Open letter to the Design Community: Stand Up for Democracy

Open Letter to the Design Community:
Stand Up for Democracy

1. There is no need to point out that we are now in difficult and
dangerous times. For many years we were living in a world that, despite its problems, has been nevertheless engaged in a democratization process whereby human rights, fundamental freedoms and opportunities for personal development were increasing. Today, this whole picture has changed. Attacks on democracy are active in several countries, including the ones where
democracy seemed to be unshakable.

2. In these new times, the design community (practitioners, researchers, theorists, students, journalists, publishers and curators who are professionally involved in design- related activities) should stand up, speak out and act. To do that we do not have to share the same idea of what democracy is. It is enough to recognize the strong convergence between democracy and design.

This convergence can be characterized in four ways:

(1) design of democracy, improving democratic processes and the
institutions on which democracy is built;

(2) design for democracy, involving issues of access and transparency, allowing more people, especially using technology, to participate in the democratic process;

(3) design in democracy, including projects that help to bring about conditions of equality and justice;

(4) design as democracy, whereby the equitable and inclusive principles of participatory design set a stage on which diverse actors can come together to share constitutive power in shaping the present and future world we live in.

Design has always been instrumental as a tool for democratization, in the four ways described above, either directly or indirectly. Today, these multiple commitments should continue, and designers need to support and increase democratic practices in their respective communities and countries. But now “normal” ways of designing are not enough.

At this time it is essential that the design community takes a strong stand against the on-going de-democratization process and supports broader and richer opportunities for democracy and well being. In practical terms, this can be defined by as conceiving, developing and connecting multiple actions of resistance and proposals of new possibilities. It means using every possible arena where design has a voice, to stand up against de-democratization.

It means conceiving of and
enhancing highly visible and effective actions of resistance. It also means proposing and developing projects that address both crucial short-term problems such as job creation and welfare reform and long-term issues such as environmental and economic sustainability. These two threads of action should interact and support each other, resulting in a dynamic proactive resistance.

3. Beyond expressing and sharing our concern, this letter aspires to help catalyze discussions and initiatives that we know are already happening in the design community. We believe that it is important that these discussions and initiatives have more visibility and state clearly how the design community, with its richness and diversity, is standing up and taking a stance in these troubled times.

To contribute to this effort, we are sending this letter to friends and
colleagues who play different, relevant roles in the design community including design associations, design schools, research centers, design publications and media, and design-related cultural institutions.

Our proposal to the community is that its members consider our open letter, and if they agree with its spirit, act in three ways:

– write a personal statement of less than 500 words
– make it public and circulate it in their networks
– organize an event in the next few months

The two of us are committed to collecting these statements and the
information related to these events and to trying to find a way to give them visibility. How this last step will happen is still an open question.
It will depend on how this letter is received and what new energies it
generates. We hope that it will stimulate designers to stand up and fight for democratization in their own communities and throughout the world.

Ezio Manzini and Victor Margolin

Chicago, 5 March 2017

Please, send your feedback to:


Stand Up for Democracy/is an international initiative motivated by the
concern for the attack to democracy we are witnessing in several
countries in the world. Its first aim is to be a strong political
statement of the Design Community against these on-going highly
concerning trends. But, facing this crisis, /Stand Up for Democracy/
presents also a constructive side: it aims to create and multiply arenas
of conversations and experimentations on how to conceive, develop and
connect new possibilities for democracy.

This initiative has been started in March 2017 by an Open Letter sent by
Ezio Manzini and Victor Margolin to the Design Community. Now it is
autonomously moving on and spreading internationally.

Everyone who agrees with the Open Letter spirit can participate.

The way to do it is simple:

(1) Write a “personal statement”, organize a “event” and upload them in
these two digital forms:

* for your personal statement:
* for the related event: <>

(2) spread the Open Letter with your personal statement in your
networks, asking for other friends and colleagues to participate in the
initiative in the same way.

These statements and the information on the related events are collected
by DDP Democracy-Design Platform DDP is
a digital platform that works as the Stand Up for Democracy initiative
enabling system, giving the collected statements and events more
visibility, coordinating them with other projects and offering other
relevant information. DDP has been designed and is coordinated by three
of laboratories of the Politecnico di Milano (Design Policy Lab, Density
Design and DESIS Lab) and can be considered as their contribution to the
Stand Up for Democracy initiative. __

The Stand Up for Democracy initiative will last until October 2017 and
will have its milestones in some main design-related events that have
introduced or will introduce its topics in their programs.The first of
these main event already took place and has been at the EAD /Design for
Next Conference/, in Rome, where the organizers offered Stand Up for
Democracy a space for discussion in the opening day, the12^th April.

For the future, several other possibilities are under discussion. Two
important ones are already confirmed. They are: the Cumuls Conference,
in Kolding-Denmark, at the end of May, and the WDO-World Design
Organization Conference in Turin in October 2017.




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