Designing for Social Change: Articulating the Steps in the Social Design Process


Despite the negative associations with the term, social design is about creating new social forms (or buttressing existing ones) through leveraging the features of social settings. Recent years have seen more of a trend towards understanding social design as social interventions meant to create positive change for a greater good. At the same time, there lacks a clear articulation of the steps needed in order to engineer a social design project. Through an examination of the Fun House Project, the purpose of this paper is to show how a social design project can be presented in a design process format. Our goals are to explicate the social design process, to make it visible, to articulate it, and to provide an example of a procedural format for social design projects.

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Popov, L. and David, G. (2019) Designing for Social Change: Articulating the Steps in the Social Design Process. Advances in Applied Sociology, 9, 516-537. doi: 10.4236/aasoci.2019.911038.

1. Introduction

As expressed in academic work of social scientists and the applied work of practitioners, social design is about creating new social forms (or buttressing existing ones) through leveraging the features of social settings. In other words, social designers look to shape social situations, organize activities in social systems, and create organizational structures using their knowledge of how social structures and dynamics work ( Armstrong, Bailey, Julier, & Kimbell, 2014; Banathy, 1996; Boguslaw, 1971; Howlett, 2011; Koskinen & Hush, 2016). This approach can be juxtaposed to what people think social design means: a way to control the public through manipulation, disinformation, and propaganda. Social design also can be contrasted to material design, as seen in industrial design, software design, and architectural design.

While the concept of social design has been historically stigmatized as a means to further narrow (often destructive) interests, there has been a trend toward understanding social design as social interventions meant to create positive change for a greater good ( Banathy, 1996; Burke, 2014; Howlett, 2011). The importance of adopting a systems perspective and thinking, along with broader design approaches such as human-centered design at the company IDEO have created new opportunities to engage in social design and rethink how it can be done.

Sociologists and social practitioners have even been trying to learn from design project methodologies more closely associated with engineering and “hard” sciences, looking to see how they can be applied to social projects, interventions, and actions. While not trying to reduce social design to mechanical engineering ( Hugh, 2013), it speaks to an overarching mindset that guides the general structure of design process ( Armstrong, Bailey, Julier, & Kimbell, 2014). More traditional design approaches like design thinking and design sprints do not capture the complexity of social design.

This recent emergence of social design is in need of further development, and most importantly, supported by the research and practice communities, as well as government agencies, non-profits, and the general public ( Armstrong, Bailey, Julier, & Kimbell, 2014). Additionally, it is important to change the society’s mindset and see social design in a positive light, as an organized process of constructive intervention and desirable change ( Banathy, 1996). In order to achieve this, society needs to develop a better understanding of the process of change, to produce or adapt new design methods, and to create a culture of design thinking for social change ( Armstrong, Bailey, Julier, & Kimbell, 2014; Banathy, 1996; Howlett, 2011).

The purpose of this paper is to show how a social design project can be presented in a design process format. Our goals are to explicate the social design process, to make it visible, to articulate it, and to provide an example of a procedural format for social design projects. We want to show how social practitioners can create and explicate their projects; evaluate them, consider methodological improvements for future projects, and so forth. In doing so, we want to create a pathway for a re-imagining of social design in keeping with process-based approaches of engineering with practice-based approaches of collaborative and participatory design.

1.1. The Problem Situation: Social Design Practices in the Social Sciences

Social design is ubiquitous, and it perhaps is this ubiquity that has led to its relative invisibility. Any policy initiative meant to change behavior or change the conditions of a community are instances of social design ( Banathy, 1996; Howlett, 2011). It, therefore, should not be surprising how many organizations and people actually engage in social design. It is all around us every day. However, such projects are not necessarily conceptualized as social design, using a social science understanding in order to make positive change, providing help to those who are in need and thereby contributing to society. The idea being presented here is that if we better understand social design, its process, and its methods, we can be more productive in our engagements, teach it more successfully, and professionalize it in the way other design fields are professionalized.

Even though many social scientists engage in social design type projects, the manner in which they are communicated obscures these types of engagements. Whether as conference presentations, scholarly papers, or classroom instruction, the nature of the scholarly format often prevents social designers from explicating and articulating their processes and methods in a practical way. While the academic narrative is an excellent format for discussing a number of issues, practitioners will benefit more from a presentation of the social design process that is clearly articulated in stages, steps, and tasks ( Burton, Eriksen, Håkonsson, & Snow, 2006; Wilson, Bennett, Gibson, & Alliger, 2012; Wilson & Landry, 2014). Such articulation allows for better understanding of the process, what is done, how it is done, and so forth. Also, it is easier to teach or learn from examples/cases that are clearly explicated.

Another shortcoming in these academic formats is the extent to which their processes generally are obscured. Reasoning during any design project is complicated and dynamic. When these projects are communicated, their narrative format can impede the reader’s ability to fully capture this complexity. Thus, the reader trying to understand the social design process will find it challenging to fully understand the process through these secondary materials or short accounts ( Burton, Eriksen, Håkonsson, & Snow, 2006).

Further complicating this quest for understanding is how such material is communicated across different social science domains. In practice, the various formulations of vision, mission, goals and strategies very often overlap textually, or there are competing opinions about what to ascribe to these categories ( Nadler, Tushman, Tushman, & Nadler, 1997). Also, a consideration is how these practices vary by industry, by organizational type, by tradition, or by body of knowledge. The need to create a more integrated model that spans such domains is one more reason to look at our proceduralization approach and model as a way for social design practitioners to do process articulations and presentations of their projects.

