1st Edition

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

By Otto von Busch, Karl Palmås Copyright 2023
    142 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    142 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    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. In this book, Otto von Busch and Karl Palmås suggest that designers tend to overemphasize the place of ideals in design, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with a social world of power-wielding and zero-sum games. Seeking to reorient the concerns of the Scandinavian tradition of participatory design, they suggest that co-design processes are rife with betrayals, decay, and corruption, and that designerly empathy has morphed into a new form of cunning statecraft.

    In putting forward Realdesign as an alternative conception of design practice, von Busch and Palmås ask: What hard lessons about the social must today’s designers learn from realists like Machiavelli?

    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


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

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

    "Who knew critical design theory could be funny?"

    Lucy Kimbell, Professor, 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, 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