Design for Distributive Agency


A design manifesto for present dystopian times that reimagines designers as post-disciplinary agents of equitable distribution.

Speculative Design, Design Research, Design Theory, Design Anthropology

Imperial College London Master's Project
Currently developing for publication
Dr Leila Sheldrick
Design for Distributive Agency is a metatheoretical framework that reimagines how designers can collectively work towards shared goals of equity and pluralism, with specific attention to the environmental, social, cultural, political, technological, and economic challenges that society, and thus designers, will face within the next decade. A design manifesto discusses the framework, presenting six systemic challenges accompanied with six principles of changes that were developed from futures research, speculative thinking, and cross-disciplinary knowledge transfer from design anthropology, visual cultures, and socio-political theory. And two design tools developed from Rawl's Theory of Justice implement the framework into actionable methods that designers can use at present within their process to prevent dystopian outcomes.
Design Process
Designers are increasingly becoming post-disciplinary actors that wield enormous power in shaping the world's technological, environmental, cultural, and socio-political reality. However, the acknowledgement of design responsibilities has not caught up with the expansive roles that designers occupy, resulting in an unclear mode of design that is complicit in upholding systems of inequality.

The next decade will present various complex and existential challenges unlike anything before, from environmental breakdown to the erasure of privacy, potentially amplifying and producing new inequalities. Designers are uniquely positioned to mitigate against these challenges; however, few frameworks afford designers the appropriate knowledge and tools to do so.

This project presents Distributive Agency, a metatheoretical design framework that reimagines how designers can collectively work towards shared goals of equity and pluralism - shifting away from current consumer-focused and profit-driven design practices. The paper demonstrates the value of foresight analysis and speculative ideation methods paired with academic knowledge transfer to envision detailed futures. Interviews with design academics (n=3) and a cross-sectional workshop study (n=8) validated the implementation of the framework through the design process tools and manifesto, showing that they are practical, contextual, and visionary in their approach.

The research in this project serves as a first step in transitioning away from current dystopian trajectories, and insights reveal the scope for the further development of resources and the theorisation of a unified design framework.

(Manifesto coming soon)

Read the full paper
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