Design Processes and Tools as Oppression? Rethinking our Design Practice for more Just Design Outcomes

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Manuhuia Barcham


Our design processes and tools matter, as our design is always shaped by the processes and tools that we use. Context necessarily shapes the content of our design processes and tools. But, without paying attention to the content emerging from that context, the use of these tools and processes may become oppressive. In the wake of colonialism, the un-reflexive use of design tools and processes underpinned by Western conceptual ideas and schema can lead to oppression for design with non- Western or Indigenous peoples. Even tools and processes designed with a supposedly liberatory intent, such as promoting democratic practice or equality, can lead to oppression in their un-reflexive use. Looking at two experiences from my design practice with my own hapū (clan), this article explores the ways in which ideas of democratic participation and equality raised in these two design spaces could function in an oppressive way to cause a form of violence against our traditional lifeworld. This article proposes some ways in which this aspect of design might be modified to help lead to more just design outcomes, through a more reflective and intentional approach when choosing and applying the design tools and processes we use in our design practice.


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How to Cite
Barcham, M. (2023). Design Processes and Tools as Oppression? Rethinking our Design Practice for more Just Design Outcomes. Diseña, (22), Article.7.
Original articles
Author Biography

Manuhuia Barcham, Emily Carr University of Art and Design

Ph.D. in Political Philosophy, Australian National University. He holds a B.Sc. in Molecular Biology and a MA Degree in Political Science and Public Administration, both from Canterbury University. He is an Associate Professor of Inte­raction Design in the Faculty of Design + Dynamic Media at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. A practising Interaction Designer, he is Principal of Archetekt – a Strategic Design and Futuring firm operating out of Seattle (USA) and Hastings (New Zealand). His roster of clients includes, among others: the United Nations, the Australian Federal Government, Snap Inc., and a number of Indi­genous groups. Some of his recent publications include ‘Towards a Radically Inclusive Design – Indigenous Story-telling as Codesign Methodologyʼ (CoDesign, ahead-of-print); ‘Weaving To­gether a Decolonial Imaginary Through Design for Effective River Management: Pluriversal Ontological Design in Practiceʼ (Design Issues, Vol. 38, Issue 1); and ‘Decolonizing Public Healthcare Sys­tems: Designing with Indigenous Peoplesʼ (She Ji, Vol. 8, Issue 4).


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