Posts tagged ‘socially responsible design’

November 6, 2008

Obama’s acceptance speech is a design brief (?)

A discussion on design for democracy in a list on design and transformation forced me to think about the relevance of Obama’s victory acceptance speach as something very similar to a design Brief. Peter Jones (Humantific) asked some fundamental questions that forced me to listen to the speach again and again and think about that for the whole day,

Peter asked the following questions:

What is such a transformative design brief? Let’s say before the “Obama design brief” is written, who frames the problem with Obama and how is this done?


What kind of brief creates the space for something new to show up, in an inclusive, co-creative way, making way for this leadership for participation we now are seeing?






I’m  not sure I am able to answer, but I can try:

Any good brief should start from a Problem definition. The speech somehow frames a problem definition, proposes what in design terms I would define a methodological approach and opens the discussion for a vision

Problem Definition:

“we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers”

This statement refers to deep unbalances in the economy, which reflect in social and economic inequalities. The problem is how to reduce such inequalities. In other speeches before this he talked about a redistribution of wealth across the American society. In general the problem definition concerns the generation of a more equal society and a society based on participation


Methodological approach (How should we solve the problem, what are the problem solving strategies):

“we have never been just a collection of individuals, we are the United States of America”

Refers to a perspective that refuses individualism as a value. This perspective, of course, is not calling for a new form of socialism, but remarks the essence of a nation as a community of people, with their diversities, but with a common identity.

Furthermore he reminded how this electoral campaign was based on a sort of bottom-up approach, as he was not the candidate of the highest levels of the hierarchies, but the result of a common effort of citizens to support him. Other references in the speech are to the sense of participation and responsibility of people. Besides the obvious rhetoric of this part of his speech, the speech refers to a space for co-creation, participation, based on the activation of the whole society, starting from the lowest levels.



In the last part of his speach he opens a window on the future (especially that of our kids):

“if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?”


This is not yet a vision, but a call for a shared vision of the future (he puts it as a question and use WE, not You or I as a subject).


I think this gives a good frame to us, as designers, to imagine design for democracy as a future perspective for our activities.

Design can work for democracy by transforming public institutions and administrations in order to support a process of active involvement of people in finding their own solutions, expressingtheir own opinions and participating in the construction of a community or the identity of a city or the destiny of a country.