Given these needs, we are providing a way to articulate the complexity of social design through the explication of discrete design tasks. We do so through a single case, using the Fun Palace Project ( Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2005, 2006a, 2006b, 2007a, 2007b; Wilken, 2007; Wilken & Lumet, 2010). At the same time, this is not a paper about the Fun Palace Project per se. Rather, we focus only on the social design aspect of the Fun Palace, isolating it from the holistic and rhizomatic nature of the original project. In doing so, we are trying to extract as much information as possible about the social design process from writings on and notes from the project itself. The goal is to organize that information in a procedural way, creating a model of articulation that can help to better share findings and develop a better awareness of how social design can be done.

1.2. Showing by Example: Social Design in the Fun Palace Project

In this paper, we show how typical academic narrative format descriptions of the Fun Palace project can be articulated and presented in design process format. We use the Fun Palace project as an example of explicating, articulating, and formatting of the design process. Below, we provide background information about the Fun Palace project in order to provide a better understanding of the social design component and its project context.

The Fun Palace was a project that spanned nearly a decade, with the most active design work between 1960 and 1966 ( Hardingham, 2016a: p. 47). It was intended to provide spaces for “learning and entertainment activities for up to 55,000 people daily (with around 3500 to 5000 users expected at any one time)” ( Hardingham, 2016a: p.56). The proposed building was going to be enormous—375 ft wide by 855 ft long and 120 ft clear height (of the atrium space) ( Hardingham, 2016a: p. 55). It was planned for East London, but was cancelled for lack of a site and building permits, thus remaining in history on paper only. However, this was an incredibly innovative project in social, architectural, and computer technology aspects. It would have been a structural marvel and computer haven, stretching technical requirements to the brink of feasibility in the 1960’s ( Mathews, 2007a).

The client in this project is Joan Littlewood, innovative and vanguard theater director, who was inventing a new kind of theater with a strong political agenda and action objectives. The social designer is Cedric Price, maverick architect who was proud to call himself an “anti-architect” who searched for non-architectural solutions to client’s problems ( Mathews, 2007a, 2007b). At the beginning, Price was contacted to serve as an architect. It is not surprising that an anti-architect took the leadership and steered the architecture project to a social design endeavor. Below, we will indicate the time when the architect started acting as a social designer and from that time on, we will refer to Cedric Price correspondingly. There were many social scientists and politicians who engaged in the social design part of the project. We will refer to them as social designers.

The Fun Palace Project started as a request for an architectural project and gradually morphed into designing a new and unique social organization with all of its activity systems ( Mathews, 2007a). This endeavor gradually becomes a project for a “university of the streets” and “a laboratory of fun”, where people would learn and develop in a relaxed and intellectually engaging atmosphere. It was intended to serve for continuous learning and development of skills, facilitating participatory democracy, enhancing political consciousness, and achieving upward social mobility. The social designers created a completely new type of social organization, based on the principles of multiple opportunities and options, free choice, intrinsic motivation, fun, and enjoyment of life.

We believe that the most astonishing aspect of the project was its innovative social agenda, organization, and activity programming, which together constituted the social design elements of the project. The project did not have an architectural nor social precedent (example), as it was very different from any existing organizational and building type. This meant it had to be designed from essentially scratch. In comparison, even the most complex physical design (e.g. hospital and correctional facilities) are well-defined types, with existing physical precedents, a vast literature to support their design, and professional experience to put ideas into form. By our examination of the Fun Palace, we seek to draw from its evolutions in order to establish a social design approach that can further facilitate new social design initiatives.

2. Methodological Notes

We are selecting and adapting a version of work design activity process articulation in terms of tasks ( Wilson, Bennett, Gibson, & Alliger, 2012; Wilson & Landry, 2014). In this study, we talk about task clusters and tasks. The task approach implies a teleological structure, input and output relationships, sequential processes and practices, and interconnectedness of the project activities. The resultant process model guides us to reframe the narratives about the social aspect of the Fun Palace into social design tasks. This, then, allows us to better articulate the Fun Palace project activities, events, and considerations in a task-organized presentation.

Because of the retrospective analysis of this project, the availability of materials, and the nature and purpose of existing narratives, we have been flexible in the process of reconstruction. Many of the tasks we have presented can be further subdivided pending the identification of new historical materials. We have attempted to balance historical accuracy, the logic of the reconstruction process, and all available information in order to make an illustrating model rather than a historical treatise.

Due to the nature of this project, we are using mostly secondary materials: scholarly publications in history of architecture, theater, communications, and cybernetics. Although they are quite brief, we use original publications by the creators of the Fun Palace as well. Our major sources are the monographs by architectural historian Stanley Mathews (2007a) and theater historian Nadine Holdsworth (2011), as well as the voluminous work of architectural historian Samantha Hardingham (2016a, 2016b) who has published facsimiles of many original sketches and notes. We have also reviewed materials posted online in the Cedric Price Archive in the Canadian Centre for Architecture. However, our strategy is to rely on the historians to process and organize the wealth of original materials, which by itself is a different field, different endeavor, and a completely new job.

We refer frequently to Holdsworth’s (2011) and Mathews’s (2007a) monographs for a number of reasons. They provide the most extensive accounts of how the Fun Palace ideas emerged, how the social designers worked to develop these ideas, and how they charged the social organization. Mathews (2007a) treats the subject matter as an architectural historian, with attention to process. Holdsworth (2011) provides much information about the social philosophy, goals, and reasoning of the social designers. Still, those are history treatises. There are many other authors from theater, communications, and cybernetics who bring a wealth of information, but they have been more interested in particular problems specific to their disciplines ( Frazer, 2001; Lobsinger, 2000a, 2000b; Lopes, 2009; Wilken, 2007; Wilken & Lumet, 2010).

