Design Thinking & Social Innovation

19. Nov 2012

A reasonable twist?

0_Editorial.jpg  Josef Hochgerner, Scientific director of ZSI

In the winter term of 2012 a  promising new academic course started in Vienna: The  Master programme 'Social Design_Arts as Urban Innovation', offered jointly by the University of Applied Arts and the Konservatorium Wien (City of Vienna University). The Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI) agreed to serve as social scientific partner for the course.

From "making life easier" to create a "more sustainable world"
Undisputable social design strategies can create socially innovative products and services. In doing so, the claim "form follows function" (Horatio Greenough, 1852; Louis Sullivan, 1896) is extended by social dimensions and questions raised by the users, clients of even persons somehow concerned. There are some well known examples in the world of design, which shaped this term: E.g. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897 – 2000), the first female Austrian architect and opponent against the Nazi regime. She  is mostly remembered today for designing the so-called Frankfurt Kitchen, a  at that time   revolutionary novel working environment which today still serves as prototype for built-in kitchens.

Design thinking for a better world
During the past 15 years mainstream research on design opened some new doors. Traditional debates were enhanced by other disciplines. The term 'Design thinking' (see also Brown, T. & J. Wyatt, 2010: “Design Thinking and Social Innovation.” Stanford Social Innovation Review. Winter: 30-35) became important,
for instance in the context of management science or business studies. Businesses are adopting design thinking because it assits in becoming innovative due top e.g. a faster opening up of new markets for their products and services. Non-for-profit organizations are also starting  to adopt 'design thinking' in order to provide  evene better solutions to social problems. Nowadays 'design thinking' crosses the traditional boundaries between the public, the private and the non-for-profit sector.
Apart from some volatile trends in research and design triggerd by Public Art and its protagonists , there is not  a distinct tradition established yet on how social sciences can provide relevant  perspectives to design projects. Still  social sciences can open designer’s eyes to the social context, for instance by informing about the social systems forming urban environments. "Empowerment", "bottom up" and "participation" are to be embedded in an interesting discourse towards human centred design.

Via collaboration with the two universities ZSI enters in a new venture of academic discourse in a truly socially relevant and inter-disciplinary field of research studies.

Further details on the joint M.A. course of Studies of “Social Design_Arts as Urban Innovation” can be found here:


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Tags: social innovation, social sciences

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