Society Centered Design

All around us we see signs that patriarchal capitalism and exploitative business models place profit over privacy, and efficiency over agency. They pit individuals against the collective. At their core, they are hierarchical and exclusionary.

We designed tools and frameworks to help us see the world in new ways, but they also changed how we think. We shaped frameworks, and in turn they shaped us. 20th century approaches like design thinking, human-centered design, and jobs to be done too often look at people solely as individuals. Or, worse yet, only as consumers. They don’t consider people in relation to their communities or to wider society. And society itself is ignored by design.

Similarly, data protection frameworks like GDPR or CCPA express our rights only as individuals. This individualistic lens has shaped how we now design for digital rights. But data rarely represents a single person - it usually describes many people.

We’ve had enough. We demand better. Better design approaches and tools, better measures of success, better data protection standards. We need a new framework for design and data that is purpose-built for the 21st century.

We want to move beyond human-centered design to society-centered design. We must design for the collective. We must design for society.

Designing for society means designing for the broader context of systems that we impact and shape. We can redefine our social contract with each other, and with the world that we steward. To do this, we must be intentional about citizen empowerment, civic commons, public health, equity, and the planet:

  • Citizen empowerment: how might we give people more rights and capabilities?
  • Civic commons: how might we create shared resources that strengthen communities?
  • Public health: how might we protect the safety and improve the physical and mental health of communities?
  • Equity: how might we design products, services and standards that are fair to everyone, not just the most privileged?
  • The planet: how might we better care for our world?

Society-centered design has these principles:

  • Put care first
    • If we put care first and at the center of our efforts, we can move away from delivering solely for individual and commercial interests. Care lets us deliver for public health and the planet through compassion and reciprocity.
  • Earn trust
    • As more of our lives are connected, we need to create systems that earn trust with people. Products, services, and standards that can be open, resilient and promote citizen empowerment.
  • Empower collective agency
    • Empowering collective agency starts with radical inclusion of the most vulnerable. We should be creating a new civic commons by making economic opportunity for the many.
  • Reimagine public value
    • We can create new resources and standards that favour the civic commons and public health over commercial value and the success of the few.
  • Design for people’s rights
    • Design is a political act and it’s our responsibility to design for people’s rights. Privacy is not a luxury for those that can afford it. Privacy is a human right. We must create systems that remove the imbalance of power and instead promote equity and citizen empowerment.
  • Ensure fair and just oversight
    • Without fairness and justice we cannot have equity. Too often, “the commons” is shorthand for “the majority”. So we need to place mechanisms for fair and just oversight inside our design systems, so society can hold the powerful to account.
  • Redistribute the power of technology
    • The web is the greatest single distribution platform ever created. As a result, it has an outsized impact on everything, including causing harm to the most vulnerable and excluded. Design must seek to redistribute that power for citizen empowerment and equity.
  • Create compassion at scale
    • AI and automation are rapidly changing the world. But currently they're focused on commercial goals rather than societal needs. We have an opportunity to reshape AI and automation so they create equity and reinforce civic commons. People must be in control, always.
  • Design for regenerative action
    • The climate emergency is an existential threat to humanity. We need to shift narratives and focus away from abundance and scarcity to regeneration. We need sustainable and regenerative design and business models for society for public health, and for the planet.
  • Confront uncertainty
    • The issues we face are intertwined, complex and ever-shifting. We live in radical times. And radical times require radical solutions. Doing nothing only favors a deadly status quo: we must act boldly and defiantly.

A Manifesto by IF

These principles show what society-centered design must achieve, but we are not there yet.

Our next step is to set out practical advice about how to work towards these principles with real-world examples.

We are at the start of the journey.

Join us by sharing this manifesto. If you'd like to co-sign, fill out this form. Email us at sc.d@projectsbyif.com to find out more.