Our objective is to explicate and reconstruct the social design process for illustrative purposes, rather than to engage in history research and clarifications of historic facts found in archives and current publications. The Fun Palace was designed over an extended period of time, with many deliberations. There exist many notes and minutes, sometimes not dated. Many of the historians who used primary sources report somewhat differing finds. We needed to compare notes, interpret, and make decisions on how to proceed. In the social design process description sections of this paper, readers might find that we have marked a few such instances.

3. Procedural Description of the Fun Palace Social Design Process

In this section, we show how this format works and how the narrative of the Fun Palace Project can be turned into a process map for social design projects. We have considered the continuation, transformation, and interconnection of tasks in constructing the map. Since any design project is a spiral process, consisting of multiple feedback loops and decisions that influence each other, this rhizomatic interconnectedness of design tasks forces designers to constantly re-evaluate and change their design solutions. We are aware of the limitations of presenting a very complex and rhizomatic process like design in the linear format of reading, without multiple and convoluted references to other tasks, feed-loop actions, and multidimensional relationships. For clarity of presentation, we have decided not to go into such complex and controversial details.

In this case, we have articulated the social design process in nine task clusters: 1) Problem Identification and Project Formulation; 2) Preparation for Conceptualizing the Project; 3) Conceptualizing the new organization; 4) Defining the Mission, Goals, and Strategy of the New Organization; 5) Defining the Major Activity Groups/Zones; 6) Activity Development and Detailing; 7) Further development and articulation of activities; 8) Parallel, Support, and “Issue” Tasks; and 9) Aligning and Fine-tuning Goals, Activity Clusters, and Activity. The task clusters and their constituent tasks are described below.

3.1. Task Cluster 1: Problem Identification and Project Formulation

Task 1.1. Initiation of the project

For a long time, Joan Littlewood had been contemplating the larger socioeconomic situation of society, the plight of the unemployed people, and the dissolution of community life. She was searching for ways that she could improve the lives of the underprivileged. As a theater director, her solution was a theater with expanded educational and political functions ( Littlewood, 1994). She passed through several stages of conceptualizing this new endeavor. At first, she had in mind an unusual type of theater. Its purpose was to make the working class people more active users of art, as well as active social agents in the political system. This theater performance required a new type of theater building.

This was how everything started—with the need for a building ( Mathews, 2007a). However, Littlewood gradually expanded her initial concept and came up with a different type of social organization, which was far beyond a theater. As a result, she started thinking about a facility that would provide more educational opportunities and growth, in a relaxed and fun environment ( Littlewood, 1994). This facility would also serve as a community center among several other functions.

Task 1.2. Searching for a service provider

Littlewood believed she needed a building and started searching for an architect who could understand her ideas and design this new facility. For that reason, at one social reception, she was introduced to the young and eccentric architect Cedric Price ( Hardingham, 2016a: p. 47). Price very quickly grasped the client’s (Littlewood’s) ideas, but at the same time, he questioned the initial concept of the client.

From this point on, we interpret Price’s professional intervention as social design and will refer to him as the social designer. Price was famous for focusing on the social organization that would be housed by the building. He started the project from this vantage. Price liked the challenge and took the project on a volunteer basis. For the purpose of this paper, we will focus only on that part of the Fun Palace project that can be considered social design. Therefore, we will refer to the building structure only as needed.

3.2. Task Cluster 2: Preparation for Conceptualizing the Project

Task 2.1. Exploring on the scope and nature of the project

Cedric Price, the (anti) architect/social designer ( Mathews, 2007b) and the client, Joan Littlewood, started exploring the project. They very quickly found a common understanding of the social situation. They were dissatisfied with the social and cultural problems, and in particular with the structural unemployment as the basis of all working class problems ( Littlewood, 1994; Price, 2003). They decried the outdated educational system and the lack of opportunities for working class and unemployed people to retool, to learn new skills, to develop an active social stance, and to participate energetically in social life ( Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2007a). For a period of time, the client and the social designer engaged in discussions about the social environment, the problems, and then possible solutions. This informally involved a number of leading British intellectuals and politicians ( Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2007a).

Task 2.2. Involving other experts

In the process of discussing the project, Price and Littlewood came to the conclusion that they need the help and involvement of a number of other experts. At this time, they were searching and inviting, involving, and co-opting. They used their extensive social connections, explained their concept, and asked for volunteer engagement in the project ( Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2007a). Subsequently, they formed several committees composed of these professional volunteers. The committee configurations will be described later in this essay.

Task 2.3. Exploring the social environment and the social premises of the project.

The social designer and the client, together with a number of British intellectuals and politicians, began discussions on the current situation of Great Britain with the purpose of uncovering major problems regarding the working class and the unemployed in the current social and cultural environment. They meticulously listed and discussed various problems, ranging from the industrial decline of Britain, to structural unemployment, to the spread of debilitating consumer culture, to social decline, to the lack of educational and social opportunities for the working class people ( Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2007a). One of the reasons for this was Littlewood and Price’s belief in participatory democracy. In addition, the experts they co-opted were selected because they shared similar worldviews.

3.3. Task Cluster 3: Conceptualizing the New Organization

Conceptualization is a well-known term and process in most design fields ( Gordon, 1994; Hugh, 2013: p. 3). In our process articulation, we will use the notion of conceptualization as a very general composition of the new entity and the kernel of the project. The concept for the new organization would further guide the work on the project.

The conceptualization process at the time was based on the exploration of the social environment and problems ( Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2007a). The goal was to create a very general solution to the problems envisaged. Because of the nature of the project, the conceptualization task was one of the most comprehensive and extensive. Considering that this project was about a social organization that had never before existed, the organizational concept was the core of the project and deserves special attention.

