Designing social innovation in cultural diversity and sensitivity

Track Chair

Joon Sang Baek
UNIST, Korea, Republic of (South Korea)

Track Subchairs​

Joyce Yee
Northumbria University, UK

Yoko Akama
​RMIT University, Australia

Yanki Lee
Linnaeus University, Sweden

Penny Hagen
Smallfire, New Zealand

Design and social innovation projects are undertaken in culturally specific contexts yet they are also buffeted by the same global dynamics of economical and political influences, where assumptions of a ‘generic’ designer is just as problematic as seeing individuals or groups of people identified by a taxonomized cultural background based on geographical or nationalized categories. These insights have similarly shaped discourses in postcolonial HCI that ‘speak at once to the highly local and contingent practices that we see at work in different specific sites of technology design and use, while at the same time recognizing the ways that those localisms are conditioned and embedded within global and historical flows of material, people, capital, knowledge and technology’ (Irani et. al 2010: 1317). When design/designers enter into existing circumstances to catalyse social change, they can disrupt existing practices, reconfigure local power-dynamics and shift gender relations in intentional or unknowing ways. In other words, design/designers are implicated in becoming a constituent of transforming cultural practices. Yet nuanced and detailed understanding of cultural heterogeneity in social innovation has not been emphasised in design research as much as tools and technique. Several reasons are speculated, such as lack of theoretical and methodological knowledge that addresses the challenges of understanding their complex forms, and they cannot be controlled nor manufactured, and thus often excluded from the scope of design. In foregrounding cultural nuances when designing with others, what issues, questions and concerns are significant to keep in view? What can help those who intervene, including stakeholders with certain agendas and existing practices, as well as the ‘local community’, be aware of and work with existing and morphing cultural logics?

Keywords: social innovation, culture, nuance, diversity, sensitivity

Indicative References

Akama, Y & Yee, J 2016, 'Seeking stronger plurality: Intimacy and integrity in designing for social innovation', paper presented to Cumulus Hong Kong: Open Design for E-very-thing, Hong Kong, Nov 21-24.


Manzini, E., Baek, J. S., & Zhong, F. (2010). Design for social innovation and sustainability: Hypothesis on a viable leapfrog strategy in China. Asian Design Journal, 5(March 2010), 104-135.

Irani, L, Vertesi, J, Dourish, P, Philip, K & Grinter, RE 2010, 'Postcolonial Computing: A Lens on Design and Development', paper presented to CHI 2010, Atlanta, Georgia, US.