Design + Justice Resources

Sun, Jun 28, 2020

We want to share some of the writings and resources that have been helping us center justice within our design practice.

Design + Justice Resources

We at Superorganism believe in the transformative potential of design to open pathways to liberated, inclusive, and plural futures. Designers have a lot of collective work to do to realize that potential.

We recognize that if we are not actively designing for radically alternative systems, we are continuing to perpetuate and materialize systemically unjust and violent ones.

We are immensely grateful for everyone who has historically worked toward Black liberation and for those who continue to do so today. We stand in solidarity with you.

To those building a better future for all of us right now, we thank you. We are committed to supporting you and working alongside you to enable that future.

We know that abolition of the police and the prison industrial complex is not simply a project of dismantling but a project of building. We all need to be designing the societal conditions of community and care that can render those systems obsolete.

We are working right now to decenter whiteness and dismantle white supremacy and anti-Black racism in ourselves, our practice, and our communities.

These are important conversations for us to have together, but they are also conversations we are having by listening and beginning dialogues with the work of amazing Black activists, designers, and their allies who have been thinking about this far longer than we have.

We still have lots of work and learning to do, alongside working through concrete commitments and principles we should embed in our principles-based practice. We will keep listening and sharing. Love to you all.

We’ve got a bunch of resources to share. If you want the TL;DR version of this list, check out this spreadsheet.


Designs for the Pluriverse | Arturo Escobar

“In Designs for the Pluriverse Arturo Escobar presents a new vision of design theory and practice aimed at channeling design’s world-making capacity toward ways of being and doing that are deeply attuned to justice and the Earth.”

Arturo Escobar was one of Ariana’s most formative professors and mentors in her undergraduate studies and the first to introduce her to the concepts, major actors, and inspirations of designing for transition. Since then, we’ve been grateful to have him as a guiding Superorganism mentor and friend and have drawn so much on his work and thinking. Designs for the Pluriverse was a very impactful text in shaping our collaborative Major Research Project in our OCAD U Master’s program (you should see the amount of underlining in each of our copies). For us, it’s a beautiful articulation of design’s responsibilities and challenges and a must-read for any critical design curriculum.

Design Justice | Sasha Costanza-Chock

“An exploration of how design might be led by marginalized communities, dismantle structural inequality, and advance collective liberation and ecological survival.”

We got to meet Sasha at DRS 2018 in Limerick where she gave a really great presentation of a paper outlining the Design Justice principles. We’re really looking forward to reading her book and diving deeper into these ideas. It looks like an open access copy has been made available, and you can also check out this detailed synopsis of the book.

Emergent Strategy | adrienne maree brown

“Inspired by Octavia Butler’s explorations of our human relationship to change, Emergent Strategy is radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live.”

We are both reading this book right now, which is a must-read for people in the facilitation/social change/activism spaces. The Emergent Strategy principles articulated in the book can be a strong foundation for a principles-based design, something that we have been thinking a lot about for the past couple of years. We align with adrienne’s principles; here are a few that really stand out to us:

Equity-Centered Community Design Field Guide | Creative Reaction Lab

“a unique creative problem solving process based on equity, humility-building, integrating history and healing practices, addressing power dynamics, and co-creating with the community. This design process focuses on a community’s culture and needs so that they can gain tools to dismantle systemic oppression and create a future with equity for all.”

As designers who recognize the responsibility and power of design in creating the systems we are all a part of, the equity-centered community design field guide offers a concrete, actionable framework for more just and ethical design practices. We look forward to using the Equity-Centered Community Design framework to ensure our design-based problem solving intersects with community development and equitable outcomes.

Calls to Action/Commitments

Anti-Racist Critical Design | Mapping Access

“Critical Design Lab Statement on Design Commitments to Abolishing White Supremacy”

We are very aligned with and inspired by this well-articulated set of commitments toward anti-racist critical practice. Specifically, the commitment of valuing life over property reminds us that designed things hold power, make meaning, and are not innocent; our racist systems have been designed that way. In our own work, we commit to continually asking “whether the intended outcome is liberatory, or if it simply reaffirms existing power structures and relations.” We commit to building a practice around “orienting critical design as a way to build communities that show up for each other.”

#DesignAsProtest | Colloqate

“The fight against racism and police brutality demands we leverage our professional connections and privileges in the name of advancing justice. We need to make sure that professional organizations, leading firms & offices, and local professional organizers hear our demands and use their power to establish policy that advances justice within our fields.”

We will be referring back to these concrete demands for design justice—from discontinuing metrics that perpetuate inequality rather than recognizing historical oppression to dismantling our relationships with power and capital. Colloqate has been organizing designers through #DesignAsProtest.

Design Justice Principles | Design Justice Network

“Design justice rethinks design processes, centers people who are normally marginalized by design, and uses collaborative, creative practices to address the deepest challenges our communities face.”

We have often looked to the Design Justice Network as a model for principles-based design. The Design Justice Principles have been a great lens through which to critique our practice and serve as guides to use design as a force for social justice.

