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Chapter 5 Review: Design Pedagogies: “There’s Something Wrong with This System!”

Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels (Link :

The fifth Chapter of Design Justice titled Design Pedagogies: “There’s Something Wrong with This System!” puts forth Dr. Sasha Costanza-Chock’s observations and perspectives at the intersection of education, pedagogy and the design justice model. 

The chapter begins with Dr. Costanza-Chock acknowledging Black feminist writer bell hooks’ quote from her classic Teaching to Transgress. bell hooks asserts the integral role of a feminist, antiracist education in transforming consciousness as a practice of freedom to encourage and promote critical thinking not just in relation to the role of design in the world but also power, and liberation to “take action to transgress boundaries of race, class, and gender.”

“Critical pedagogy seeks to transform consciousness, to provide students with ways of knowing that enable them to know themselves better and live in the world more fully.”

Costanza-Chock outlines the crucial role of popular education as a foundation for Design Justice pedagogies. She uses the plural form “pedagogies” as a result of her resolute,  firm belief that there is no ‘one’ answer to the question: “How might we teach and learn design justice?”, as she draws from personal teaching experiences to explore key challenges to design justice pedagogies. 

“Design justice is a framework that can help guide us as we seek to teach computing, software development, and design in ways that support, rather than suppress, the development of critical consciousness and that provide scaffolding for learners’ connections to the social movements that are necessary to transform our world.”

Photo by Nina Bianchi - Chapter 5, Design Justice

While emphasizing on the proposition that pedagogies with respect to design justice “must be based firmly upon the broader approach known as popular education, or pop ed”, Costanza-Chock credits Freire’s influential book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, wherein Freire concentrates on “developing critical thought together with action”, and this, “in a cycle he refers to as praxis”, (Greek term for “practical knowledge for action”), encouraging critical pedagogy, where the role of the educator is to “pose problems, create spaces for the collective development of critical consciousness, help to develop plans for action to make the world a better place, and develop a sense of agency among learners”. A determining factor here is that this encompasses open, honest contemplation and reflection upon the world, ensuring that learners take accountability, appropriate measures and collective actions to promote inclusivity to positively transform the world and improve conditions of living for marginalized communities.

 Design JusticePhoto by Caydie McCumber

With conglomerate instances to elucidate the role of pop ed in US social movements such as the Civil Rights movement, Costanza-Chock enumerates the example of the Highlander Research and Education Center, founded in 1932 by educator Myles Horton where he taught and worked with Civil Rights luminaries including Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and John Lewis, which has invariably employed pop ed for “building grassroots leadership within movements for civil rights, organized labor, and environmental justice, among others.”

Costanza-Chock expresses the ever-growing, increasing need for technology as an intersectional, inclusive tool for liberation by applying pop ed approaches into practices of technology design or design of new technology. This can be achieved through supporting collective efforts to cultivate and develop shared understanding of ICT infrastructure and improve the quality of life for some of the most marginalized people in the United States and by fostering some real learning through reflection on society’s prevailing problems, and affirmative, effective actions to transform the world.  

Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels 

Costanza-Chock enumerates the increasing need to incorporate Participatory Action Design (PAD) methods by providing multiple real-world instances in the chapter in conjunction with other multifarious liberatory frameworks and approaches such as critical community technology pedagogy, data feminism, and certain aspects of constructionism, as well as some strands within digital media literacy which are closely aligned with pop ed principles for design pedagogies. Decolonizing design pedagogy is another crucial step that Costanza-Chock emphasises and indicates in her proposition.

Furthermore, Costanza-Chock enumerates that in their 2019 book Data Feminism, data scientists, artists, researchers, and educators Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein include a section titled “Teach Data Like an Intersectional Feminist,” where they describe an intersectional feminist approach to the pedagogy of data science, grounded in “values of equity, ethics and co-liberation with compelling argument grounded in real-world classroom examples” with emphasis on teaching data sciences inclusive of values such as ethics, emotions and not just limited to reason, thus establishing a balance between the desire to be inclusive, collaborative, and accountable  to the society.

Data Feminism, MIT Press Open

The concept of critical community technology pedagogy was developed by designer, educator, and former MIT Codesign Studio participant Maya Wagoner, as an approach that “demystifies systemic power inequalities, involves a multi-directional learning process, results in transferable skills, and constructs a new world as it constructs knowledge.”

Another crucial approach that Costanza-Chock points out is the constructionist pedagogy, developed by Seymour Papert, wherein teachers and instructors act as facilitators to help students achieve their own learning goals using problem-based learning, an approach that centres context, situated knowledge, and emphasizes ‘learning by doing’. Problem-based and project-based learning work the best for twenty-first century learners as it inevitably assumes responsibility and accountability on the part of the learners and allows so much space and room for reflection on real-world problems.

Costanza-Chock also cites Mitchel Resnick, a professor at the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten (LLK) group who studied with Papert, who continues to develop a wide variety of pedagogical tools.  Resnick’s work includes, among other things, key contributions to the development of LEGO Mindstorms, meant to teach the principles of robotics, and Scratch.  Ultimately, for Resnick and other creators of Scratch,

“...there needs to be a shift in how people think about programming, and about computers in general. We need to expand the notion of ‘digital fluency’ to include designing and creating, not just browsing and interacting.”

