to be active in “designing” its own ways of doing, and train the innovators to be more competent in their initiatives. The DESIS is an international network of design universities dealing with research and education in this field whose distinctive approach is practice-based research. The lecture will present and discuss a few projects from the Network.
Architect and PhD in Design, Anna Meroni is Associate Professor of Design in the Department of Design at the Politecnico di Milano. Her research focus is on service and strategic design for sustainability to foster social innovation and local development. She serves as international coordinator of the DESIS-Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability Network.
A Design Dream Is Becoming True! Or When Practice Reflects Theory
(A note on Anna Meroni’s lecture by Rosan Chow)
Anna’s lecture was packed with theoretical discussions, insights, and examples. She spoke of the origin of her involvement in Design for Social Innovation (DfSI) and the establishment of DESIS, definition and types of DfSI, her approach and framework, intrinsic and extrinsic values, and a number of funded projects including CIMULACT, SPREAD, FEEDING MILANO and the methods and tools used; and at the end, the role of university.
It was a crash course on DfSI and she left us much to think about. Being in line with the themes of the lecture series, my note focuses only on idea, process and challenge.
Anna told us that design is not (only) problem solving, but (also) posing ‘what if’ questions. DfSI is about imagining futures together with a group of stakeholders and creating new social forms and economical models to regenerate common goods and social fabric. This implies a shift from User-Centered Design to Community-Centered Design and changes in concomitant knowledge bases, methods and tools.
She characterized her works as Practice-Based Research, hands-on, grounded in experiences, intuitive, not scientific but with its own kind of rigour. She draws on the domain knowledge of Design for Services and Strategic Design, Social Innovation, Psychology and more. Her methods include Case Study, Idea Cards, Story Telling, 2 by 2 Scenario, and Visualization. As I understand, all these methods are employed to gather and integrate knowledge to facilitate group discussions, co-design and to create change.
She did not explicitly talk about challenges but discussed the changes involved from designing for individual users to designing with a group to achieve common goals, the new type of knowledge needed and being a facilitator among citizens and experts.
In my (armchair) view, Anna’s works are wonderful concrete manifestation or a mirror of the at least half-a-century old ethical and epistemological discourse on design. I believe, the moral values on which DfSI are based are shared by Papanek, the “Ulmers”, or even the Bauhaus and the Arts and Crafts movement. Her works are enviable when put in this historical perspective, as she and her collaborators are realizing those dreams held to by the forerunners.
In terms of “designerly way of knowing”, it is convenient to draw on Herbert Simon’s “Science of the Artificial” and Horst Rittel’s “wicked problem”. Simon’s contribution is often said to be the distinction he made of science (analysis) and design (synthesis). But it is Rittel’s “wicked problem” which points to the socio-political nature of every non-trivial design task and which challenges any positivist approach to designing, for example, structured problem-solving. So I will not argue with Anna that design is not science and agree that design has its own way of inquiry. As shown in her projects, designing begins often with discussion on values and interests among stakeholders; and moves to integrate diverse knowledge and synthesize different opinions through iterative prototyping and conversations and finally arrives at ‘future image’ through abductive thinking.
For me, it was simply great to hear resonance between theory and practice.