Design Thinking, neoliberalism, and the trivialisation of social change in higher education

Cook, Robyn (2019) Design Thinking, neoliberalism, and the trivialisation of social change in higher education. In: Standing Items: Critical pedagogies in South African art, design & architecture. Jacana Media, South Africa, pp. 12-26. ISBN 978-1-928440-21-5 (In Press)

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Abstract / Summary

Whilst the notion of Design Thinking is nothing new, the methodology, and its focus on innovation, has become increasingly popularised within Higher Education over the last decade. Along with related practices, including Service Design, Design for Social Change, Social Design, and Design for Social Innovation, Design Thinking advocates a strategic, human-centred approach to design which ostensibly provides a “tool to address some of [societies’] most pressing issues: alleviating poverty, providing better education, and improving basic health services for all human beings” (Sharma 2012:195). Using examples from the RSA Student Design Awards, this chapter examines various ideological and practical problems inherent within the methodology. These include Design Thinking’s proximity to neoliberal economic policy, and a concomitant emphasis on ‘social change’ through marketisation and responsibilisation; its injudicious borrowing of techniques associated with the social sciences; and concerns around positioning vulnerable communities as ‘opportunities’ for gaining creative or mercantile capital, under the mantle of effecting positive ‘social change’. The chapter concludes by sketching out a possible way forward for developing a more critical and situated form of the practice, to ensure that the current rhetorical hyperbolisation around Design Thinking as a panacea for our global crises is balanced with an understanding that it is not an inherently emancipatory practice, but rather, one that has the potential to do more harm than good.

Item Type: Book Section
ISBN: 978-1-928440-21-5
Subjects: Arts > Graphic Arts
Social Sciences
Courses by Department: The School of Communication Design > Graphic Design
Depositing User: Robyn Cook
Date Deposited: 02 Sep 2019 13:31
Last Modified: 02 Sep 2019 13:31
URI: http://repository.falmouth.ac.uk/id/eprint/3379

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