White Savior Complex in Design | fiveboi

An Instagram thread directed at white and non-black POC designers with specific ways to avoid “white saviour complex” in design.

This has helped us think through how we, as white designers, can check that we are not behaving as “white saviours” or demonstrating performative allyship but instead doing the deep work of decolonizing our design practice and dismantling white supremacy.


Anti-Racist Design Syllabus | Elizabeth Chin

This is an evolving document curated by Elizabth Chin containing an anti-racist design syllabus to confront design’s relationship with designed things produced in the pursuit of white supremacy.

Modernity + Coloniality | Ahmed Ansari

Happening during the summer of 2020, Modernity + Coloniality is “a reading seminar and survey course looking into the constitution, scale, and many dimensions of the modern\colonial world-system.”

We cannot say enough good things about Ahmed Ansari. As one of the founders of Decolonizing Design, and a vocal critic and thinker in the world of design and design studies, we have often looked to his thoughts and writing to learn and reflect upon our own design practice. He is caring and generous with the design community and design students, sharing his syllabi, thoughts, and open courses like this one. We’ve been to the past few classes and Ahmed is a wonderful lecturer and the discussions that follow are always deep and insightful. Thank you Ahmed 💛

For another syllabus, also see p. 14 in Jacquie Shaw’s MRP described below


Design Thinking is a Rebrand for White Supremacy | Darin Buzon

“The result is a profession of narcissists deepening class stratification by standardizing Design Thinking jargon as a metric for gatekeeping and producing an artificial need that clients ought to hire for […] Design, as it always has been, lived with its content and was informed by the author. Thus what design puts out into the world always carries responsibility, always required criticality in its production.”

By taking a critical look at design’s history, evolution, and current trajectory, Buzon’s article reminds us that there is no such thing as an objective designer. We can design with others who are experts in their own experiences rather than framing ourselves as experts by virtue of our designer title. We will continue thinking about the role of power in our design process and find ways to consciously make design accessible rather than engaging in jargon or gate-keeping. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we talk about our work, and we look forward to learning more and better ways to make design, which involves everyone, feel like that is true.

How to think differently about doing good as a creative person | Omayeli Arenyeka

“A guide to avoiding “creative savior complex” when working on social impact projects”

As designers focused on “doing good” we love this guide as a critical prompt for thinking about our own practice. It is clear, straightforward, and pointed, probing your intentions, positionality, and capacities. See the Creative Saviour Complex talk too.

Redesigners for Justice: the leaders we need for an equitable future | Creative Reaction Lab

“Creative Reaction Lab’s work is based on the belief that systems of oppression, inequality, inequity are by design; therefore, they can and must be redesigned. We also believe that everybody is a designer — design is not restricted to people who have pursued design as a career path. We all have the power to influence outcomes. Every choice that we make every day contribute to a greater design.”

Creative Reaction Lab has Redesigners for Justice is a mindset shift, rather than a specific process, that calls on designers to orient their work toward justice and equity. This article uses Ava DuVernay’s work in film and television as an example of how one might orient any type of work to intentionally redesign more equitable systems. We will be drawing on Creative Reaction Lab’s Equity Centred Community Design process (earlier in this list) in our own principles-based work. We also strive to act as Design Allies by leveraging our power, access, and privilege to benefit other Equity designers.


Decolonizing Design

“We believe that a sharper lens needs to be brought to bear on non-western ways of thinking and being, and on the way that class, gender, race, etc,. issues are designed today. We understand the highlighting of these issues through practices and acts of design, and the (re)design of institutions, design practices and design studies (efforts that always occur under conditions of contested political interests) to be a pivotal challenge in the process of decolonisation.”

Design Justice Network

“The Design Justice Network is an international community of people and organizations who are committed to rethinking design processes so that they center people who are too often marginalized by design. We work according to a set of principles that were generated and collaboratively edited by our network.”


We’ve been looking to our fellow graduates of the OCAD U MDes Strategic Foresight and Innovation program as sources of inspiration for centering justice in design and foresight work. The following resources are Major Research Projects written by graduates of the program. There are many more MRPs we need to read!

Decolonizing Futures: Exploring Storytelling as a Tool for Inclusion in Foresight | Pupul Bisht

“explores ways in which storytelling can be used as a tool for opening up the [foresight] discourse to non-western perspectives […] The alternative method proposed in this research fills a significant void in the contemporary futures discourse, that of methods/frameworks directly derived and reflective of a non-western perspectives on the future.”

As foresight practitioners, we appreciate Pupul’s critical decolonial lens on the often Western-derived foresight frameworks and methods. By using a “culturally-inclusive Kaavad storytelling tradition of India,” Pupul’s work reminds of the importance of using tools that emerge from the cultural context of those they involve and of the need for emerging disciplines like foresight to support and demand alternative, non-Western/colonial methodologies.