The social designers were aware that the organizational concept would guide the whole project and for that reason they spent a lot of time on it. The conceptualization was an extended process, going back and forth, changing ideas several times ( Mathews, 2007a). In fact, the conceptualization continued in different forms throughout the entire project because as the project advanced, certain things had to be fine-tuned or discussed repeatedly.

Task 3.1. Client’s conceptualization of the new organization

At the beginning, the client thought she had a pretty clear concept about her project. Littlewood believed she needed a unique building that had never existed before. The core of this building was a theater of a new kind. Her decision was based on the popular understanding that if existing buildings do not work well for client’s purposes, it is necessary to build a new customized structure.

The client evidently had a preliminary concept of what she wanted organizationally—a new theater enhanced as a community center with extended educational and political functions ( Mathews, 2007a). This organizational concept was influenced by Littlewood’s view of the social problems and inadequacies in British society, the necessity to better educate the working class, to prepare them for new jobs, to raise their class consciousness, to make them active citizens, and to prepare them for participation in political life ( Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2007a). Littlewood decided that theater could help working class people achieve all these goals. She also envisaged some additional functions of the facility related to community life and education ( Holdsworth, 2011).

Task 3.2. The social designer questions the client’s conceptualization

Cedric Price had the benefit of looking at Littlefield’s conceptualization from the outside. Because of his professional and social interests, he very quickly started seeing many different options. He embraced the client’s social perspective and attitude and started expanding on that. Price was trained as an architect and was conditioned to check and reconsider clients’ wishes and wants. This type of professional culture greatly influenced the whole project. Price continued thinking about the social problems and their solutions. He had a history of casual discussions on an everyday basis with intellectuals and politicians and this lifestyle helped him when he started working on the project ( Mathews, 2007a). Meanwhile, he started thinking about which experts he needed to recruit to work on the project, albeit on volunteer basis.

Task 3.3. Organizing several task forces/committees.

The actual placement of this sub-group of tasks is flexible. The social designer and the client had already done some preliminary work together and with experts. The organization of the committees also spread over some time, which precludes an accurate reconstruction of just how the process went. It is important to know, though, that they organized several committees, sub-committees, and task forces ( Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2007a: p. 73, pp. 114-117). The committees were staffed on volunteer basis. This committee work was very important during the developing of activity zones/clusters.

The first committee was, naturally, the Project Committee ( Price & Littlewood, 1968: p. 130). It was followed by the Ideas Committee ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 207; Mathews, 2007a: p. 116). The Project and the Ideas Committees actively participated in the conceptualization process, and later continued working in more detail. Their charge was to develop ideas primarily for the whole building, but also for the activity zones. After that, they submitted tasks to other committees.

The Cybernetics Committee was probably the most active and it “cybernized” ideas from all other committees, as well as providing feedback to the other groups ( Frazer, 2001). There were also several other committees dealing with structures, programming, and sociology ( Mathews, 2007a: pp. 114-116). An Amenities Sub-Committee studied “the ‘nature of fun’ and the moral and ethical issues associated with teaching machines” ( Hardingham, 2016a: p. 65). The social designer and the client had selected notable intellectuals and experts from many disciplines and professions to staff these committees.

Task 3.4. Discussing the social problems and trends in more detail

The social designer and the client started discussing a number of issues and problems: social and economic crises, structural unemployment, poverty and human suffering ( Mathews, 2007a: p. 53); lack of reeducation and retooling opportunities for workers; stagnation and passivity; low self-esteem, going close to moral degradation; debilitating consumer culture; and “dumbing down” as a result of frivolous and vicarious pleasures of mass entertainment ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 210). They shared the concerns of many intellectuals of the time that these social problems might lead to unacceptable behavior, immorality, and social disorder ( Mathews, 2007a).

However, they also identified a number of other important trends like: blurring the boundaries between work, education and leisure, factory automation predicted to reduce the work week and would increase leisure time, new scientific developments and technologies that would make leisure a primary aspect of everyday life ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 209; Mathews, 2007a), and emerging participatory democracy that would need nurturing and support. The designers were dedicated to promoting real participatory democracy and were rejecting ideas for driving the working class to accept high-end culture, as some utopist intellectuals were suggesting ( Holdsworth, 2011).

Task 3.5. Conceptualization of the new organization

While analyzing social problems and opportunities, the designers were also thinking about solutions. The initial concept of Joan Littlewood about a “theater of the streets” with extended educational opportunities and community functions gradually changed ( Littlewood, 1994). The designers started developing the foundations of a new project. This process led to a “radical reconceptualization of cultural democracy and participatory learning” ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 219).

The new organization was intended to democratize knowledge, skills, art, culture, and (continuing) education, with the purpose of overcoming structural unemployment through learning new knowledge and skills, as well as alleviating boredom and minimizing socially undesirable behavior. The new facility was going to be inclusive regarding social class, ethnicity, race, and employment status ( Holdsworth, 2011).

Both the social designer and the client expected that work, leisure, and learning would merge, and leisure would become the most extensive part of everyday life ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 209). They believed in fun, play, and pleasure as facilitators of learning ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 217; Price & Littlewood, 1968). Littlewood regarded fun as an integral part of the learning process and operationalized this through gaming methods in science and fun areas of the facility ( Holdsworth, 2011: pp. 217-218; Price & Littlewood, 1968). They wanted the new organization to offer multiple modes of stimulation that could be educational in the traditional sense or could simply trigger the imagination or the development of new interests” ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 212).

At some point, Littlewood wanted “to bring together all aspects of human life and ‘being human’ within one cultural complex” ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 217). People would be able to use the Fun Palace to fulfill basic needs such as eating and drinking, to carry out domestic tasks such as visiting the on-site launderette or having their car serviced, to indulge in cultural pursuit, or indeed, to combine all of these elements in one visit. There was the vision of a multi-use or multi-activity institution similar to an enormous community center (but also not), open around the clock ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 211, p. 218; Price & Littlewood, 1968).