A central tenet of this chapter is a focus on ‘Democratizing Design Education’. A key component of the design justice model is working at the society-level. It is imperative to know that Resnick and many of his students at LLK are also consistently working against the prevailing educational inequality that disadvantages girls, low-income youth, and/or youth of colour and “blocks the democratization of computing skills and knowledge.” 

Decolonizing and Democratizing design education :

Costanza-Chock concentrates on the convergence of pedagogies and democratizing design education. Furthermore, a particularly crucial step in this process is emphasis on Decolonizing Design Pedagogies.

“...Accordingly, in a constructionist pedagogy of design justice, learners should make knowledge about design justice for themselves and do so through working on meaningful projects. Ideally, these should be developed together with, rather than for, communities that are too often excluded from design processes. Along with the shifts in design pedagogy toward community-led processes, intersectional feminist principles, and learning by doing described here so far, the idea of decolonizing design pedagogy is gaining steam. Decolonizing design involves decentering Western approaches to design pedagogy, while centering design approaches, histories, theories, and practices rooted in indigenous communities.”

To illustrate this, Costanza-Chock cites the example of  Dori Tunstall, the new dean of the Design School at OCAD Toronto who is particularly working to decolonize the design school curriculum. Other key educators like Sadie Red Wing, a Lakota/Dakota graphic designer best known for her work designing visual materials for the Mni Wiconi/Water Is Life struggle at Standing Rock, who teaches a course on decolonizing design at the University of Redlands, and Pouya Jahanshahi at Oklahoma State University, Kali Nikitas at Otis College of Art and Design, Ian Lynham at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Steven McCarthy at the University of Minnesota, and Elizabeth Chin at the ArtCenter College of Design are also involved in the decolonizing design pedagogies process.  There is also reference to the website Design historian and scholar Victor Margolin is also cited, with reference to an influential article titled “Teaching Design History,” who, according to Constanza-Chock :

“… advocates a shift away from Eurocentric, modernist approaches to design history and toward a truly global approach that includes design practices from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. He cautions against sprinkling “non-Western” design objects on top of an already existing Eurocentric curriculum, and argues that “design is no less than the conception and planning of the artificial world. Its products include objects, processes, systems, and environments; in short, everything... Margolin feels that an emphasis on rethinking historical narratives to center formerly marginalized or erased design practices, rather than simply including designed objects from more cultures, can help avoid this pitfall.”

Design Narratives (Link :

Design Narratives: From TXTMob to Twitter 

Costanza-Chock builds on this to explicate ten principles and objectives that form the basis of the design justice model, as follows:

Principle 1: We Use Design to Sustain, Heal, and Empower Our Communities, as Well as to Seek Liberation from Exploitative and Oppressive Systems

Principle 2: We Center the Voices of Those Who Are Directly Impacted by the Outcomes of the Design Process

Principle 3: We  Prioritize Design’s Impact on the Community Over the Intentions of the Designer

Principle 4: We View Change as Emergent from an Accountable, Accessible, and Collaborative Process, Rather than as a Point at the End of a Process

Principle 5: We See the Role of the Designer as a Facilitator Rather than an Expert

Principle 6: We Believe that Everyone Is an Expert Based on Their Own Lived Experience and that We All Have Unique and Brilliant Contributions to Bring to a Design Process.

Principle 7: We Share Design Knowledge and Tools with Our Communities

Principle 8: We Work toward Sustainable, Community-Led, and Controlled Outcomes

Principle 9: We Work toward Nonexploitative Solutions that Reconnect Us to the Earth and to Each Other

Principle 10: Before Seeking New Design Solutions, We Look for What Is Already Working at the Community Level, and We Honor and Uplift Traditional, Indigenous, and Local Knowledge and Practices

The strength of this chapter lies in its structure and an extensive catalogue of innumerable instances and anecdotal teaching experiences that Dr. Costanza-Chock presents to support her propositions and observations, which are not limited to acknowledgement of names of labs, organizations that have progressively brought about (and are bringing about) positive changes in the society.  Costanza-Chock succinctly, brilliantly covers the topic of design pedagogies and adequately takes the readers through a persuasive discussion on design justice methods for application of interdisciplinary approaches in education, and tackling Big Tech’s non-inclusive approaches with potential solutions moving forward.

Design Justice, MIT Press

The chapter is extremely well-written, cogent and persuasive and important in terms of instructional design and pedagogy from the perspectives of philosophy of education. It outlines how education is not just theory on paper or a bunch of facts to be learnt, but instead is something practical, applied to help people in society and enable learners to be empathic, compassionate towards each other, support marginalized communities and be inclusive. 

For students of learning sciences, education and instructional design, this chapter will prove to be extremely constructive, valuable and essential as it involves the significant application of pedagogies to improve and enhance modern education, with its interdisciplinary emphasis on design, humanities, and intersectional feminism. Students of all academic disciplines will also find it invaluable due to the chapter’s relevance, inclination and gravity towards interdisciplinarity. 

With a major focus on Design to address systemic and structural inequalities, tackle unhealthy power dynamics, inequity, digital divide and growing “digital gap” to sensitively tackle gender, race, class, disability, education, language, and other forms of structural inequality, this chapter is vital from the perspectives of sociology, to encourage learners to engage with community members beyond the classroom walls. 


Costanza-Chock, Sasha. “Chapter 5-Design Pedagogies: ‘There’s Something Wrong with This System!’” Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need, MIT Press, 2020. 

Costanza-Chock, Sasha. Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need. MIT Press, 2020.  

Cover Image : Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels 


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