Whether we want it or not, the act of designing is political. When we design we change something, whatever minimal this change can be.
Any designer with a minimum of critical understanding of his action is also able to guess the direction of the change s/he is provoking. Even without scientific argumentations or assessment, a designer’s intuition about this is part of his human nature. Therefore designing implies a choice, about which direction is preferred. We may decide to work for our ideal principles, or for the efficiency of a system, or for the economic benefit of a company or for improving the social well-being.
This intuition suggests a continuous dialogue with our ethical principles. We may choose to ignore those principles or we may choose to enforce them.
If there was a Hippocratic oath for designers, this would include the obligation for them to work for people and to improve their life condition. Designers’ moral obligation is to work for increasing people’s well-being, to give tools to people to reach out to new goals, to reduce inequalities and to avoid injustice. This is the direction designers are suggested by their ethical principles. We may choose to work in the opposite direction, but in any moment we know where we are going and where we should go.
Democracy may not be the best form of government, but it is the best known way to organise society, in order to support ethical principles such as equality, fairness and freedom.
For this reason, democracy is the ethical direction designers should be working for.
Too often democracy has been put in the background in designers’ work giving priority to other values, such as profit or business efficiency.
In this historical moment however, the need to defend democracy is becoming even more urgent, as we are facing large systemic problems, which several political and economic forces are suggesting to solve with simplistic solutions. Such solutions are addressing the interests of few, leaving out a large part of society, but, most tragically, such solutions are undermining the democratic structure of our societies. This attach to democracy is undermining peace, ignoring the call of people in need, undermining the fundamental rights of people to decide for their own destiny or to choose the best destiny for the future generations.
In this moment the moral imperative of designers can no longer be ignored. Designers who choose to work against their ethical imperative will work against themselves, their society, and the future of their kids.
Designing for democracy means working with people - supporting their capabilities to identify their problems and find their solutions - or working for people - empowering them with the tools and infrastructure to improve their well-being - or even reflecting on possible/desirable future perspectives and making them visible and inspirational.
Defending democracy means choosing the right direction in each moment, even in the smallest and most insignificant decision. This time we cannot choose any other direction.
Fields of Action
It sets a stage on which diverse actors can come together and democratically collaborate in shaping their present and future world. It engages diverse people and publics in co-design and co-production processes concerning different aspects of their everyday life.
It increases the opportunities for citizens to participate in deliberative processes. It focuses on transparency (which enables citizens to be aware of the on-going process of governance) and deliberative methods (which is the opportunity to be better involved in decision making processes).
It refers to all the design initiatives that are particularly responsive to the goals of democracy. It may deal with the provision of basic human rights (such as access to food, shelter, health care, and education) and, more in general, with the transition towards a more resilient, fair and sustainable society.