A framework for teaching Design for Social Impact


With the amount of problems faced today, it is a well-known fact by now that the world needs more designers. But even the existing designers do not know how to go about addressing these problems; as the notion of Social Design is a challenging one. With this growing need and interest and in the domains, there is a responsibility that designers have towards the society. This paper proposes a framework that could be used to teach Social Design as a part of the offerings of a Design course in Product Design or Service Design or independently. The example taken to illustrate the framework is a work in progress.

Author Keywords

Social Design; Wicked Problems; System Design; Methodology; Frameworks; Service Design; Design Education

Kshitiz Anand, Dean & Director

LÉcole de design Nantes Atlantique (India campus)


Jean Haag, Masters Student, Transcultural Design

LÉcole de design Nantes Atlantique

(India Campus)



In the connected world we live today, designers face new challenges to overcome. This was voiced first by V Papanek in his iconic book Design for the Real world almost 30 years ago. In his words, Design has become the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension, society and himself) [15], Whiteley in his book ‘Design for Society’ calls for design to come out of its consumerist values, consumer led design approach, and the notion of design as a lifestyle accessory [24].

Of late there is huge emphasis from government bodies and various organizations to invest energies and design expertise in the areas that benefit the society at large. This was resonated by numerous design thinkers and companies from IDEO in the form of their Open IDEO platforms [14] and Human Centered Design toolkit [9] to Frog Design’s work in Africa to use design to improve healthcare [8]. It is aimed towards development of society and provides innovative solutions that could attempt to help in solving the world’s problems. The need is for design to be more human centered and not as simply technical or merely style-oriented, as it then loses touch with what is truly needed by people.

India with its diverse economy and cultural map, a huge population living below poverty, and home to a lot of problems provides an immense opportunity to work in the fields of Social Design. Realizing that innovation is the engine for the growth of prosperity and national competitiveness in the 21st century, the President of India has declared the present decade as the ‘Decade of Innovation’. Moreover, National Innovation Council (NIC), set up by the Prime Minister to create Indian model of innovation, is preparing to launch its fund with an initial corpus of Rs 500 crore and that will lend to companies focusing on delivering goods and services to the poorest people in the country. It is also looking to facilitate creation of industry innovation clusters (IIC) for job creation and productivity [3].

Designers with an interest in Social Design and a training in Human-Centered Design will be the people who could benefit most from this. In order to get Design and Design Thinking into the masses, the government under the leadership of Mr Sam Pitroda has also published a blueprint of the Open Design School; at various levels with the education system so that larger sections of society can benefit from Design [17] . Not only India, but there is a voice resonating across the world on the need for Design for Social Impact, but not many are aware of how to go about it [11].

The role of designers in today’s society, with their phenomenological [Husserl and Schütz], i.e. individual perspective upon the lifeworld [1] term and epistemological understanding of things and the ability to empathize with the subjects becomes critical. With their training in understanding of this social space from a human perspective they can hugely influence societal changes. This is not only limited to the urban but also at the rural areas. Designers have a larger role to play in many different fields, and are attempting to solve the many wicked problems faced today, [Kolko] [11] The need of the hour is for designers to get engaged at different levels in shaping of the processes and products that are being created for the social spaces.

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