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Chapter 3
Creativity Design Society

Ten Hypotheses on Society-Centered Design

Karl Stocker

Professor at Graz & Kassel University, Culture & Design Consultant, Manager & Networker

1. A world in transformation

Our world is currently undergoing an enormous transformation. Above all, young people who are aware of the negative effects of today’s economic model are discussing new approaches to the world: The inequality between the first, second and third worlds meets with criticism and measures are demanded to stop the increasing destruction of our environment. A growing number of people are participating in social initiatives and working hard to make the world around them a better place.

2. Design and its great social responsibility

Design has played a crucial role in the developments of industrial societies over the past 150 years, thereby affecting man and his environment. Subsequently, designers are aware of their great responsibility in using creative means to resolve the problems we are faced with now and in the future.

3. User-centered design

Until about 30 years ago, the design process was neither interested in man nor environment; it was chiefly about achieving entrepreneurial success and profit maximization. However, from the turn of the millennium on, the idea gained popularity that the design process should take account of human needs and the capabilities and behavioral patterns of individual users. User-centered design came to be the new creed in the design scene.

4. Individual success versus long-term consequences

However, in a globalized, networked world, anything that could benefit one individual could harm another – not to mention our planet. The negative consequences of a creative method that focuses too much on the individual, at the same time ignoring the political and societal dimension of design, have now become evident.

5. A new paradigm?

As early as 1971, Papanek in his book “Design for the Real World” criticized the trend toward producing “useless, potentially harmful, irresponsible and questionable items of mass consumption” from an ecological point of view. He spoke out against irresponsible design and developed a radio for the third world based on an old tin can.

6. Society-centered design

50 years on, Papanek’s approaches are now gaining increasing approval. Many designers are no longer prepared to pander to wealthy clients in their search for aesthetic segregation, but are beginning to question their role in the context of the widening gap between rich and poor and in the light of environmental problems. They participate in social movements, support grassroots initiatives and try to contribute to improving the world as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.

7. Society-centered design from a holistic perspective

Designers must be aware that they are shaping ecosystems and not just individual applications. They need to look beyond the individual user and immediate financial success in order to develop the best possible solution for man, society and nature. “Society-centered design” is sourced precisely from that design context. It not only addresses users and business, but also society and environment and their various different interdependencies.

8. Society-centered design – a better business strategy

Enterprises, too, feel that it is time for a new approach in product development. Today’s consumers are more informed and critical, they check on the item’s production process and if employees are fairly treated, or on the attitude of companies and brands towards social questions. Many people want to contribute to community welfare and environmental protection. Accordingly, they seek businesses and designers that offer products and services in line with their own mindset. Consequently, society-centered design is no idealistic ideology, but rather a competitive advantage for entrepreneurs who wish to reach out to the public (and realize profit).

9. Society-centered design: a new mindset

In order to do justice to society-centered design, we not only need a new mindset, but also committed strategies and augmented methods. Instrumental to the concept would be to additionally integrate the needs of non-human stakeholders – such as animals and the environment – in the design process. To that end, we require knowledge and creative technologies from human-centered design and usability, as well as from the realm of ecology, environmental sciences, sociology and philosophy.

10. The future of design

Primarily, designers need to internalize holistic thinking and let it flow into their daily work, besides convincing businesses and clients of how essential that approach is. Society-centered design is not an idealistic bubble, but a real competitive advantage for enterprises. The key to success is to get together and develop a new design approach. And think ahead: it all depends on collaboration — between politics, science, the economy, designers, activists and citizens — in order to find solutions and achieve and implement this new idea of design in the near future.


Prof. Karl Stocker, PhD

Professor at Graz & Kassel University, Culture & Design Consultant, Manager & Networker

Karl Stocker, PhD., historian, exhibition director, information designer, chair of bachelor programme Information Design (2004-2021) and Master programme Exhibition Design (2006-2021), head of Institute Design and Communication at University of Applied Sciences Graz (till 2021), professor at the Graz University (since 1988) and Kassel University (1996/97), founder and director of Bisdato Exhibition & Museum Design (1990-2021), author/editor of books and scientific contributions, manager of scientific research projects, director of exhibitions, ambassador of Graz UNESCO City of Design.

Picture: © Lex Karelly

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