The complexity of the social and environmental challenges we face today calls for a new sense of agency in our practice—agency that is more than simply a conviction to intervene. For designers interested in effecting social change, it’s about cultivating an honest perspective about our role, about bringing a measure of intentionality and reflexivity to our practice, and about allowing collaboration and facilitation to replace the top-down, designer-centric models of the past. How do we align our skills and values to make meaningful contributions to our world? What gives us agency to work within particular communities or around particular issues? Are we willing to make the long-term commitments required to develop enduring solutions? And what additional skills do we need to make this all happen? Design Agency challenges us to bring the same level of accountability to our social practice as we do to our aesthetic one; to bring our skills as designers, in line with our values as people and to do so through praxis—a willingness, as Paulo Freire describes, to “reflect and act upon the world in order to transform it.”1 We developed the graduate course Design Agency in this spirit, and in doing so, transformed our ideas about agency, into agency. The collaborative, interdisciplinary nature of the class was our action—a small attempt to transform the way we approach sociallyengaged practice within our institution and within the individual practices of eleven other graduate students, in addition to ourselves. Design Agency is a path towards social change—a way for us to define our individual values and to bring our collective skills to bear in meeting the challenges of the moment. It’s about cultivating a series of ongoing questions—ones that allow us to examine the systems within which we work, to develop a consciousness about the way we practice, and to do so in service to our community.
1 Freire, Paulo. 2000. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.