This following content is derived from Davey, Wootton et al (2004) "Design of the Surreal World", submitted to the European Academy of Design (EAD) 2005 conference, 29–31 March 2005 : University of the Arts, Bremen, Germany

Socially Responsible Design


Companies have legal and social obligations arising from the context in which they operate. The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement aims to relate the ethical behaviour of a company towards society with its responsibilities towards stakeholders, not only shareholders. CSR commits companies to developing codes of conduct, mission statements and achieving continuous improvement in, for example, eco-efficiency. CSR encourages greater financial transparency and ethical investment, while endorsing a range of conventional management practices, including building partnerships, co-operating on technology and developing integrated approaches (Moir, 2001; Watts & Holme, 2001; WCED, 1987). Emphasis is also placed on the standardisation of business practice across global markets (Johnston, 2001). CSR and Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) have been incorporated into management approaches, such as the Business Excellence Model, and companies are urged to measure their performance against the “Triple Bottom Line” of people, profit and planet (Hardjono & Marrewijk, 2001).

The term CSR is employed by the UK Design Council, with a section of its website dedicated to this subject (www.designcouncil.org.uk). However, Garfunkel (2003) appears to view design merely as a tool to support the communication and reporting activities that constitute an internal, company management-focused view of CSR. Indeed, the CSR literature tends to concentrate on corporate governance issues, such as internal business structure, management style, reporting methods and investment. Consequently, critics may view CSR simply as “window dressing” (Hardjono & Marrewijk, 2001). Unfortunately, such a management-centred approach to CSR ignores the potential for business to shape society through its design interventions—the products, environments, services or systems it creates. Clearly, such a shift in viewpoint would make CSR relevant to all businesses, not just the global players.

The omission of a design-centred approach within CSR is surprising, since design has a long history of addressing issues relating to social responsibility (Whiteley, 1993). The use of design to address social, environmental, economic and political issues may be termed ‘Socially Responsible Design’ (SRD). SRD interventions, whether focused on the individual or wider society, move beyond economic considerations to embrace ethical, emotional and humanitarian values (Davey et al, 2002).

We present a new model for Socially Responsible Design (SRD) that positions it within the wider context of CSR and by so doing, brings CSR into sharper focus. The SRD Model identifies eight core features of the modern experience upon which design impacts, thereby mapping the domain of SRD practice. It is based on a comprehensive review of the literature and the experiences of researchers working within the Design Policy Partnership—a multi-disciplinary teams of research working at the University of Salford, The Robert Gordon University and Sheffield Hallam University. The model enables different design approaches to be located within an overall framework, without dictating the focus or approach, and makes clear the potential for SRD.

Building on the work of Whiteley (1993) in ‘Design for Society’, this paper contributes to recent discussions about the future of CSR (Hardjono and van Marrewijk, 2001; Watts and Holme, 2001) and social responsibility in design (Attfield, 1999; Findeli, 2001; Klein, 2000; Lang Ho, 2003; Margolin and Margolin, 2002; Moir, 2001; Myerson, 1994; Manzini and Vezzoli, 2003; Relph-Knight, 2001; Sherwin, Bhamra and Evans, 1998; Shiers, 2000; Walker, 2000; Wilhide, 1999). It also reopens the debate about the extent to which the producers of harmful products can be considered socially responsible.



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