Co-signed by

  • Abby Rose
  • Adam Zeiner
  • Akil Benjamin
  • Al Jeffery
  • Alan Schulman
  • Alan Williams
  • Alastair Parvin
  • Aldo DeJong
  • Alex Mohebbi
  • Alex Sher
  • Alexander Fefegha
  • Alicia Jarvis
  • Allison Bouganim
  • Alysha Naples
  • Amogh Lux
  • Amy Newnham
  • Anab Jain
  • Andrea Newton
  • Andrea Nicosia
  • Andreas Wolters
  • Andrew Copolov
  • Andrew DeVigal
  • Andrew Eland
  • Andrew Mendosa
  • André Moreira Dias
  • Andréia Matos
  • Aniyia L. Williams
  • Anna Dorothea Ker
  • Antonella Frisiello
  • Antonio Grillo
  • Becky Miller
  • Becky Priebe
  • Bedannita M.
  • Beenen Paul
  • Ben Bashford
  • Ben Rowe
  • Ben Serbutt
  • Blessing Yen
  • Branden Byers
  • Caio Braga
  • Carina Gonzalez
  • Carlos Hernandez Tellez
  • Caroline Sinders
  • Cassie Robinson
  • Cat Drew
  • Chad Borlase
  • Charles Bauer
  • Chris Haynes
  • Chris Palmatier
  • Chris Thorpe
  • Christian Cerullo
  • Christian Contemori
  • Christy Knell
  • Cindy Yang
  • Clara Elisabeth August
  • Clémence Martin-Beaumont
  • Collette Swindells
  • Curtis James
  • CV Harquail
  • Daljeet Singh
  • Damola Morenikeji
  • Dan Hill
  • Daniel Charny
  • Daniel Demmel
  • Daniel Harvey
  • Daniel Llamas
  • Daniel Silva
  • Darien LaBeach
  • Dave de Bakker
  • David Marques
  • David Novak
  • Deborah Szebeko
  • Devin Mancuso
  • Donagh Horgan
  • Dorin Vancea
  • Drew Fagin
  • Duncan Geere
  • Dzoara Fonseca
  • Eirini Malliaraki
  • Eli Montgomery
  • Elizabeth Pizzuti
  • Elizma Benade
  • Ella Britton
  • EMILY NABNIAN
  • Emily Tulloh
  • Esther Correa
  • Fabricio Teixeira
  • Faz Kamisan
  • Federico Cuppoloni
  • Frederic Audet
  • Gabrielle Micheletti
  • Gaz Aston
  • Georgina Bourke
  • Gina Soloperto
  • Guillaume Demers
  • Gustav Stromfelt
  • Hildreth England
  • Humanner
  • Ian Bach
  • Ian Bellchambers
  • Idan Grady
  • Imran Hafiz
  • Jacquelyn Yakira Halpern
  • James A. Reeves
  • James Columbine
  • Janos Deak
  • Jason Cremerius
  • Jason Huff
  • Jason Polkovitz
  • Javier Montañés
  • Jeff Turner
  • Jeff Zych
  • Jennie Winhall
  • Jennifer Brandel
  • Jensie Miksich
  • Jess Holbrook
  • Jessi Baker
  • Jessi Baker
  • Jill Graves
  • Joana Casaca Lemos
  • Joanna Stabler
  • Joel Krieger
  • John Caswell
  • John Maeda
  • Jon Skivenes
  • Jonas Haefele
  • Jonathon Reed
  • Joni Steiner
  • Joost MF Liebregts
  • Jorik Elferink
  • Jose Ramón Texeira Ponce
  • Juan Aís
  • Juan Mediavilla
  • Julia Schaeper
  • Kamaruzzaman
  • Karyn Campbell
  • Katherine Hepworth
  • Kenneth Yau
  • Kevin Webb
  • Kevin Webb
  • Kieron Leppard
  • Kristian Klok
  • Lara Bolito
  • Laura Kennett
  • Leah Wilson-Moore
  • Lesli Caballero
  • Lidiia Suslova
  • Lien De Ruyck
  • Ligia Ferlin
  • Lilly Marques
  • Lilu Guzman
  • Lingjing Yin
  • Lisa Angela
  • Lucas Anderson
  • Lucie Lavickova
  • Ludvik Herrera
  • Luis Cárdenas
  • Luis Huizi
  • Lydia Caldana
  • Lyondhur Picciarelli
  • M Kuznetsov
  • Mansi Gupta
  • Marco Sousa
  • Marco van Hout
  • Marco Zamarato
  • Marine Boudeau
  • Mario Menoscal
  • Mark Simpkins
  • Mark Wagner
  • Marta Axpe
  • Martha Koenig
  • Marti Cot
  • Martin Dowson
  • Martin S. Christensen
  • Mathieu Phaneuf
  • Matt Gardner
  • Matt Stevens
  • Matteo Roversi
  • Matthew Kreiling
  • Matthew Solle
  • Mauricio Franco
  • Merijn de Been
  • Micha Nicheva
  • Michael Davis-Burchat
  • Michael Hagel
  • Mick Champayne
  • Mishell Orta
  • Miyanda Nehwati
  • Mo Morgan
  • MyData Design
  • Nage Dales
  • Nat Hunter
  • Nat Ortiz
  • Nate Harrell
  • Nathan Kinch
  • Nele Van den Broeck
  • Nic Price
  • Nick Colley
  • Nick Ritchie
  • Nicola Felasquez Felaco
  • Nicole Harper
  • Nicole Majeske
  • Nicolò Volpato
  • Nikishka Iyengar
  • Nish Agarwal
  • Nora Gailer
  • Odonelso Betiatto Junior
  • Oliver Smith
  • Oscar Escallada
  • Pat Casey
  • Patrick Sanwikarja
  • Patti Hunt
  • Pedro Piñera
  • Peter Bihr
  • Phil Golub
  • Ploipailin Flynn
  • Pyc
  • Rafael Puyana
  • Raian Velasco
  • Rainey Straus
  • Ravid Me
  • Renato Steiner
  • Richard Beaumont
  • Rob Dewey
  • Rob Estreitinho
  • Robin Bonn
  • Ross Breadmore
  • Ross Hegtvedt
  • Rémi Kircher
  • Sagar Ghoting
  • Sam Judge
  • Samuel Lopez-Lago
  • Samuel Medrano
  • Sarah Drummond
  • Sarah Flynn
  • Sarah Gold
  • Sarah Mann
  • Saskia H. Herrmann
  • Scott Smith
  • Sen Lin
  • Shannon Delaney
  • Shannon Mattern
  • Shreshta Jaisingh
  • Simon Dixon
  • Simon Weller
  • Simon Weller
  • Simon Wiscombe
  • Sindhuja Shyam
  • Society Union
  • Sofia Rolland
  • Sophie Preuss
  • Stacey Edelstein
  • STEFANO BOSCUTTI
  • Stephanie Sherman
  • Stephen Johnson
  • Sudebi Thakurata
  • Sven Ehmann
  • Sven Grammes
  • Taylor Frances Lewis
  • Temi Lasade-Anderson
  • Todd Meckenstock
  • Tom Hornbrook
  • Tyler Gindraux
  • Umesh Pandya
  • Valerie Sara Tonolli
  • Vinish Garg
  • Wilhelm Wanecek
  • Wolfgang Weicht
  • Woodie MacDuffie
  • Yosuke Ushigome
  • Zac Ioannidis
  • Zahra Ebrahim