It became clear that their ideas would not fit into the mold of existing organizational and building types. Both Littlewood and Price felt they needed to break the institutional boundaries of organizational types like school, the theater, arts workshop, and the amusement park ( Price & Littlewood, 1968). They started envisioning a new model of social organization, offering new possibilities for cultural encounters ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 208). This was going to be a project including entertainment, pleasure, communication, and learning ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 206). After long deliberation, they narrowed down and crystalized their ideas to a “university of the streets”, and a laboratory of fun and pleasure ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 211; Littlewood, 1964; Mathews, 2007a).

3.4. Task Cluster 4: Defining the Mission, Goals, and Strategy of the New Organization

Task 4.1. Defining the mission of the new organization

We understand the mission of the new organization by interpreting some of the ideas and statements made by the designers in the initial steps of the process. In this way, we would like to emphasize that those ideas and decisions were actually considered, even when they were not formally framed and codified.

The designers wanted the new organization to help the working class and the underprivileged to develop social mobility and find employment opportunities through education that was also fun and pleasurable ( Mathews, 2007a: p. 92); to increase personal and political awareness; to support participatory democracy and to overcome stagnation and passivity ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 211, p. 215); to regain self-esteem, to foster self-fulfillment, and to build up individuality; to give people a chance to have autonomy over their own lives ( Mathews, 2007a: p. 66).

This was going to be achieved through providing opportunities for re-education, retooling for new jobs, and increasing motivation for active participation in meaningful activities and in the political process. And all of this had to take place in a relaxing and fun atmosphere ( Holdsworth, 2011: pp. 206-215).

Task 4.2. Defining the organizational goals

The social designer and the client developed the project goals gradually over time and defined them in notes and several texts ( Mathews, 2007a: pp. 68-69). Because of the exploratory nature of this unique project, the goal formulation process was not linear, but spiral, exploring goals and the activity necessary for their achievement. Here we interpret and transcribe the goal-making process in a linear fashion because of the restrictions of the straightforward flow of the necessary use of text, as well as the confusion that multiple and rhizomatic references would produce. Also, the goal-formulation progression worked at different levels of abstraction and this created further difficulties in neatly defining and articulating each step and task in the process.

Very early in the process, Littlewood and Price decided that the main purpose of the new organization and facility would include the following:

· emancipate and democratize the arts and education;

· animate community-based activity and values ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 206; Mathews, 2007a: p. 68);

· to counteract the spread of consumer culture and mass-media indoctrination;

· and to provide meaningful activities for leisure time to prevent social disorder.

In addition, the designers wanted the new organization would experiment with different modes of entertainment and education. The facility was to provide conditions for interactive and technology-supported learning, stimulating people to make decisions, and ultimately nurturing activism and participatory democracy ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 212).

The designers planned to attract patrons from all over London, from all social groups, and, very importantly, from the local community ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 211). They considered several objectives in this respect, including to be responsive to the needs of the local community. They also were mindful to accommodate pre-existing activities in the community, knowing that they could not fully replace the local culture and identity of the location. This strategy extended to collaboration with other local institutions like schools, libraries, art galleries, and museums ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 211).

Task 4.3. Planning the organizational strategy

In order to achieve their mission, goals, and objectives, the designers deliberated on a number of approaches. They rejected the top-down approach to educating people like in the famous Centre 42 ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 211). The social designers diligently worked on democratizing leisure, education, and art. The cornerstone of their strategy was to combine a number of activities and states of mind that would contribute to the intellectual and moral growth of ordinary people. On the one hand, the designers wanted to foster education and intellectual engagement, retooling and obtaining new skills. On the other hand, they wanted people to experience pleasure, delight, and fun through play, entertainment, and artistic explorations ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 211, p. 217).

In order to achieve the desired goals mentioned above, the designers decided to use pleasure and fun as instruments to “remake society around the potential for delight and opportunity” ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 217). Moreover, the ideas of pleasure and fun were put to work in a proactive way, as facilitation for learning rather than passive experiences. The social designers envisioned the use of fun situations and pleasurable games to develop particular intellectual and interactive skills like concentration, coordination, spontaneity and imagination, as well as skills required for effective group work such as communication and problem solving ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 256).

The designers used a strategy of active living, learning, and participation in the learning process, as well as leisure activities that stimulated the senses and imagination ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 219). The designers decided to prepare an entertainment kit that would use the non-institutionalized aspects of leisure to enhance casual learning and personal improvement ( Mathews, 2007a: p. 140). Learning was to be transformed into a leisure activity. And to achieve all this, people were to be given free access to a wide array of cultural activities, 24 hours a day ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 213; Mathews, 2007a: p. 136).

3.5. Task Cluster 5: Defining the Major Activity Groups/Zones

At this level of design, the project teams moved into more specific work. The social designers developed lists of activities that would serve as instruments to achieve the project goals. Simultaneously, guided by a number of considerations, they started organizing these activities into clusters/zones ( Mathews, 2007a: p. 275). This was close to the design of the departmental structure and functions of an organization. For these tasks, the designers resorted to brainstorming, as well as relying on their personal experience in the professional fields where they exceled ( Mathews, 2007a). The process was cyclical: brainstorming individual activities and then grouping them together in larger entities based on particular educational goals, content, process similarities, or other connections.

