Liberatory Design

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Liberatory Design is a process and practice to:

  • Generate self-awareness to liberate designers from habits that perpetuate inequity.
  • Shift the relationship between the people who hold power to design and those impacted.
  • Foster learning and agency for those involved
  • in and influenced by the design work.
  • Create conditions for collective liberation.
Liberatory Design: Mindsets and Modes to Design for Equity 

Liberatory Design is a creative problem-solving approach and practice that centers equity and supports us to design for liberation. It is made up of mindsets and modes. Mindsets invoke stances and values to ground and focus our design practice, and modes provide process guidance for our design practice. Liberatory Design generates self-awareness to liberate designers from habits that perpetuate inequity, shifts the relationship between the people who hold power to design and those impacted, fosters learning and agency for those involved in and influenced by the design work, and creates conditions for collective liberation.

Liberatory Design

Liberatory design is an emergent process that adds two notable modes to design thinking: notice and reflect. As components of consciousness, intentional work in which educators notice and reflect will result in schools that are more fully human because the faculty is more self-aware in its instructional practices and curriculum design. This suggests the real value of liberatory design, its ability to counter the tendencies in modern life that underlie systemic injustice.

Designing Possibility in Schools

Liberatory Design Mindsets

Build Relational Trust

Invest in relationships with intention, especially across difference. Honor stories. Practice empathetic listening.

Practice Self-Awareness

Who we are determines how we design. Looking in the “mirror” reveals what we see, how we relate, and how our perspectives impact our practice.

Recognize Oppression

Learn to see how oppression, in its many forms, has shaped designs that lead to inequity.

Embrace Complexity

Recognize that equity challenges are complex and messy. Stay open to possibility. Powerful design emerges from the mess, not from avoiding it.

Focus on Human Values

Get to know the community we are designing with in as many different ways as possible. Anchor all of our decision-making in human values.

Seek Liberatory Collaboration

Recognize differences in power and identity to design “with” instead of “for.” Design for belonging.

Work with Fear and Discomfort

Fear and discomfort are anticipated parts of equity design work. Identifying the sources of such feelings offers us a context to work through them and continue to design.

Attend to Healing

The effects of oppression are complex and often hinder our ability to take action. Integrate ongoing healing processes when designing for equity.

Work to Transform Power

Explore structures and opportunities for interactions in which power is shared, not exercised.

Exercise Creative Courage

Every human is creative. Creative courage allows us to push through self-doubt and creative fragility so we can design bravely against oppression.

Take Action to Learn

The complexity of oppression must be addressed with courageous ongoing action. Experiment as a way to think and learn – without attachment to outcome.

Share, Don’t Sell

Practice transparency and non-attachment in sharing ideas with collaborators.

Liberatory Design: Mindsets and Modes to Design for Equity 

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Published by Ryan Boren

#ActuallyAutistic parent and retired tech worker. Equity literate education, respectfully connected parenting, passion-based learning, indie ed-tech, neurodiversity, social model of disability, design for real life, inclusion, open web, open source. he/they

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