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The Decolonising Design Manifesto

The Decolonising Design Manifesto
By Decolonising Design // Originally published 27 June 2016
(updated on 15.11.2017: edited and slightly re-structured for clarity; corrected spelling and grammar.)
Much of the academic and professional discourse within the design disciplines over the last century has been bereft of a critical
reflection on the politics of design practice, and on the politics of the artifacts, systems and practices that designerly activity
produces. Our premise is that notwithstanding important and valued exceptionsdesign theory, practice, and pedagogy as a
whole are not geared towards delivering the kinds of knowledge and understanding that are adequate to addressing longstanding
systemic issues of power.
These issues are products of modernity and its ideologies, regimes, and institutions reiterating, producing and exerting continued
colonial power upon the lives of oppressed, marginalized, and subaltern peoples in both the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ world.
This planet, shared and co-inhabited by a plurality of peoples, each inhabiting different worlds, each orienting themselves within
and towards their environments in different ways, and with different civilizational histories, is being undermined by a globalized
system of power that threatens to flatten and eradicate ontological and epistemological difference, rewriting histories and advance
visions of a future for a privileged few at the expense of their human and nonhuman others.
To date, mainstream design discourse has been dominated by a focus on Anglocentric/Eurocentric ways of seeing, knowing, and
acting in the world, with little attention being paid to alternative and marginalized discourses from the non Anglo-European
sphere, or the nature and consequences of design-as-politics today. This narrowness of horizons and deficiency in criticality is a
reflection of the limitations of the institutions within which design is studied and practiced, as well as of the larger socio-political
systems that design is institutionally integrated into.
We believe that a sharper lens needs to be brought to bear on non-western ways of thinking and being, and on the way that class,
gender, race, etc,. issues are designed today. We understand the highlighting of these issues through practices and acts of design,
and the (re)design of institutions, design practices and design studies (efforts that always occur under conditions of contested
political interests) to be a pivotal challenge in the process of decolonisation. We also want to move beyond academic discourse to
critique and think around the ideas and practices that circulate through the work of professional designers embedded in the
various sectors of production that stimulate and sustain the modern/colonial world economy.
Our goal is ontological rather than additive change. It is not sufficient for design institutions to simply include a greater diversity
of actors or perspectives. This only goes to serve a delaying and offsetting demands for radical systemic change. While we
support and defend measures to include marginalized subjects and our/their concerns in spaces from which we/they have been
excluded or remain precarious, we also believe there is little point to diversifying institutions, practices, and processes that
ultimately sustain colonial imperatives. Our aim is not to direct our efforts to prop up existing power structures, or to sustaining
them through ameliorative measures. Rather, our aim should be nothing less than to seek the radical transfiguration of these
structures through the critical eye of the programmatic imagination that dares to identify the possibilities and conditions that will
give us alternatives to the now.
Our objectiveas design scholars and practitionersis to transform the very terms of present day design studies and research.
Designers can put to task their skills, techniques, and mentalities to designing futures aimed at advancing ecological, social, and
technological conditions where multiple worlds and knowledges, involving both humans and nonhumans, can flourish in
mutually enhancing ways. For us, decolonisation is not simply one more option or approach among others within design
discourse. Rather, it is a fundamental imperative to which all design endeavors must be oriented.
It is with the aim of providing an outlet for voices from the fringes, the voices of the marginal and the suppressed in design
discourse, that we have opened this platform. We welcome all of those who work silently and surely on the edges and outskirts of
the discipline to join and contribute to conversations that question and critique the politics of design practice today, where we can
discuss strategies and tactics through which to engage with more mainstream discourse, and where we can collectively
experiment with alternatives and reformulations of contemporary practice.
We encourage and seek decentralized dialogues, in which different voices can coexist in their difference rather than in an
assimilated narrative. In this platform we welcome:
Contributions from designers working at the intersections of materiality and culture, postcoloniality, decoloniality,
gender studies, race studies, and other areas of human thought and action which seek to analyze, question and
challenge the relations of power in the world today;
New curatorial practices of designerly knowledge, that seek to challenge and disrupt colonial understandings in the
field and develop knowledge and understanding of how designs for decolonisation might be presented, discussed,
published, disseminated, and so on;
Reviews, interviews, debates, podcasts and other forms of discussion and debate beyond the confines of academic
language. We also invite formats that are generally devalued within academic contexts such as visual essays, audio
papers, performance works, etc.
