WEEK 7: Is Democracy a Design Problem?

Ezio Manzini giving a lecture at CMU

This week, Ezio Manzini came to speak at CMU on… well, on what is seen in the slide in the picture above. In this lecture, Manzini described democracy as a horizon. It’s something always just out of reach, something we can always get closer to and perfect. But where does design fit into all of that?

After this fall’s election, I had a lot rolling around in my mind, especially about my thesis project. Should I rethink what I want to do for thesis? Is there something urgent I need to be addressing? For myself and for my community? This lecture was a great catalyst for that, to better position myself… how design fits into this political space. Manzini discussed three ways design fits into democracy, design of, for, and in a democracy:

  1. Design of democracy: structures, services, strategies
  2. Design for democracy: devices that are useful for democracy
  3. Design in a democracy: develop initiatives to make democracy richer

So we are perhaps energized now. We feel this urgency to do something. What should we do? As citizens and as designers? Manzini says we need to resist and propose. I see this more as two types of activism and advocacy. Propose is more relevant to lobbying, calling representatives, taking part in policymaking and legislation. But these things are slow, and in the meantime we must resist; we must engage in activities that mitigate the effects of these bad policies. For example, it might not be enough to call your representative to advocate for implementation of early voting. Another more immediate option is to help those impacted by the inability to get to the polls on the day of, such as the suddenly ill or the elderly. On the other hand, if policy change is not on your radar, it’s foolhardy, since most of this kind of activism is not sustainable. Ultimately, we need to be pointing out solutions (in all ways), not just listing problems.

This is not related to design so much, but he said one thing that was particularly comforting post-election. In response to a question about whether fascism can be an extension of democracy, if fascism is the will of the people, Manzini said that democracy respects the minority and that fascism requires the complete destruction of democracy. I’m not sure how much faith I have generally in democracy or in the U.S. governmental institutions. But I do know that they are strong, and I believe they will withstand all the turbulence that these next years will bring.

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