The designers used the term zone most probably because Price had a background in architecture, where functional zoning and the articulation of zones is an important method that bridges social function and space. In social design, we would rather use the terms activity groups or departments in order to liberate the social from spatial influences. The designers organized the activities in six zones or activity groups: 1) Teaching Machines; 2) Participation in New Forms of Expression; 3) Films and Lectures; 4) Scientific Experiments; 5) Painting, Sculpture, etc.; and 6) Music ( Mathews, 2007a: p. 275).

During the initial planning stages, the designers were thinking forward to the detailed development of the activity clusters. In reality, it was difficult to systematically and methodically follow a completely linear and straightforward process. Brainstorming and moving back and forth were very helpful for generating new ideas, then organizing them in groups, and finally evaluating, revising, and coming with new solutions. The designers envisioned the participation of teachers, sociologists, cyberneticians, clowns, cooks, magicians and more ( Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2007a: p. 276). In reality, they worked with the available experts that they had recruited during the first half of the project.

3.6. Task Cluster 6: Activity Development and Detailing

The social designers continued elaborating on each activity group/zone and also imagined specific ways of conducting those activities so that there were fun and pleasure, but also so that there were learning and personal development. Most activity groups were heavily infused with new technology, like computers, closed circuit television, gaming machines, and other “gadgets” ( Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2007a).

Task 6.1. Developing activity group 1: Teaching machines

The designers brainstormed and made a list of various activities that required mechanical and electronic machines. Here they pictured lectures on closed circuit television, which at that time was innovative and fascinating. They also postulated problem posing games, as well as the activity “cooperative machines” (with two or three participants interacting) that was intended to develop skills for communication with precise information, speed in observation, and collaboration ( Mathews, 2007a: p. 275). The designers treated activities as instruments for achieving certain objectives. They clearly set the objectives of each activity which allowed them to keep track of the progress toward achieving the overall goals of the facility and its mission ( Littlewood, 1964; Price & Littlewood, 1968; Holdsworth, 2011).

For example, the objectives of the “reading machines with joke scripts” were to develop reading pace, memory, and wit. The objective of the “puzzle picture observations” was to spot errors. The “Fox and Geese” games improved the ability to spot recurring images and rapidly changing patterns ( Mathews, 2007a: p. 275). Closed circuit television cameras were also installed in farms, coal mines, steel mills, factories, zoos, the House of Commons, police stations, and emergency rooms ( Holdsworth, 2011: pp. 216-217; Mathews, 2007a: p. 275) to inform the audience first-hand about life and operations in these places, so they could learn how things are grown or manufactured, how civic life transpires, what happens in hospitals, and so forth.

Littlewood wanted to democratize knowledge and learning by providing working class people with access to the newest technologies from real scientific labs and universities. She wanted to bring all those technological systems to “the street corner” ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 214). She also wanted to offer fun and excitement and called this area “The Fun Arcade” ( Littlewood, 1964: p. 432). Littlewood suggested “an interactive learning center full of computers, calculating machines, language laboratories, scientific apparatus and large-scale puzzles, and a ‘fun arcade’ full of games and tests” ( Littlewood, 1964: p. 432). From a social design point of view, it is interesting to see how the mission directed the goals and objectives, how they drove the design of the activities, and how activities were detailed with extensive technological support.

Task 6.2. Developing activity group 2: Participation in new forms of expression

This activity group was intended for people who worked near the Fun Palace—in “factories, shops, and offices, warehouses, bored with their daily routine” ( Littlewood, 1964: p. 432). The immediate objective was to provide opportunities for working people to relax and decompress after they finished their shift. However, the strategic objective was to renew and update obsolete social forms and behavior patterns. The social designers intended to achieve social change at the behavioral level and building new mindsets.

In this group of activities, the participants were expected to act and express themselves impromptu, to “re-enact their own experience in burlesques and mime and gossip” ( Littlewood, 1964: p. 432) and “wake to critical awareness of reality, act out their subconscious fears and taboos, and perhaps [be] stimulated to social research” ( Littlewood, 1964: p. 432). The designers foresaw new forms of actor-audience interaction that would allow for closer contact and participation of all parties involved in the exchange.

At some point in time, this activity group was named Acting. Littlewood wanted there to be an acting area for the actors mentioned above, and imagined this type of acting as “therapy of theater” ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 215). At this point in the social design process, Littlewood “proposed a theater of everyday life in which people would use the medium of theater to explore ideas, events, and dilemmas that directly affected them” ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 215).

Task 6.3. Developing activity group 3: Films and lectures

This task envisioned activities for people who wanted to learn more about cinema and how to make films/movies. The designers wanted to expose the patrons to the art and craft of filmmaking. This group of activities included lectures and hands-on learning. The participants were to be provided with hand-held cameras to experiment with and make short films. Patrons were to be taught, among other things, how to use cameras and how to direct short films ( Holdsworth, 2011; Littlewood, 1964).

Task 6.4. Developing activity group 4: Scientific experiments (or science playground)

Littlewood designed this group of activities as a science playground. The “visitors can attend lecture-demonstrations supported by teaching films, closed-circuit television and working models” ( Price & Littlewood, 1968: p. 130). The social designers e interactive and hands-on activities; learning through conducting experiments; and individual choice of activities. Science engagements would be supported with a lot of mechanical and electronic gadgets. At night, there would be emphasis on discussions, sharing theories and ideas, social interaction, and fun with costumed characters representing famous philosophers and scientists from the past ( Price & Littlewood, 1968: p. 130).

Task 6.5. Developing activity group 5: Painting, sculpture (or plastic area)

The designers considered several artistic activities: woodworking, metals, painting, clay modeling, stonework, and textiles/fiber art ( Price & Littlewood, 1968: p. 130). Their objectives were to create conditions where people could learn by touching and handling, playing with materials to learn more about form and expression. The designers wanted to provide people with opportunities to discover on their own, without fear of failing, and to support learning using past memories from childhood ( Holdsworth, 2011; Price & Littlewood, 1968: p. 130). The process was cyclical, involving brainstorming of activities and objectives, organizing findings, and clarifying both the objectives and activities.

