The Corruption of Co-Design : Political and Social Conflicts in Participatory Design Thinking book cover
1st Edition

The Corruption of Co-Design
Political and Social Conflicts in Participatory Design Thinking

  • Available for pre-order. Item will ship after February 16, 2023
ISBN 9781032250014
February 16, 2023 Forthcoming by Routledge
152 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Designers are often depicted as social change agents that serve the good in the world. Similarly, co-design tends to be described as a democratic mode of creativity that is somehow beyond reproach. But is change a virtue in itself, and do participatory practices always produce socially beneficial outcomes?

Such questions are becoming more pressing as co-design has emerged as a dominant practice in planning and urban design, while also informing corporate management and public administration. This book presents these emerging design-inspired practices, pointing to some of the threats and detrimental effects that may arise from their adoption. Departing from the idealism that tends to dominate the Scandinavian tradition on design, it instead proposes that concepts like participative design, social design and design thinking need to be analysed through a realist lens.

Using the notion of Realdesign, as a parallel to Realpolitik, the authors aim to highlight political, social and methodological obstacles when designers turn to design thinking, participation and "living labs", with the hope of changing the world for the better. How does co-design sometimes tacitly further dominant agendas and systemic injustices, and what lessons about the social must today’s designers learn from realists?

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: The Problems of Participatory Design  2. The Realist Challenge: Power and Possibilities  3. Betrayal: Post-political Participation  4. Corruption: Design and Decay  5. Cunning: Mêtis and Designerly Statecraft  6. Hypocrisy: of virtue and vice  7. Closing Propositions: After Empathy, Realdesign

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Otto von Busch is Professor of Integrated Design at Parsons School of Design, The New School, New York.

Karl Palmås is Professor of Sociology at Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg.


"Who knew critical design theory could be funny?"

Lucy Kimbell, University of the Arts London, UK

"This is an urgently needed book, providing Social Designers with political theories to correct the too-often naïve expansion of their material practice to social challenges. The Corruption of Co-Design manages to be a robust political argument that is nevertheless attentive to the experimental particularities of design practice. It marks a welcome step-change in what responsible co-designing entails."
Cameron Tonkinwise, Professor Design Studies, University of Technology Sydney, Australia

"Machiavelli for democratic designers! A contradicto in adjecto? Not so for von Busch and Palmås. Realdesign, the healing cure they ordinate for the participative designer is bitter and it hurts, but it is most timely and helpful since codesign and design thinking today are fully integrated into neoliberal and public management agendas, reducing the “good” designer to an (unconscious) hypocritical moralist. “Good” maybe dead, but the suggested remedy for the participatory designer does not necessarily mean to give up co-created playful democratic utopian dreams, but rather to learn how to consciously take into account the rationality of power, to be able to seriously deal with betrayal, corruption, cunning and hypocrisy as we play along. The Corruption of Co-Design is a good place to start!"

Pelle Ehn, professor emeritus, Sweden