Possibilities for the dissemination of critical thinking in design well beyond the canons of the discipline (e.g. design
studies and/as epistemic disobedience);
Critical pieces written originally in languages other than English; as well as potential translations into languages other
than English;
Critical pieces written by researchers, practitioners, independent scholars, and students in the process of completing
their degrees and/or who feel they are marginalised or poorly supported by academic institutions. In other words, we
welcome incomplete ideas, work-in-progress, and other forms of dealing with the questions above outlined, thus
amplifying discourses outside the remit of institutes, which may or may not be projects enfolded in academic work.
Moreover, we seek to connect with already existing endeavors within and beyond the design field for a decolonisation of not only
academia, but all professional practices and pedagogies, to connect and foster exchanges of knowledge that speak from, cross,
and remain in the borderlands of design and coloniality. Through this platform, and in collaboration with like minded others, we
hope that we can make a substantial commitment to contributing to the continued existence, vitality and diversity of human
presence on this planet.
Ahmed Ansari
Danah Abdulla
Ece Canli
Luiza Prado
Mahmoud Keshavarz
Matthew Kiem
Pedro Oliveira
Tristan Schultz
... Esto evoca los principios de lekil kuxlejal de estar en un solo corazón, apoyo mutuo, el bien común y la horizontalidad. Estos puntos se manifestaron en las sesiones de co-diseño al explorar el lekil kuxejal, como se refleja en la figura 2. Estos puntos de vista se convirtieron en fundamentales para fracturar los enfoques de investigación de diseño dominantes del Norte Global (Abdulla et al., 2019;Akama, 2017;Escobar, 2016) y para equilibrar el poder, privilegio, política y acceso (3P-A) (Albarrán González, 2020) que diseñadores e investigadores externos tienen en comparación a las comunidades artesanales a través de la integración de los siete principios zapatistas del mandar obedeciendo. ...
... Con esta investigación proponemos una alternativa al diseño artesanal textil, buscando descolonizar prácticas de diseño e investigación del Norte Global (Abdulla et al., 2019;Akama, 2017) y desafiar el poder, privilegio, política y acceso (3P-A) del diseño hegemónico (Albarrán González, 2020). Esto requiere construir y reconstruir enfoques de diseño para contribuir a un pluriverso de diseño(s) desde y para el Sur (Álvarez Romero y Gutiérrez Borrero, 2017;Fry, 2017) donde las formas indígenas de ser y hacer son fundamentales, y no como inferiores al conocimiento del Norte Global. ...
Este artículo presenta una propuesta para descolonizar la investigación del diseño artesanal textil, para el reconocimiento del diseño de tejedoras Tsotsiles y Tseltales en busca de una vida justa y digna. Dentro de los textiles mayas de los Altos de Chiapas en el sureste mexicano, hay una valiosa fuente de conocimientos ancestrales que reflejan la cosmovisión de los pueblos mayas pasados y presentes. Para la autora y sus compañeras de investigación, los textiles y sus prácticas, significados y metáforas denotan modos ‘otros’ de investigar el diseño artesanal textil a través del pensamiento decolonial y onto-epistemologías indígenas como el corazonar y el Buen vivir de los pueblos Tsotsiles y Tseltales, lekil kuxlejal. De igual modo, los siete principios zapatistas del mandar obedeciendo sirvieron como guías de investigación para mediar colaboraciones éticas y respetuosas. Esto buscó desafiar el diseño dominante y hegemónico en búsqueda de acercamientos guiados por el corazón y centrados en el Buen vivir, mismos que integran la visión de una vida digna y justa en el diseño artesanal textil. A través de esto, se proponen una serie de lineamientos que respetan la autonomía de la comunidad artesanal contribuyendo a las transiciones hacia el pluriverso.
... 172). There is, however, extensive literature on social change for sustainability (see Abdulla, Ansari, Canli, Keshavarz, Kiem, Oliveira, Prado, & Schultz, 2019;Barcham, 2021;Irwin, Tonkinwise, & Kossoff, 2022). Expanding the search to the field of design for social change unearthed an article that outlines principles for education that support the kind of ontological change that is more aligned with the place-based principles of IEE. ...
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This pilot implementation study examines the experiences of ten teachers who have employed a place-based learning resource called A Walking Curriculum for one to three years. A Walking Curriculum is an example of Imaginative Ecological Education—a pedagogical approach that centralizes imaginative engagement, emotional connection, and somatic understanding in place-based learning. Initially, researchers sought to understand teachers’ practices and to determine how (or if) A Walking Curriculum provided teachers with a deeper insight into the principles of Imaginative Ecological Education underlying it. The research focus shifted to the nature of professional development and the meaning of educational change in a more-than-human world. This article considers policy implications of an ecological model of educational change that might better align with the eco-social transformation intentions of Imaginative Ecological Education.
