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Design Thinking, Design Activism, Design Study




Hynes, Maria

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Fibreculture Publications


In the history of altruistic efforts to correct the ills of the social body, Design Thinking is today enjoying its time in the limelight. While many designers have relegated it to a passing phase in the history of design, it continues to gain purchase in the broader public sphere, where it is increasingly celebrated as a natural evolution of design's diverse trajectories and the realisation of its moral potentials. This article offers a brief analysis of the contemporary status of the Design Thinking brand and, specifically, its popular deployment toward the solution of social problems. As a peculiar form of immaterial labour, Design Thinking is increasingly reliant on the elaboration of a debt to design, as a way of mitigating the problem of the potentially non-productive privatisation of the commons. Drawing on the work of Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, I consider the implications of this for its supposed beneficiaries. I argue that, to the extent that design is recruited toward Design Thinking, figured as a model of solving social problems, it risks reproducing the dominant debt/credit logic and denying histories of unpayable debt. What I call design study, by contrast, makes 'bad debt' a principle of elaboration, thus opening the way for different ways of experiencing our mutual indebtedness.







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Open Access

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CC-BY license



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