Beyond Good Intentions: Towards a Power Literacy Framework for Service Designers

Moving into the social and public sector, service design is becoming both more complex and more participatory. This is reflected in the greater diversity and interrelatedness of stakeholders and the wicked problems being addressed. However, although many service designers working in the social and public domains bring into their design practice the intention to make design more participatory and equitable,
they may lack an in-depth understanding of power, privilege, and the social structures (norms, roles, rules, assumptions, and beliefs) that uphold structural inequality.

In this paper we present findings from seven interviews with service designers to investigate the challenges they face when addressing power issues in design, and their experiences of how power shows up in their design process. By drawing from understandings of power in social theory, as well as the interviewees’ perspectives on how power manifests in design practice, we outline a framework for power literacy in service design. The framework comprises five forms of power found in design practice: privilege, access power, goal power, role power, and rule power. We conclude by suggesting that service design practices that make use of reflexivity to develop power literacy may contribute to more socially just, decolonial, and democratic design practices.

Source: Goodwill, M., Bendor, R., & van der Bijl-Brouwer, M. (2021). Beyond good intentions: Towards a power literacy framework for service designers. International Journal of Design, 15(3), 45-59.


Field Guide: The aim of the field guide is to help designer’s develop power literacy. This includes building up your awareness of, sensitivity to and understanding of the impact of power and systemic oppression in participatory design processes. You will gain a holistic understanding of power, while examining the role you play in reproducing inequity—however unintentional—and what you can do to change this.
Thesis: Read the thesis that the Field guide was created part of. The field guide was originally created by Maya Goodwill for their graduation thesis, Power Literacy: towards a socially just, decolonial and democratic design process, as a part of the Master of Science in Design for Interaction at Delft University of Technology.

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Icon image: Jaredd Craig via Unsplash | Boek - Zwevend - Kennis