Sustainable and Responsible Design Education: Tensions in Transitions

Boehnert, Joanna; Sinclair, Matt and Dewberry, Emma (2022). Sustainable and Responsible Design Education: Tensions in Transitions. Sustainability, 14(11), article no. 6397.



Sustainable and Responsible Design (SRD) harnesses design’s potential to address eco-social problems and in doing so challenge the status quo of design education by reframing the social and ecological consequences, boundaries and agencies of design. This critical and transdisciplinary approach frays the edges of traditional design disciplines with embedded and reflexive modes of learning. We describe characteristics of SRD education and present theories of learning to empower students in this complex terrain. The learning associated with SRD education is ecologically engaged, participative, critical, expansive and designerly. We recount case studies of our own experiences advancing sustainable and responsible undergraduate design education in the UK. We identify path constraints such as disciplinary fragility, appropriation, and power dynamics in the design school. The push for a revision of priorities generates tensions where there is often greenwashing rhetoric of sustainability and inclusivity. We describe strategies and tactics to address these tensions. We highlight the agency we have as educators and designers and argue that design education can only meaningfully participate in response to the challenges presented by climate change, other types of ecocide, and social problems when educators make substantive commitments to supporting sustainability literacies and design approaches that serve the interests of diverse stakeholders

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