... By acknowledging stronger ties to local history, traditional knowledge, and the influence of context specificities in ongoing urban processes, this study is part of a greater project of "decolonizing (urban and water infrastructure) design" [18]. As an imperative to which all acts of design should be oriented [52], decolonizing design entails an enhanced focus on the context to be addressed by design acts and unlearning and reconsidering the roots of accustomed design approaches. By considering water sensitivity as present throughout the histories of cities like Bhuj and as a variable that can be strengthened, WSUD can facilitate context specificity and improve the sustainability of future urban transitions. ...
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In rapidly growing urban contexts, water plays a pivotal role in the transitions the urban environment goes through to sustain the quality of life of its population. Spatial planning and design are essential for the facilitation and manifestation of such transitions. Focusing on Bhuj, a rapidly growing Indian city in a hot arid desert climate, its crucial yet changing sensitivity to urban water flows over time is assessed. The concept of water sensitivity is coined as a goal to pursue by the Water-Sensitive Urban Design approach. In India, however, much of the urban design and development processes are of an unplanned and informal nature, seemingly inhibiting the water sensitivity of urban transitions. Reviewing spatial planning paradigms and their manifestation in space in Bhuj over time, however, brings to light a pre-existing water sensitivity. Yet it also shows a shift from the supply security-oriented ingenious watershed expansion to catastrophe-steered and urban expansion-driven water system negligence. Review and discussion of past and present urban water transitions and management points out drivers, barriers, and their interrelationships, to enable and advance water-sensitive urban development tied to local history, traditional knowledge, and context specificities.
... Systemic design has roots in human-centred or service design practice which center user (those most affected by a challenge) experiences; however, it significantly differs from these modes of design in that it holds deeper attention to mindsets, values, context, power relationships, leadership, and systems, and then connects these activities in a strategic learning system [64][65][66] . Recent critique of the field and practice of design from an equity and justice point of view is resulting in theory, frameworks, and approaches to encourage/enable/require centering equity in design processes more skillfully and consistently [67][68][69][70] . ...
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Cities are facing increasing pressures to address complex challenges of climate change, equity, and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples as intersecting issues, and innovation into planning and policy-making processes is urgently needed to achieve this. It is no longer good enough to work on these challenges discreetly, or solely within the dominant, western colonial paradigm and practices of governance. There are ongoing harms being caused by climate work that does not embed justice, and there are missed opportunities for synergies across these domains as they have the same systemic root causes. Cities must adapt and transform the processes and practices of planning and policy-making in order to work at these problematic roots. Drawing on an empirical study, this article describes how social innovation, systemic design, and decolonizing practices can shape a different approach to planning and policy-making processes when working at the intersections of climate, equity, and decolonization.
... Inter-human and post-human design has grown through communitycentered design, society-centered design, humanity-centered design, lifecentered, or planet-centered design (Clasen, 2023;HmntyCntrd, 2023;Norman, 2023;Rizo, 2023;Life-Centered Design School, 2022;Vignoli et al., 2021;Xu, 2021;Ishida, 2004;Lee et al., 2020;Manzini & Meroni, 2017;Cantu et al., 2013;Jawaharlal et al., 2016). Postcolonial, decolonial, ontological, and pluriversal design focus on colonization and its effects, liberation, pluralism in design, and the various worlds people inhabit (Wizinsky, 2022;Gupta, 2021;Leitão, 2020;Abdulla et al., 2019;Escobar, 2018;Garzon, 2017;López-Garay & Molano, 2017;Tlostanova, 2017;Mainsah & Morrison, 2014;Irani et al., 2010;Willis, 2006). These movements over the past 30 are not new. ...
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Participatory design occurs when professional designers do design work with the community members who will use the design. Traditional (colonial) participatory design leaves the choice of methodology in the hands of the professional designer, the leader or facilitator, who often chooses extractivist methods and methodologies, contradicting the very relationality, equity, and participation intended through participatory design. Using such methods in participatory design creates situations in which participating community members conduct extractivist, transactional methods against their own communities. In contrast, Radical Participatory Design decolonizes participatory processes as communities not only equally participate, but also equitably lead the design process, naturally leading to asset-based methodologies. Though Radical Participatory Design is a type of relational design because the design process is done relationally elevating relational knowledge and expertise, we go further to describe an explicit Relational Design. What would a design process look like if we not only conduct it participatorily, but also replace extractivist, transactional activities with relational ones? Because design involves the production and solicitation of knowledge, we rearticulate knowledge as the presence of healthy relationships. With that understanding we describe Relational Design. We discuss the connection between systems and relationships and why Relational Design is important for positive systems change and impact. We then describe one possible and specific relational methodology that we have used in the space of educational systems: the sustained dialogue framework. Using this framework, we discuss how each phase of a generic design process changes when using a relational methodology like sustained dialogue. As the health of relationships in a system increases, the need or usefulness of positivist methods based on third-person knowing decreases.
