Liberatory Design

A designer is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor,
mechanic, objective economist,
and evolutionary strategist.
–Buckminster Fuller

Design is central to working towards equity. However, most of us work in systems that still manifest inequities that were produced – by design – at their outset (e.g. tracked systems, assimilationist curriculum, unequal resources). So we must deliberately redesign for equity – and engage in intentional design processes that support this.

Our Liberatory Design Approach

In collaboration with the K-12 Lab at Stanford’s, we have developed an equity-centered approach to design called liberatory design. Building from the tradition of human-centered design (aka design thinking), which shifts traditional power dynamics related to decision-making and brings forth deeper innovation and agency amidst institutionalized norms and structures.

We believe:

  • Design and decision-making processes predictably default to reproductive patterns
  • Design processes must create conditions for liberatory thinking and must be explicit about how oppression and power imbalances shape the design context within institutions.
  • Design processes represent opportunities for decision-makers to transform their own understanding of why persistent patterns of inequity exist in their context – and to transform their own relationships with those they are designing for.

Liberatory Design Services

We offer a variety of customized liberatory design services – typically in combination with other services.

  • Design Seed: NEP provides training in liberatory design process so that leaders can develop and facilitate their own design processes.
  • Design Lead: NEP facilitates a design process with a team.
  • Design Partner: NEP co-leads a design process with a client, paying attention to building design leadership capacity.

Liberatory Design in Complex Systems

Our 3-day Liberatory Design in Complex Systems Institute supports participants to expand their equity consciousness while moving beyond perpetual (and often inadequate) cycles of improvement toward more dynamic approaches to problem solving and decision-making. Participants explore process and planning tools that can match the level of complexity in their situation and context. Consideration is given on how to link day-to-day activities with a long-term vision of equity, even in a changing and unpredictable world. We offer open-registration Institutes in Oakland and Chicago.

Liberatory Design Card Deck

We have developed a Liberatory Design Process in collaboration with colleagues from the Stanford University Download the Liberatory Design Card Deck here.