Contemporary society often offers us complicated challenges. Whether it’s about grand-scale societal topics, or local issues within a neighborhood, with many parties involved – companies, the government, municipalities and inhabitants – solutions are sometimes hard to find. This is when social designers step in. By the use of research through design, they cater to the quest for innovative ways to tackle complex issues. This does not happen with a clear-cut plan and implementation; The social design proces departs from the wishes and needs of the parties involved, without knowing where the journey will end. This way, the people concerned, such as the inhabitants of a country, are genuinely involved in a process around a public matter. These five examples illustrate the power of social design and highlight some interesting players in the field.
1. ULTRA ULTRA – Dakdromen
Even though the Dutch cities seem completely filled up, there is a huge empty space left, where the city of your dreams can arise. All you need to do is look up… ‘Dakdromen’ (Roofdreaming) aims to exploit the largest forgotten space in the city; the roof. UltraUltra views the roof landscape of a city like Utrecht as a second ground level with enormous potential. On top of the roof, problems that have arisen on the ground level can be solved, it offers a place to pioneer and possibilities to build on the future of the dream city.
2. Afdeling buitengewone zaken – The future of the Golden Carriage
The Golden carriage has been a symbol of the Dutch constitution for 125 year now, and was present during many historic events. However, society is changing and thus is the image of the Carriage. It is not easy to make decisions about a subject so deeply rooted in the Dutch culture. In order to innovate, one must look outside of the fixed structures. Afdeling Buitengewone Zaken, a social design company from Rotterdam applied a research through design methods for this. They informally asked the inhabitants of the Netherlands what should happen with it, by the use of a creative research installation, with which they will be traveling around the country for one more year. To give the Amsterdam museum – as well as anyone else interested – insight into the responses , they developed the platform www.goudenkoets.nl . Eventually the results will be presented to the king himself, to let him decide what should happen with the carriage!
3. Scheepers&Renee – Experiencevision Victoriapark Eindhoven
In the middle of the city center of Eindhoven, a big park will arise. To find out, what this Victoriapark should look like, according to the local residents, Scheepers&Renee and Alissa van Asseldonk conducted an in-depth research. Together with interviews with usual and unusual suspects, from the owner of the library to the regular guest of the park, they also used interventions as a method of research. 152 ‘parkdesires’ (wishes for their ideal park) served as a pickup lines for a casual chat with the passers-by, regarding their views on the perfect park experience. Through two holes in a big board, people could take a look at the (imaginary) future park. With these creative and surprising methods, the social designers were able to start conversations that provide direct and valuable input for the design.
4. MUZUS – The police vision diner
Time to sit around the table! At the politie visie diner, a project by MUZUS, various societal organizations discussed the collaboration with the Dutch police. In an informal setting, they were able to talk from person to person instead of amongst governmental bodies. The food was there to be eaten of course, but also for another reason; It functioned as a metaphor for the relationship and its future improvements. The guests applied new interpretation to the ingredients and thereby thought about what was truly important in order to initiate social change.
5. ARTTENDERS – The Splash
The Splash is a collaboration of Arttenders and Cindy Bakker that results in a multifunctional square design for the Annie M.G. Schmidtplein in Rotterdam Zuid, inspired by the public paddling pools of the 1960s. The splash is a perfect example of how Arttenders applies the full social design process; First, an extensive research into the wishes and needs of all parties involved, functioned as the basis for the project. With this basis, a local artist was connected to the project, with whom Arttenders created the design. Lastly the design was implemented on location. Even though leading this whole process requires quite some time and patience, Arttenders believes this is the power of social design, necessary to create a design like The Splash.
6. SNEAKY MAMMOTH – Buurtje Bouwen
Buurtje Bouwen (‘Neighborhood building’) is a an educative game about the new Environment and Planning Act in the Netherlands (omgevingswet). Pupils take part in the smartphone game as a fictional inhabitant of the neighborhood or as an entrepreneur. By actively discussing the various scenarios offered by the game, the students get introduced to the underlying principles of the environment act. In one scenario for example, inhabitants get to decide about the reorganization of a piece of wasteland after the demolition of a flat. With each scenario pupils propose possible design measures to each other, and vote for the best option.