... Consequently, in this article we discuss how design can turn into a morethan-human practice through several approaches, including craft. We suggest that looking through more-than-human ways of knowing could contribute to the decolonisation of design (Abdulla et al., 2019), an emerging movement that suggests designing for anti-oppressive futures, listening to Indigenous experiences and challenging Eurocentrism (Tunstall, 2013). ...
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As a part of industrial mass production, the field of design has been deeply involved in the exploitation of natural resources. In design, better ways to approach the nonhuman-human relation are needed. In this article, we contribute by exploring how more-than-human perspectives can be used to engage with this relationship, and more specifically, by focusing on how the fields of design and craft relate to more-than-human worlds. Crafts are relevant as they are practices of making that preceded and exist beyond mass production. In design studies, more-than-human notions and posthumanist frameworks are still new. Although recent studies mention design in the context of more-than-human, they do not thoroughly integrate it within relationships between craft and design. Through positioning a more-than-human approach within the craft-design relationship, the design field can learn from and shift to a more equal understanding between humans and nonhumans. The article addresses this by describing emerging craft and design practices, and by providing textile examples. Non-western textiles and their motifs are given as example artefacts that consider traditional and Indigenous knowledge in more-than-human worlds. By looking at these motifs from more-than-human perspectives, we suggest that design and craft can deliver a new approach for addressing nonhumans in human-made things.
The systemic nature of the ecological crisis has prompted a wide range of research into transformative social change. Education, however, is largely absent from that literature, despite clear evidence of its role in contributing to the crisis. Following a review of a few of the main approaches to theorizing change, notably the literature on social-ecological resilience, this chapter focuses on the field of transformative or systemic design as the most promising framework for catalyzing radical educational reform. We draw on the Multi-Level Perspective on sustainability transitions to visualize such local “niche-innovations” as emerging in the context of the end of the Capitalocene, the socio-economic-political landscape sustaining the current educational regime. In order to create the conditions for systemic change, education for living within the Earth’s carrying capacity needs to incorporate principles that disrupt core assumptions of the Capitalocene. We propose six such principles to guide the work of transformational educational design.
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Objectives: There is increasing recognition of the value and capabilities of design in healthcare. Beyond the development of medical devices, design is increasingly being applied to intangible, complex and systemic healthcare problems. However, there is limited evidence on the use of design specifically in the field of oral health. This systematic mapping study aims to collate and catalogue evidence of design in oral health. Methods: A systematic search of academic databases and grey literature was performed. Duplicate results were removed, and publications relating to the same project were grouped. Reviewers from design and oral health independently screened a sample of the dataset. Projects of both relevance to oral health, and with input from a designer or clear implementation of a design methodology or approach were included. Projects were coded and plotted on a novel interactive evidence map. Results: 119 design and oral health projects were included between 1973 and 2022. Interventional (n = 94, 79%), empirical (n = 46, 39%), methodological (n = 35, 29%) and theoretical (n = 7, 6%) design contributions were identified across the projects. The projects were categorized by four orders of design: first-graphics (n = 6, 5%), second-products (n = 41, 34%), third-interactions (n = 70, 59%), and fourth-systems (n = 2, 2%). Design was found in a diverse range of contexts in oral health; most commonly being relevant to general patients (n = 61, 51%), and for use in general dental practice (n = 56, 47%). Further design outcome categories (digital material; printed material; object; room or space; apparel; process; smart device; tangible interface; graphical interface; virtual reality; service; policy; system) and oral health themes (oral health literacy; oral care training; dental clinic design; dental instruments and equipment; personal oral care; dental appliance; clinician health and productivity; clinical information systems; informed consent; oral health promotion and prevention; oral care training; patient interactions and experience) were identified. Conclusions: The novel interactive evidence map of design in oral health created enables ongoing and open-ended multivariant documentation and analysis of the evidence, as well as identification of strategic opportunities. Future research and policy implications include; recognition and engagement with the full capabilities of design; integration of design experts; fostering inclusive engagement and collaboration; disentangling patient and public involvement; advancing human-centred systems approaches; adopting design-led approaches for policy-making.
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