Design for Good

There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them.  And only one profession is phonier. Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress others who don’t care, is probably the phoniest field in existence today. Industrial design, by concocting the tawdry idiocies hawked by advertisers, comes a close second.

– Victor Papanek, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, 1971

Design for Good is a re-seeing of graphic (and other) design as a force for the benefit of society. Instead of making unnecessary commercial work to persuade people to buy things they don’t need, Designers for Good focus their skills on design’s visual, collaborative and problem-facing capabilities and characteristics to support the greater good.

Sancha de Búrca is currently researching the perceptions of graphic design undergraduates learning within a ‘redirected’ (Fry, 2009) curriculum that encourages them to practice Design for Good. By developing empathy, ethics and an understanding of design’s role in the systematic destruction of the environment and human rights, design students can re-think the purposes of design and help to create a better future. Through this investigation Sancha is building a model Design for Good pedagogy. In the first phase of the research, by giving students opportunities in the curriculum to undergo Transformative Experiences (Pugh, 2011), Sancha has then gathered data, using a phenomenographic approach, to make analysis of student perceptions of Design for Good. See below for more detail of this research.

A further phase of research is underway in which a narrative methodology is being used to ascertain how Transformative Experience has been part of the undergraduate journey in a Design for Good pedagogy and how this has given students experiential value and agency towards social responsibility.

The Project X interventions (2018-2019)

[First published as Citizen Designers: Transforming student perceptions of social responsibility, June 2020, as part of the University of Kent’s Enhancing Relevance online conference]

Educating graphic design students to re-see their professional responsibilities to others, could transform design’s currently problematic ‘real world’ practices of systemic “defuturing” (Fry, 2009) into agency towards a sustainable and just alternative world. By integrating radical critical pedagogy and critical hope into Pugh’s (2011) pragmatic model of Transformative Experience, I have tested iterations of a design-for-good pedagogy (DfGP), giving students experiences of social responsibility that expand perception and develop an ethic of care.

Financial interests and generalising accountability (Solbrekke and Sugrue, 2012; East et al, 2014) have weakened professional vocation as public service (Gardner, et al, 2001; Manzini, 2015; Vaughan, 2018; Hammington, 2019). Similarly, in higher education, the production of economy-maintaining professionals (Solbrekke and Sugrue, 2012) erodes discourses of social responsibility (Quinlan, 2017), such as sustainability (Fry, 2009; Boehnert, 2018), civic understanding (East et al, 2014), care (Vaughan, 2018). In both arenas, contextualising wisdom – Aristotle’s intellectual virtue, phronesis (NE vi.3-5) – is lost to fixation on the technical (techne (ibid)) as an end in itself (Boehnert, 2018; Kinsella and Pitman, 2012). Nevertheless, universities should develop students’ social responsibility.

Graphic design – where professional practice and social responsibility are uncoupled – is not viewed as a profession of care (Vaughan, 2018). By underpinning ideologies of consumption and the technical (Fry, 2009: Boehnert, 2018) graphic design is implicated in environmental degradation and social injustice. Design educators fail in their ethical duty (Resnick, 2016) if they do not address change-making towards social purposes (Fry, 2009).

However, design has many affordances that should be used for social benefit (Manzini, 2015, Sheppard, 2012). Developing students’ beyond-the-self (BTS) outlooks (Damon et al, 2003; Moran et al, 2010) and capability to design ethically for the greater good therefore form the aims of a DfGP.


My conceptual framework for research into, and design of, a DfGP, is the model of Transformative Experience (TE) outlined by Keven Pugh and his colleagues (2011, 2017). Pugh describes three elements that comprise the components of TE:

  1. Expanded perception or the re-seeing through content
  2. Experiential value of content
  3. Motivated use of content in free choice transfer (agency)

While socially responsible agency is the aim of a DfGP, I here concentrate on the initial element: expansion of perception. Integrating critical pedagogies of consumption (Sandlin and McLaren, 2010) and ecopedagogy (Martusewicz and Edmunson, 2004; Boehnert, 2018) into TE, radically interrogate graphic design’s negative impacts. Critical pedagogies, however, may feel threatening and prevent transformation. Therefore, integrating a pedagogy of hope (Boler, 2014) (scaffolding practical skills, demonstrating real cases and framing social responsibility as having experiential value) allows students to perceive alternative purposes and possibilities for design action. Valued action then promotes students’ growth of BTS and motivation to act ethically (Damon et al, 2003; Moran et al, 2010).

Chart of conceptual framework

Fig, 1. Conceptual Framework showing how my Design for Good pedagogy operates to allow opportunities for the three elements of Pugh’s Transformative Experience


Two six-week interventions, Project X 2018 and 2019 (PX2018, PX2019), were part of a wider DfGP curriculum delivered to University of Kent graphic design undergraduates at West Kent College, Tonbridge. Critical and hopeful pedagogies were engaged during group work research and ideation. Students then created designs for ‘live’ community interaction, where engagement with the public in co-creating design-for-good fostered re-seeing of conventional design practices.

The topic of PX2018 was sustainability in the local area. Students (n=37) displayed their conversation-starting design ‘provotypes’ (provocative prototypes), then co-designed final pieces based on community feedback.

In PX2019 the student cohort (n=27) selected the topic, which was mental health. The college counselling team and a national mental health charity participated as guest experts in a workshop and design-pitch panel, representing real others as beneficiaries of design-for-good. In PX2019 individual students also entered the national Creative Conscience competition.

A phenomenographic approach to analysis of data (Wilson et al, 2013) allowed variations of students’ expanding perceptions to emerge and be set in relational outcome spaces (Figures 2 and 3) that could inform future iterations in the DfGP. In PX2018 (Fig. 2) six variations in perception emerged, showing re-seeing of design-for-good and its altruistic purposes. Variations 1-3, however, were furthest from design-for-good and demonstrated an inward focus on the self, concern for professional reputation and concentration on technical skills (techne) as end outcomes. Variations 4-5, however, revealed growing levels of outward focus, developing BTS in relation to designs’ impacts and awareness of ethical reflection (phronesis).

Chart of Project X 2018 phenomenographic outcome space

Fig. 2. The outcome space of student perceptions of Design for Good in Project X 2018

Chart of Project X 2019 phenomenographic outcome space

Fig. 3. The outcome space of student perceptions of Design for Good in Project X 2019


The following year, PX2019’s findings (Fig.3), showed that perceptions had shifted towards an outwardly focused ethic of care. The majority of students (n=23) participated in both interventions, thus, duration of exposure to a DfGP was an important factor in expanding perception of BTS. Acquisition of practical skills (techne) were re-seen as a means to achieve the ends of socially responsible design (phronesis). Students also reported finding value in BTS through the meaningful mental health topic, which was easily related to supporting others. A seventh variation emerged showing that some now also perceived the need for systemic change in design.

Overall, the interventions demonstrated that a DfGP can expand perception of design’s purpose as a profession of care.


Fig. 4. Comparative ‘shapes’ of the outcome spaces in 2018 and 2019 showing increase in ‘seeing’ Design for Good and recognition of need to systemic change (Project X 2019 variation 7)


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