A “Social Model” of Design: Issues of Practice and Research

Margolin, V., & Margolin, S. (2002). A “social model” of design: Issues of practice and research. Design Issues, 18(4). Retrieved from http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/074793602320827406

When it comes to design, many think of the artistic practice that produces aesthetic pieces, whether it is a painting, an automobile, or a brochure. However, many fail to realize the reasoning behind design decisions and the fact that design can be used to contribute to human welfare. “A ‘Social Model’ of Design: Issues of Practice and Research” (Margolin & Margolin, 2002), stresses the intent of design as a satisfaction of human needs and claims that the needs of many populations are not being met. Therefore, the article aims to describe a new “social model” of design practice, and suggest more research to be done in the area of product design for social need.

The social model that is presented in this article is based on that of social service intervention. When a team of social workers is constructed to intervene, the group works collaboratively to figure out the problem and implement solutions as needed, however the knowledge of a product designer on physical and special domain is a useful aspect that often isn’t accounted for. One significant example would be the deficiencies in the home environment of an elderly person. If a product designer had been on the intervention team of such a project, the team would have easily been able to create products that could serve the elderly inhabitants better. The fact that many professional areas are not taking into account the solutions offered by designers is a concerning matter. This suggests that there needs to be more awareness of the necessity of design in the world, and that when branding oneself as a designer, the communication of that issue needs to be made apparent.

As an article published in an academic journal for design history, theory, and criticism, I’m not surprised by the quality of attention given to the unmet need for designers in professions. It is very well written and thought provoking, taking into account the world as it is now, the social model of design presented, the agenda for implementing it, and the education that would be necessary to do so. There is no empirical data given, which is understandable since most of the article is about pitching the need for a new social model and how to go about it. Any research that was done seems to be purely observational, yet seem to be sound arguments to the point that was made.

Since the issue discussed in this article is based on contributing to human welfare, I found it to be an inspiring read. Many problems could be solved with a designer’s point of view included in the mix, yet often that isn’t the case, which leaves certain important aspects to go unnoticed. Overall, the article makes a good argument for the fundamental need of this social model, and does well in illustrating that.


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