On “Design, When Everybody Designs” and “Making Futures”

Reading time: 3 – 5 minutes

This fall, I have read Ezio Manzini’s “Design, When Everybody Designs” (2015) and Ehn, Nillsson, and Topgaard’s collection.  “Making Futures: Marginal Notes on Innovation, Design, and Democracy” (2014).

Manzini is a leading design researcher and theorist, particularly in the field of design for social innovation. Manzini applies many of the sociological theories about risk and the life course  that I had read with Lesley Andres at UBC  in 2003. Manzini’s answer to the risk, uncertainty individuals and communities face is designed collaborative organizations and encounters.

This most useful section of the book, I think is the chapter dedicated to “Collaborative Encounters”, which draws on Martin Buber and theories of participation and social ties to demonstrate how to map services. The last section of this book work through the practical steps of representing collaborative designs and creating the conditions for social innovations to flourish.

Another theme of the book is the relationship between professional design and co-design with publics. Unlike Dan Hill and Thomas Wendt and other design theorists, Manzini seems less critical of design thinking and more conciliatory in his view on the relationship between expert design and diffuse design.

My favourite concept in Mazini’s book is “cosmopolitan localism“, which he borrows sustainable development. Since I read “Design, When Everybody Designs”, I’ve been working through Bruno Latour’s “Introduction to Actor-Network Theory”, which will merit a future post of its own. But for now I note that Mazini is relying on many studies that would fall into the category of “the sociology of the social”, and I wonder what the notion of design for social innovation might look like through the lens of Actor-Network Theory, which resists the global-local binary and questions the existence of macro social theories and models.

Watch Manzini introduce “Design, When Everybody Designs earlier this year at the University of Malmo:

Read Cameron Tonkinwise’s review of “Design, When Everybody Designs”


“Making Futures” is a wide-ranging poly vocal collection of case studies of participatory design work undertaken by design researchers and a multiplicity of partner community groups, governments, and private sector players in Malmö, Sweden.

Two concepts that sticks with me from “Making Futures”. infrastructuring suggests designers (or other change agents) need to foster long-term working relationships with partner community organizations rather than adopting a project orientation. The other concept is  friendly hacking, which seems to also be circulating in the design for policy literature.

“Making Furtures” is much more academic than “Design, When Everybody Designs” and my favourite chapters were  Erling Björgvinsson’s study of the complexity of collaborations for grassroots journalism and Per Linde and Karen Book’s case study of  place-making by youth groups

A key consideration in both books is the issue of scale and the question of how to create the conditions for collaborative innovations to flourish in neighbourhoods, cities, regions and across countries.. “Making Futures” tackles the political and power dimensions of collaboration between academics, government, community organizations and private sector organizations head on. Both books also consider how assemblages of people working together can collaborate to design and create scapes, places and interventions in the places which people inhabit.

Both books offer designers interested in collaborating with clients,and partners to bring social and community-based social innovations to life plenty of ideas for addressing complex challenges and enabling communities to flourish. For those who are tired of reading  service design method cookbooks, either book will infuse your practice with a hearty dose of theory and critical perspective.

If you have been reading either book, let me know what you find most useful or interesting in them.