Home/ EmergingTheoriesofDesign
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreNA4

Semester and Year Offered: Semester 2 (Winter)

Course Coordinator and Team: Suchitra Balasubrahmanyan

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: None


  • To introduce and explore key theories in design
  • To introduce students to key design thinkers and texts
  • To thereby provoke students to be self-reflexive about their own practice

Course Outcomes:

On successful completion of this course students will be able to:

  1. Appreciate the ways in which design and society shape each other and recognise this phenomenon in the world around them.
  2. Identify the capabilities of a social designer to shape the world for social good.
  3. Express this critical view of the interrelation between social forces and the designed environment in a well-reasoned argument in writing.
  4. Successfully present their views in oral form and give and receive productive critiques from classmates.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

ThiscoursebuildsonthehistoryofdesigncourseofSemester 1,takingthestudents through adiscussionoftheoreticalframeworks thatcontributetoourunderstanding ofdesignasa process ofinquiry,thought and action.Thiscourseaimstohelpdevelopcriticalthinkingskills amongstudentsintwoways,[i]byintroducingdevelopmentofkeyconceptsofdesignmethods andtheoriesanddiscussthewaysinwhichtheyilluminatedesign;and[ii]articulationsabout designbydesignersthroughtheirwritingsandpractice.Theevolutionofdesignmethodswillalso beincludedinthiscoursewheretherehasbeendemonstrableefforttoreduceavoidableerrors andoversightsthatcanadversely affectdesignsolutions through relevant,systematic andrational problem-solving proceduresandtechniques askeycomponentsof designmethods.

This module introduces the role of theory in design, within a programme which is explicitly practice based. It explores questions such as “what is theory”, “how does design theory engage with society”, and how these engage with conceptions of social well-being thrown up by practice.

This module explores shifts and turns within design practice worldwide and discusses theoretical implications of these. This module also explores frameworks from social science theory as to their relevance in throwing light on the social impacts of design processes and methods.

The two preceding modules cover designers view of their own work and engagement with society and the theoretical frameworks through which social science views design. This module explores design manifestos articulated by design schools, professional collectives and nations, over the course of the 20th century to see the ways in which designers see their own relevance in society.

The final module is in the form of provocations to the ideas explored in the preceding modules. The themes covered are the nature of professions in society, the possibilities and limits to design solving social problem and questions before utopian visions of design.

Assessment Details with weights:

The final grade would be composed of the following:

  • Class participation: 20% (engagement with weekly themes, participation in class discussions, enthusiasm for unfamiliar material, verbal articulation)
  • Weekly written Assignments: 40%
  • Course paper: 30%

Reading List

  • Antonelli,Paola. Domus, Shape of Things: ‘Social Design’. 2012
  • Friedman, Ken. “Theory construction in design research: criteria, approaches and methods”. Design Studies, 24 (2003), 507-522.
  • Kiem, Matt. ‘Designing the Social: The Politics of Social Innovation’. 2015.
  • Rittel, Horst and Melvin Webber. ‘Dilemmas in a general theory of planning’ Policy SciencesJune 1973, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 155–169.
  • Bowen, Simon. ‘Critical Theory and Participatory Design’. CHI 2010, April 10–15, 2010,
  • Sanders, Elizabeth & Pieter Jan Stappers. Co-creation and the new landscapes of design. CoDesign-International Journal of CoCreation in Design and the Arts. Volume 4, 2008 - Issue 1. p. 5-18.
  • Antonelli, Paola. Domus, Shape of Things: ‘Critical Design’.
  • Papanek, Victor. ‘Design for the Real World – Preface’. Michigan: University of Michigan Press. 1971.
  • Dorrestijn, Steven and Peter-Paul Verbeek. ‘Technology, Wellbeing and Freedom’. 2013.