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Ethical Co-Design as Deference Over Time

Format: Papers, RSD12, RSD12 Papers Pre-release

Irina Wang
Integrating multi-stakeholder approaches is increasingly necessary to address global systemic issues, and the professional position of many designers has shifted from producer to facilitator in response. Facilitation-heavy frameworks of co-design and participatory design attempt to democratize design by involving community stakeholders in the process of problem-finding and creative response—yet the risk of performative collaboration can quickly perpetuate systemic inequality rather than mitigate it.

I argue for a co-creative philosophy built upon deference rather than facilitation, recognizing that delegating power is not the same as seeking to rebalancing it. Designers tout the importance of “trust-building” in a co-creative process, but what does it functionally require? Ambient time and sustained proximity are two such building blocks, laying a foundation upon which deference can begin to demonstrate trustworthiness and establish shared context. These are all crucial prerequisites for fostering the multilateral agency implied by the term “co-design” but rarely achieved in practice—including, but not limited to, collaborations between non-Indigenous designers and Indigenous stakeholders.

Throughout the presentation, these claims and insights will be illustrated by specific fieldwork anecdotes and auto-ethnographical observations from a period of design research concerning Sámi reindeer herders’ perspectives on climate change across Sápmi and in the Finnish Arctic. Recommendations for integrating ethically critical co-design practices apply to individual designers, but especially to research funding structures and project reporting metrics that may unintentionally incentivize an extractive approach to community stakeholder collaboration.
Keywords: design ethics
decolonial design
indigenous collaboration
co-design
deference
positionality
time
proximity
agency
trust-building
funding structures

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Citation Data

Author(s): Irina Wang
Year: 2023
Title: Ethical Co-Design as Deference Over Time
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
URL: https://rsdsymposium.org/ethical-co-design
Host: Georgetown University
Location: Washington DC, USA
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 30 September 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD12

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