Play-able: using play to realise the intent of social design

Art, access and agency - art sites of enabling

Keywords: social design, play, design activism, design education, social responsibility, South Africa


Design – by its relational nature of connecting people, places and things – is an intrinsically social practice. However, the marked shift from prioritising commercial design objectives to creating constructive opportunities for collective engagement and social change has resulted in the emergence of social design. Viewed as a discursive moment and not a discipline, social design embraces different design approaches and participatory processes; as such, it is not defined by a pre-determined design process or outcome, but rather by its intent of engendering responsibility and social behaviour change. Within this context then, the aim of the paper is to reflect on the way in which play enables designers to realise the intent of their social design practice. To address the aim, the paper first contextualises social design and presents a conceptual framework of play. Secondly, the paper presents South African vignettes of the city and the higher-education design classroom to highlight the practical value play affords design to aid the understanding of social problems in general and advancing agency and ownership for sustained social behaviour change, in particular.