On a different note, the designers also imagined the introduction of new activities by the patrons themselves. One of the meta-goals of the project was participatory democratic management where people could propose additional activities in the course of the lifecycle of the project. The Cybernetics Committee had developed instruments that would include and accommodate such emerging activities ( Holdsworth, 2011; Price & Littlewood, 1968: p. 130; Mathews, 2007a).

Task 6.6. Developing activity group 6: Music

The music activities were planned with different schedules for day and night. The daytime activities would involve playing instruments, free instrument instruction, recording music, and enjoying the pop disc library. Instruments would be provided for free. People could explore any kind of music experience: classical, folk, jazz, and pop ( Price & Littlewood, 1968: p. 130). The nighttime activities involved a lot of human interaction and socializing. The designers envisioned jam sessions, jazz festivals, poetry readings, and dances. People would be free to engage in the dance style of their liking, including popular and pop dances ( Price & Littlewood, 1968: p. 130).

Task 6.7. Unstructured activities

Littlewood envisioned unstructured activities and events with the opportunity to change pace at will and to take breaks as needed, to allow people to move freely from structured engagements to “time-off”; and to learn in a leisurely manner. Examples of unstructured activities were strolling and observation, simply observing events and gatherings, learning what other people were doing, watching closed-circuit television on the enormous television screens on major public junctions, and many more ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 218). The designers believed in the benefit of unstructured activities for casual learning and personal growth. The planning for unstructured activities was in line with the designers’ views of multiple opportunities for patrons, learning in a relaxed and fun atmosphere, and participatory management of the learning process.

Task 6.8. Developing the management/administrative model

Although the project was only in the conceptual phase, the social designers worked on the management model as well ( Hardingham, 2016a: p. 65). We place this task here, after the content development for several reasons. There is not enough information about the dynamics of this task. We can only infer from the texts about the Cybernetics Committee that they actually did work a lot on it ( Frazer, 2001; Lobsinger, 2000a). Furthermore, we have grounds to interpret that the management model was somewhat shaped when the scope and volume of activities and patrons became evident ( Hardingham, 2016a: p. 65; Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2007a).

The social designers planned several administrative layers. At the top they placed a full-time director, overseeing several support departments: “maintenance; licensing, control, public relations, accounts, education, entertainment, cybernetics, catering and legal” ( Hardingham, 2016a: p. 65). Another layer was formed to provide oversight by public administration and citizen entities. This oversight was intended to balance the facility management considerations with the protection of the interests of the local people who were definitely going to be affected by the daily influx of 55,000 patrons. In addition, the designers planned a newsroom staffed by journalists and editors. Their role was to disseminate information about the activities and events in the megastructure, as well as informing the patrons of Fun Palace about the latest news in the city, London ( Hardingham, 2016a: p. 65).

3.7. Task Cluster 7: Further Development and Articulation of Activities

At this phase of the social design project, Littlewood ( Price & Littlewood, 1968: p. 130) was considering that the activities need to be analyzed and developed in more detail, organized and reorganized, matched and interconnected. There is limited information for this level of operationalization of the activity ideas; however, it is implied in various texts that each activity would be further articulated and designed in order to provide enough information and guidelines for managers, architects, and other participants in the project. In fact, most of the considerations for detailing the activities were about providing the right information to the architectural designers who were going to work on the building.

Working with Price, Littlewood knew that the activities had to be transcribed in ways that the architect of the project could use to create the design. The team members were aware that at a later stage, they would have to develop more precise activities and patron needs, necessary conditions, and social requirements. This work is important for both management and architectural designers, although the two parties are interested in somewhat different aspects and formats of information.

3.8. Task Cluster 8: Parallel, Support, and “Issue” Tasks

In this cluster, we have included several tasks that were running parallel to the reconstructed project “flowchart”. These tasks were developing and feeding information at each stage of the project progress. Such engagements are very common in design practice because the process involves a number of discussions on issues that are important for the project decision making. Also, a design project is never straightforward. It usually involves “spiraling”, constant reconsiderations of previous decisions in order to accommodate the solutions at the more concrete and detailed tasks, and so forth towards the completion of the project.

Task 8.1. Cybernetic instruments for management of activities

The project was strongly infused with the possibility of using cybernetics for managing people’s preferences and activity selections, as well as coping with the unpredictability of patrons’ choices ( Frazer, 2001; Lobsinger, 2000b). The primary objective and task were to develop feedback loops and assist with managing the large number of patrons who would be encouraged to act freely and make choices at the spur of the moment. To fulfil this objective and to work on this task, the Cybernetics Committee had to support objectives and engage in several other sub-tasks.

For example, one charge was to find out ways to count patrons in various activities, to relay this information, and to inform the patrons and the management about supply and demand for activities. Another task was the development of mathematical and statistical models of patrons’ behavior. A related task was the development of surveys to understand people’s preferences and to generate activity options ( Hardingham, 2016a: p. 56; Mathews, 2007a). An additional volunteer task was developing a long list of activities, although this was in the task domain of the Ideas Committee. Although this was not their major charge, the committee members evidently loved to do this on their own and became very active in suggesting new activities and events ( Holdsworth, 2011: p. 215, pp. 229-231; Mathews, 2007a: pp. 114-116).

