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Beyond Good Intentions: Power literacy for designers

Format: Workshops, RSD10, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Maya Goodwill and co-facilitator (TBD)

Moving into the social and public sectors, design is becoming both more complex and more participatory. As such, systemic design has been an important approach to address the wicked problems, interconnected tensions, and greater diversity and interrelatedness of stakeholders emerging in the social and public sector design field. However, although many systemic designers are aware of the normativity of design and accordingly bring into their design practice the intention to make the latter more participatory and equitable, they often lack an in-depth understanding of power, privilege, and the social structures (norms, roles, rules, assumptions and beliefs) that uphold structural inequality. Without this knowledge, systemic design practitioners and educators may unwittingly reproduce existing inequities in and through their work (Goodwill, van der Bijl-Brouwer & Bendor, 2021).

Power literacy

As such, it is becoming critical for design practitioners and educators to gain a more nuanced understanding of power dynamics. In essence, they must gain power literacy in order to work with the complexities, tensions and pluralities of power that underlie design practices and that may reproduce systemic oppression (e.g., white supremacy, colonialism, cisheteropatriarchy, ableism, etc.) and cause harm to marginalized communities (see Ansari, 2018; Bardzell, 2010; Bratteteig and Wagner, 2014; Costanza-Chock, 2018; 2020; Dombrowski, Harmon and Fox, 2016; Holmes-Miller, 2016; Light and Amaka, 2014; Tunstall, 2013; Vink, Rodrigues and Wetter-Edman, 2017). Good intentions are simply not enough.

At the same time, there is a gap when it comes to addressing power and privilege in the design field. As such, the aim of this workshop is to support systemic designers, researchers and facilitators to become more aware of the power dynamics in their own work while motivating them to challenge existing inequities going forward. Based on A Social Designer’s Field Guide to Power Literacy, the workshop is an invitation for participants to work towards building a shared understanding of power in their design work while beginning to identify and challenge inequity in their work.

In the workshop, participants will be introduced to the framework for power literacy (including five forms of power found in the design process) and will be guided through reflexivity exercises in order to build up their power literacy skills.

Expected Outcomes

  • Participants will leave with a greater awareness of their power and privilege, the beginning of a “power practice” to apply in their work going forward, as well as with a shared language to better address power and equity within their systemic design projects moving forward.
  • The workshop may also lead to a greater discussion around power and equity in systemic design, and how to further incorporate these themes into future RSD symposiums and activities.


Maya Goodwill (she/they) is an experienced designer, facilitator, and researcher, currently working as a design researcher for the Government of Canada’s ESDC Innovation Lab. They have 10 years of experience in community engagement, social innovation and navigating complex relationships and partnerships in the social and public sectors. For their thesis at TU Delft (MSc Design for Interaction, 2020) she conducted research on power and systemic oppression within public and social sector participatory processes and designed a field guide for researchers, designers and facilitators to challenge inequity in their own work (more at They have spent the last year further developing the power literacy framework as a researcher at TU Delft, as a guest lecturer for TU Delft, Emily Carr University, Vancouver Island University and Carnegie Mellon University, and by offering workshops and coaching to organizations and governments interested in practising equitable design (including Kennisland, Government of British Columbia, Gemeente Amsterdam, NHS Scotland and Government of Canada).

Workshop format

120 minutes | online | maximum number of participants 25 | using Miro or Mural

Workshop Agenda: Power literacy

0:00 – 0:20 Welcome & icebreaker exercise

0:20 – 0:40 Plenary Introduction to the power literacy framework

0:40 – 0:50 Q&A / Dialogue

0:50 – 1:35 Break-out Room Worksheet Activities (individual reflection + discussion)

1:45 – 1:55 Main room Dialogue and reflection together

1:55 – 2:00 Wrap-up & Check-out

See for the field guide, including the power literacy framework and exercise & worksheet templates to be used.


Ansari, A (2017). The Work of Design in the Age of Cultural Simulation, or, Decoloniality as Empty Signifier in Design. Retrieved from empty-signifier-in-design-60ba646d89e9

Ansari, A (2018). What a Decolonisation of Design Involves: Two Programmes for Emancipation. Beyond Change: Questioning the role of design in times of global transformations: proceedings of The Second SDN Design Research Winter Summit 2018. Retrieved from nisation-of-design-involves-by-ahmed-ansari?

Bardzell, S. (2010). Feminist HCI: taking stock and outlining an agenda for design. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’10) (pp. 1301–1310). New York, USA: Association for Computing Machinery.

Bratteteig, T. and Wagner, I. (2014). Disentangling Participation: Power and Decision-making in Participatory Design. Springer Publishing Company, Incorporated.

Costanza-Chock, S. (2018). Design Justice: Towards an Intersectional Feminist Framework for Design Theory and Practice. Proceedings of the Design Research Society 2018, Available at SSRN:

Costanza-Chock, S. (2020). Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need. MIT Press.

Dombrowski, L., Harmon, E., & Fox, S. (2016). Social Justice-Oriented Interaction Design. In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems – DIS ’16 (pp 656–671).

Goodwill, M. (in collaboration with Kennisland) (2020). A Social Designer’s Field Guide to Power Literacy.

Goodwill, M., Bendor, R., & van der Bijl-Brouwer, M. (2021). Beyond Good Intentions: Developing Power Literacy for Service Designers [Manuscript Submitted for Publication]. Faculty of Industrial Design & Engineering, Delft University of Technology.

Holmes-Miller, C. D. (2016). Black designers: still missing in action?. Retrieved from

Light, A., & Akama, Y. (2014) Structuring Future Social Relations: The Politics of Care in Participatory Practice. In Proceedings of Participatory Design Conference 2014, Windhoek, Namibia, October 6–10, (pp151–160).

Tunstall, E. (2013). Decolonizing design innovation: Design anthropology, critical anthropology and indigenous knowledge in Design anthropology: theory and practice (pp. 232-250). London: Bloomsbury.

Vink, J., Rodrigues, V., & Wetter-Edman, K. (2017). Designing Good(s)? Exploring the Politics of Social Design Processes. Design Management Academy Conference, Hong Kong, 3, (pp. 961-977).




Citation Data

Author(s): Maya Goodwill
Title: Beyond Good Intentions: Power literacy for designers
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 10 September 2021
Last update:
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