USING SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT TO INSPIRE DESIGN LEARNING
Editor: Guy Bingham, Darren Southee, John McCardle, Ahmed Kovacevic, Erik Bohemia, Brian Parkinson
Author: Ian De Vere (1), Robert Phillips (2)
Institution: 1Brunel University London, 2Royal College of Art
Section: Social Issues
Social design and ‘design for need’ are important frameworks for establishing ethical understanding amongst novice product designers. Typically, product design is a value-adding activity where normally aesthetics, usability and manufacturability are the key agendas. Howard  in his essay “Design beyond commodification” discusses the role of designers in contributing to cultural expressions designed to influence consumer aspirations and desires. He argues that designers are impelled “to participate in the creation of lifestyles that demand the acquisition of goods as a measure of progress and status.” As emerging consumers, student designers tend to reflect this consumer culture in their work, seeking to add ‘marketability’ by focusing on aesthetic development. However value adding can occur in many different manifestations, often outside commercial expectations and the students’ experience. Projects that may be perceived as having limited market potential can often have significant personal impact for both recipient and designer. Social engagement provides a valuable insight for design students into the potential of design to contribute solutions to societal well-being, rather than serve market forces. Working in a local context can enhance this, with unlimited access to end users, their environs and the product context, enabling the development of user empathy and a more integrated collaborative process. The ‘Fixperts’ social project discussed in this paper has proved to be an effective method of engaging undergraduate students in participatory design within their local community. This model for social engagement has provided an unprecedented learning experience, and established a strong ethical framework amongst Brunel design students.