Social Sustainability, MDes/MBA seminar, Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, USA, 598-005 B Spring 2011, 1.5 credits



This seminar course familiarized students with a range of current design and research issues in the area of 'social sustainability'. Sustainability involves complex social questions – for example, environmental issues such as preserving nature or conserving resources involve an intersection of private and public interests, local and global impacts, present and future stakeholders. Design and research have important roles to play in framing and negotiating the kinds of 'wicked' problems of sustainable development, as well as influencing priorities, decisions and processes. The course surveyed a range of approaches relevant to product, interaction, service and system design. A selection of interdisciplinary topics, drawing on sociology, policy and futures studies, were treated in some depth, as a discussion of the role of design in relation to socio-cultural change, transition management and social innovation. The scope of the course included Europe and the developing world, as well as the US. The seminar provided a platform -- through a core set of readings, examples and lectures -- for students to discuss case studies in the area.

Discussion shaped by student interests included:
– Critical design thinking to address the cultural and social aspects of sustainable development, including those of justice, equity and ethics
– Emerging models for design practice such as design policy, design advocacy, and participatory innovation in non- and for-profit arenas
– Design methods for negotiating and managing change processes, in community, research and industrial settings

The course was based on a weekly seminar, framed through an introductory lecture. Each seminar includes a structured discussion around 2-3 readings, each of which is presented by a student. The final deliverable was to be an artifact that interprets key terms and concepts in a diagram or other visual communication.

Image (above)
A mapping of the discourses covered in the course and potential design roles, as the final deliverable of students Leticia Baião, Gretchen Kelly and Viraj Patwardhan

My role
The seminar was co-taught by Judith Gregory and myself. I took the main role in formulating the topic, structure, lectures, readings and class discussions. The course is based on my research project Designing Social Innovation, through which I am a research fellow at the IIT Institute of Design. A paper co-authored by myself, Judith Gregory and Johan Redström presents a program for collaborative research based on my research project and on the course content.

More about each class
Class 1 - Introduction and overview of the course, summary and video of lecture
Class 2 - Social practices and sustainable communities, summary and video
Class 3 - Guest lecture Peter Nicholson, Foresight Design Initiative, video
Class 4 - Transitions, systems and innovation, summary and video
Class 5 - Microcosms for social change, video - part 1
Class 5 - Microcosms for social change, video - part 2
Class 6 - Guest lecture Hamid Arastoopour, IIT Wanger Institute for Sustainable Energy Research, video


See also

/ Projects / Designing Social Innovation

/ Publications / Mazé, R., Gregory, J., and Redström, J. (2011) ‘Social Sustainability’.