Introduction to Socially Engaged Design

When taking on complex challenges, it is important to have a guiding process to keep you on track, inform your decisions, and to ground yourself when the work feels overwhelming. In the field of design, there are many such process models, all with their own emphases and applications. At the Center for Socially Engaged Design we use a model that incorporates knowledge about the broader social, cultural, economic, environmental contexts in which a design solution exists and pushes designers to analyze how their own cultural context and identities shape their approach and impact. In socially engaged design, we place emphasis on social and technical aspects of any design process.

With this topic we introduce the Socially Engaged Design Process Model, what it means to be a designer, and the complexities associated with contextualizing a project, which requires continuous reflection on your own identities, power, and motivations.

Interviews & Interview Protocols

Design interviews are a key step in understanding the needs of your stakeholders. A skilled interviewer knows how to ask questions and knows the right questions to ask and in what order. In this topic, we focus on the purpose and writing of an interview protocol to gain in-depth information from users, stakeholders, or experts to guide design decisions.


Prototypes are so much more than a stage in the design process. They are tools to help you learn, communicate, share information, and so much more. 

In this topic, you will learn how prototypesing can and should be used throughout the entirety of the design process, from when you’re starting to understand the problem to when you need to demonstrate a function or form.

Idea Generation & Development

After selecting a need or problem to focus on, it is time to figure out how to address it! Rather than jumping to the first idea, or getting stuck on a single idea, designers should spend time generating many potential ideas, exploring a wide variety of ideas, and limiting evaluating during this concept generation phase. 

In this topic, we cover concepts that support successful idea generation and brainstorming techniques that can help to explore the solution space.

Needs Statements & Problem Definition 

Constructing concise and specific needs statements is a key part of the process of defining the challenge you’re working on. How needs are defined and how they are expressed in a problem statement will have important implications for the potential solutions generated to address the challenge. In this topic, we focus on tools and techniques for crafting a needs statement that will help you move forward in your design process, as well as on crafting an articulate, actionable statement that specifies an outcome necessary to address the challenge.

Ecosystems & Stakeholder Mapping

Ecosystem Mapping is an important tool for anyone trying to address complex challenges. An ecosystem map is a visual diagram of a social system where all of the stakeholders and environmental conditions are connected based on their relationship to one another. This topic will help you build a draft of an ecosystem map to start to understand the scope of the challenge you’re working on, and provide a draft map to use as a mechanism for getting feedback from potential stakeholders.

Design Observations

Observing in the design world is crucial for identifying true stakeholder needs. 

Active observations not only lead to a better understanding of the design context to be addressed, but also inform more appropriate design solutions for the intended stakeholders.This topic provides tools and frameworks for planning and conducting design observations to inform your design process. 

Stakeholder Requirements & Engineering Specifications

After you have defined the design problem you’re working on (or perhaps while you’re still figuring it out), the next step usually involves determining exactly what criteria a solution should meet in order to address the design problem. Directly engaging with the stakeholders is oftentimes the first step to figuring out what needs to happen to address a particular challenge – does the solution have to be intuitive? Easy to move? Adaptable?

Good stakeholder requirements are one of the key factors that lead to a successful design as they capture the stakeholders’ needs, desires, and expectations for a product. Once the stakeholder requirements are determined, they are usually translated over to what is called ‘engineering specifications’, which quantify the requirements and are the statements against which solutions are tested and verified with. Like the user requirements, you might elicit them by directly interacting with users and stakeholders, or through prototypes, trial and error, literature reviews, or standards, among many other methods.

In this topic, we’ll cover the basics of stakeholder requirements and how they translate into engineering specifications.

Social Styles

How do you learn and work best on a team, and what do you need from teammates to show up as your best self and do your best work? In this topic, we’ll cover social styles, which is an individual’s preferred way to show up on a team. Understanding not only your social style, but your teammates’ social style can build trust, create psychological safety, and promote inclusivity.


How do we envision approaching and defining “sustainability” in our design work? One concise interpretation is: “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Brundtland Commission)

In this workshop, we’ll explore the importance of considering sustainability from many contexts (environmental, political, financial, historical, and beyond) and analyze the implications of design choices as they relate to a concept’s sustainability.

Identity, Power, & Privilege

Understanding what you as a designer bring to the process at any stage is a key element of socially engaged design. In this workshop, we’ll ask you to reflect on your own identities, power, and privilege and consider how these might impact your process.

For example, ask yourself: What are my motivations for doing this work? In what ways might my own motivations be influencing the process? What identities and privileges do I bring to my work and are they different from the people involved? What does power look like in these spaces? How do all of these considerations impact what I understand to be a “problem” or “not a problem”?

Concept Selection

Once you’ve spent time exploring the solution space, ideating and developing concepts, you should have a large quantity of novel, effective, and quality ideas to approach your design problem. To move forward, you will need to be more critical of your ideas, deciding what is worth pursuing further and what ideas should be set aside. 

Concept screening is a time to organize and narrow down your concepts into a more manageable set of potential solutions. During this workshop, you will evaluate your concepts, judge your ideas, and determine a final concept to focus on.



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