In the process of cybernetic design, a number of social issues emerged. Cybernetics is about control loops, and the Fun Palace was planned as a haven of freedom and opportunity, free will and free choice ( Holdsworth, 2011: pp. 229-231). The discussion of these issues could be seen as yet another task that rans parallel to many other tasks. Such social and ethical issues emerged very often in the design process, and they were discussed in different modes, depending on the stage of the project and the centrality of the issue. Although some of the deliberations continued to the end of the design process, most of the social issues were discussed at the stage of conceptualizing the project. While in our transcription and formatting of the design process we focus on goals and activities, we also consider the necessity to articulate, include, and organize tasks/steps that deal with important emergent or continuing issues.

Task 8.2. Determining degrees of uncertainty, indeterminacy, and flexibility

These issues were related to the cybernetics tasks. In the initial vision, the new organization presupposed that it would provide many different activities and free choice. The social designers wanted the patrons to decide which activity, event, or setting to join independently. The designers were not certain about the demand and supply tendencies. Although they conducted surveys, they were sure demand trends would frequently change, and new activities and demands would emerge. There were considerations about the indeterminacy of patrons’ demands and the need for flexibility in activity management and space allocation. Price predicted “the inevitability of change, chance, and indeterminacy as integral to a continuously evolving process modeled after self-regulating organic processes and computer codes” ( Mathews, 2006a). Rowan Wilken & Lumet (2007) called that “calculated uncertainty”.

Task 8.3. Planning for electronic technology

A social design project can never stay purely focused only on the social phenomena, mostly because designers need to consider activity needs regarding technology support and space allocation. Although in this design process transcription we have abstracted only the social part and left the material part outside the scope of this paper, we need to mention that the social designers of the Fun Palace had a lot of considerations about the use of electronic technology, as well as building technology. The technological support was discussed at each step and task. The social designers planned for computers for use by patrons in almost all activity areas ( Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2007a). Computers were also intended for managing the flow of people, activity demand, and future activity offerings. In addition, closed-circuit television and information displays required television screens of different sizes to be placed throughout the facility. In this project, computers and closed-circuit television were important to support activity considerations and instruments for learning ( Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2007a).

Task 8.4. Public relations and publicity

The social designers started an energetic campaign of public relations and publicity from the very beginning ( Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2007a). The overall effort was tremendous. At the beginning, the designers were looking for collaborators and political supporters. The designers held many meetings to fulfill these objectives. Later in the process, when the designers started applying for building permits, the local community protested and stopped the project. The designers conducted well-organized public relations, publicity, and political campaigns to prevent the opposition and to get the necessary permits for continuing the project. The publicity campaign included short films, press-releases, short newspaper and magazine publications, posters, brochures, radio and TV presentations ( Hardingham, 2016a: pp. 65-66). These activities were extended over the full course of the project.

3.9. Task Cluster 9: Aligning and Fine-Tuning Goals, Activity Clusters, and Activity Design

Since the typical design process is not linear, it is normal in design that each new step might require realignment of the previous decisions. In fact, misalignment in organizational systems can be a confounding factor working against the overall progress in disparate areas. Usually, there is a limited budget and resources and every time a new large item is included in the project, something else has to be eliminated. Or, particular decisions that seemed to resolve some problems at the previous stages of the project, might at the same time create problems later when the project is developed in more detail.

There are numerous hints about such situations during the development of the Fun Palace project ( Holdsworth, 2011; Mathews, 2007a). The social designers changed certain solutions several times. Analysis of multiple texts, manifestoes, and public relations materials showed the evolution of ideas and activity considerations. The strongest case was the evolution of the client’s brief to the social designer. It started with a request for a theater building with extended functions and in the course of time, evolved into an organization of an entirely new type. In this process, the initial goals and objectives were augmented, modified, and some of them were dropped. Also, the use of brainstorming in the process of envisioning different activities led to a number of activity repertories that were frequently reconsidered, changed, augmented, or scaled down ( Mathews, 2007a).

3.10. A Brief Recap of the Process

We selected the social design component of the Fan Palace project and showed one possible way to present it in design process format, based on our design philosophy and process modeling approach. As a result, we developed a presentation in nine task clusters: problem identification, preparation for conceptualizing the project, conceptualizing the new organization, defining the goal system of the organization, defining the major activity groups, activity development, detailed design of activities, support tasks, and aligning and fine-tuning of the system.

4. Concluding Remarks

In this paper, we explicated and articulated the social design process in separate work tasks hidden within existing narratives about the Fun Palace Project. We call this “process articulation” or proceduralization. We made the process visible by interpreting information from selected narratives and translating it into a process format.

We would like to emphasize that the ideas in this paper are about the explication of the hidden social design project and process, using the Fun Palace only as an illustrative case. We ask readers to focus on the notions of social design, project, and process, rather than the amazing “university of the streets”.

The paper contributes to the body of knowledge as well as the methodological layers of social design, and in particular the explication and proceduralization of “hidden” design processes. In addition, this treatise contributes to fostering reflective and systematic analysis of the social design process; it will stimulate further work on developing design process methodology, including general process frameworks, techniques, and guidelines. Another contribution is that thinking in terms of tasks will allow social designers to be more reflexive regarding what they are doing. The process explication will influence designers to evaluate their design actions and solutions at each step, as well as their design methodology. This will contribute to further learning and improving their professional practice.

Another set of contributions to social design is the development of culture of benchmarking and learning by example. It is our goal that the paper will motivate more social practitioners to engage in methodological action and produce benchmarking examples of their own social design process and method. We hope that this will help the social design community to learn from each other’s professional experience, to create an educational repository of methods, to adapt to and use methods in other project situations as appropriate, and to teach the next generation in college or in the workplace. By explicating the design process, we hope to make transparent each task/step, show the actual objectives and results, and open them for discussion and accountability.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this paper.


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