What does design offer us today?

Lots of text placed on top of a multi-colored background. Some of the text reads: design is a verb and a noun, design is action and artifact, design is a mindset as well as process, design is universal, design is pluriversal, design is a path to equity

Despite the ubiquity of gamification in our lives and our marketplaces, games are often overlooked as a serious social change tool. However, emerging research is showing games, and gamification, to be more effective at driving learning outcomes, and gamification and game design are emerging as more accepted strategies for SBW

What do you mean by design? This is a question we ask and get asked frequently.

There is no simple answer to this question, and indeed it may be complete folly to attempt a singular definition. Picking up the quest of design leader John Maeda and his attempt to answer the question, “what is design?” I have been curating my list for years. Design is … noun and verb, process and artifact, joy, responsibility, future-making, sense-making. Design is a paradox. The more I “know” about design, the less clear it seems to be.

So we focus less on what it is and more on what it means to practice design

But design things have also consumed us, drawn us in to spend more, do more, buy more. The elegance of designing for use, learning, empowerment, self- or community-actualization, healing, and justice — These are challenges design is worthy of.

What is Emerging?

Some of the questions we are living into at Picture Impact are, “What does design practice offer as we look to create movement within the tangled, wicked, and seemingly intractable and complex challenges of our world?” and “how might we practice design responsibly? What does it mean to be a designer across culture and context?”

A group 4 children of African descent looking at some colourful cards

Our idea of what design is and what it can do has evolved rapidly in the last decade. While the roots of this change are deep and old, these newer sprouts feel like that bright green hopeful epicormic growth after a fire has ravaged a forest.

These new sprouts look like:

Pluriversal design — decolonizing design research and design practice and beginning to see what design means in a world of many cultures

Design ethics — growing our understanding of design responsibility and the impact of weaponizing design

Countering bias in design and design for equity — More and more projects and studios teaching ethical design practice, design for equity, and using design for justice

Designing for cognition — bringing an interest in how our nervous system responds to how we design for learning, use, and healing.

Fellow designer George Aye and Greater Good Studio published the Social Change by Design Database v2 — a robust start to a list of people practicing design in these new ways. What struck us in turning our evaluator’s eyes to this list is how many studios have opened up in just the past five years and how many of these practices are small, nimble, and transdisciplinary teams. Design is evolving. It is an exciting time to be thinking about and practicing design.

By weaving together design, evaluation, and strategy, we are constantly learning and expanding our skills and awareness of what design is, how it shapes us, and how we can design responsibly. It is an exciting time to be practicing design.



Designer, Urban Planner, Strategist, Maker, relentless seeker of beauty and co-founder of Picture Impact.

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Katrina Mitchell

Designer, Urban Planner, Strategist, Maker, relentless seeker of beauty and co-founder of Picture Impact.