Inclusive and Plural Futures: A Way Forward | Prateeksha Singh

“The framework, inspired by the Lotus flower, is targeted at current Futures practitioners, and seeks to guide its users in questioning the belief systems, worldviews, and epistemological groundings underpinning their work; its goal being to generate futures with our broader community that are inclusive, plural, anti-colonial and culturally sensitive. While the field cannot become inclusive and representative overnight, it can become a better ally in the process, and it is to support in this transition that the framework seeks its utility.”

We use foresight, or futures studies, as a lens in our design practice. We look to works like Prat’s to offer an intentionally “inclusive, plural, anti-colonial, and culturally sensitive” perspective in a discipline that draws heavily on frameworks from the Global North. Like Pupul’s work, Prateeksha’s MRP illustrates how power and privilege imbalances affect foresight’s ability to be truly inclusive. Her lotus framework poses questions that we will use in our own foresight and design work to reflect on who we are centering, who holds power, and who is setting community standards within the work that we do.

Towards An Intersectional Praxis In Design | Jacquie Shaw

“Design will be intersectional, respectful, liberatory, and work to dismantle systemic inequalities and oppression or it will be bullshit — adapted from Flavia Dzodan”

“Praxis sounds smart, praxis sounds embodied, praxis comes from brown people, praxis has been adopted by whites. Design and art are a practice, intersection-al inclusion and intention are a practice. I am bad at practicing I always have been, I want to be good right away. How do we weave practice into our lives. Praxis vs. practice. Practice WITH Praxis. Self examination, outreach, curiosity, criticality, imagination. What is the imagination of design?”

We have learned a lot and have so much admiration for Jacquie Shaw’s MRP on intersectional design practice. Jacquie articulates so beautifully many of the concerns and critical questions we shared while participating in design education and the SFI program: questioning the very nature and purpose of design, seeking to understand how the current practice of design can coexist with attempts at pluriversality and intersectionality. We believe thinking critically about design’s role in systems of oppression and historical injustice should be an integral part of any design education program and so were particularly inspired by Jacquie’s proposed introductory curriculum for intersectional design practice (p. 14) to “ introduce students to critical texts and theories which examine the role of designers through an intersectional lens […] Topics covered include intersectional feminist theory, the role of designers, design ethics, design and decolonial-ism, design anthropology, and design for social innovation/social change.” This MRP is so rich—go read it!

We Must Write A Better Ending: Using Strategic Foresight in Social Movement Organizing | Karli Ferriolo

“This research will explore the intersection of social movements and futures studies, and to understand: how might social movements use strategic foresight to envision and create futures that are more equitable, just, and sustainable?”

Another critical perspective on the foresight field, Karli Ferriolo’s work points out how foresight has recently been applied in corporate arenas and ergo often serves corporate, capitalist interests. We appreciate Karli’s reminder that inclusive foresight work like participatory futures and visionary fiction can allow foresight to be used inclusively and accessibly. In doing so, foresight can serve as a tool to democratize the imagine of preferred futures beyond corporate interests to envision the alternative futures used in social movement work. We look foreward to doing more research to understand how our own foresight practices might be used to support and include the social movements we are so grateful to for building the better worlds we know are possible.

Resource Lists

Anti-racism design resources | Space Industries

“This document is intended to uplift Black design communities, serve as a resource for communities in need of pro bono design services, and serve as a resource to non-Black and white people to deepen our anti-racism work within design disciplines.”

A document we will look to as we develop our organizational model, both as a source of inspiring Black-owned design practices and ways to better support Black communities through intentional economic practices.

Decolonizing Design + Anti-Racism Channel | Sabrina Hall

A list of anti-racist and decolonial design resources curated by interactive art director, design educator, and writer Sabrina Hall; thank you!

Decolonizing Design Reader | Ramon Tejada

An enormous list of design-relevant resources, originally compiled by Ramon Tejada in 2018-2019. It is now an open, crowd-sourced Google Doc.

Talks & Events

Respectful Design: The Canadian Context | Dori Tunstall

We are grateful to have had Dori Tunstall as our Dean of Design while we were at OCAD. Dori has led the charge on decolonizing the university, and hiring more Indigenous and Black professors. In this talk Dori goes over some of the work she has been doing at the university.

Where Are The Black Designers?

“Where are the Black Designers is an initiative which aims to give a platform to creatives of color. By connecting designers, educators, and creative leaders we hope to start a dialogue about change in and out of the design industry.”

An amazing 5-hour virtual conference that took place on June 28th, 2020. There were so many great panels and discussions—go watch the recording if you couldn’t make it!


A Designer’s Critical Alphabet | Lesley-Ann Noel

A deck of cards “to introduce designers and design students to critical theory and to help them reflect on their design process.”

These are by Lesley-Ann Noel, a researcher and educator focused on design thinking pedagogy. She hosts the Pluriversal Design SIG along with Renata Leitao who we know from OCAD (which included running the amazing PIVOT conference recently). We haven’t used these cards yet but wanted to shout out Lesley-Ann!