2020 Special Focus - Advocacy in Design: Engagement, Commitment, and Action

From person to group, community to culture, nation to globe (and back), what is Advocacy in Design?

Designers of all definitions have long advocated for their respective disciplines, practices, and industries. Perhaps less successfully, designers have also been advocates for a variety of societal issues, communities, and individuals. A considerable inventory of hit or miss awareness campaigns, one-off design build interventions, and templated participatory methods du jour have often times undermined best intentions, further distancing designers from deep seated engagement, longer term commitment, and transformative action — when, where, and for whom it matters most. While misconceptions stubbornly persist as to role, impact, and value of design within social, economic, and political spheres, design could not be better poised to help shape a larger agenda.

Better prospects ahead, recent efforts exhibit a nuanced distinction between service and advocacy proper with stakeholders front and center when envisioning equitable, inclusive, and meaningful communications and information systems, products and services, and spaces and environments. All the while, bigger picture initiatives forge a renewed, sharper focus on multimodal strategies, local to global policies, and evidence supported design action plans (i.e. EU Design Action Plan, UK’s Design Economy, Singapore’s Design 2025, among others).

In this time of great challenges and ever greater needs, will we at last heed to the call for the ushering of a commensurable design ethics? Can we define engagement, commitment, and action beyond self, profession, and discipline to bring about true change, betterment, and at once advocate for a larger good for all?

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