'Design beyond Borders': international collaborative projects as a mechanism to integrate social sustainability into student design practice

2014-06-13T10:10:52Z (GMT) by Muireann McMahon Tracy Bhamra
Social sustainability in design, like the notion of social impacts in Sustainable Development, is a complex, contradictory and challenging area. Transforming the rhetoric surrounding sustainability into action is where designers often struggle. In order to do this effectively, this paper argues that designers need to be introduced to a set of skills and capacities that go beyond the traditional design competencies and implementing these skills will require a shift in how designers are taught as students and subsequently practice as professionals. Through the exploration of contemporary design practices, social sustainability and educational theory this research pinpoints these skills and capacities. Using a participatory Action Research methodology it is suggested that international collaborative projects at undergraduate level can play an important role in introducing these skills into design education. The paper describes two projects (fulfilling two phases of the action research process) involving collaborations between groups of undergraduate design students from different geographical locations. A brief description of the projects logistics is followed by an analysis of the outcomes and experiences of participants, looking specifically at what worked and what did not and why mistakes and successes in collaborative work can inform in equal measure. The learning from these projects will highlight how future projects can be structured and delivered and how the 'softer' skills acquired during the projects can bring about a change in designers behaviours. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.