Relational Design




decolonizing design, relational ontology, dialogue, relational epistemology, participatory design, power


Participatory design occurs when professional designers do design work with the community members who will use the design. Traditional (colonial) participatory design leaves the choice of methodology in the hands of the professional designer, the leader or facilitator, who often chooses extractivist methods and methodologies, contradicting the very relationality, equity, and participation intended through participatory design. Using such methods in participatory design creates situations in which participating community members conduct extractivist, transactional methods against their own communities. In contrast, Radical Participatory Design decolonizes participatory processes as communities not only equally participate, but also equitably lead the design process, naturally leading to asset-based methodologies. Though Radical Participatory Design is a type of relational design because the design process is done relationally elevating relational knowledge and expertise, we go further to describe an explicit Relational Design.

What would a design process look like if we not only conduct it participatorily, but also replace extractivist, transactional activities with relational ones? Because design involves the production and solicitation of knowledge, we rearticulate knowledge as the presence of healthy relationships. With that understanding we describe Relational Design. We discuss the connection between systems and relationships and why Relational Design is important for positive systems change and impact. We then describe one possible and specific relational methodology that we have used in the space of educational systems: the sustained dialogue framework. Using this framework, we discuss how each phase of a generic design process changes when using a relational methodology like sustained dialogue. As the health of relationships in a system increases, the need or usefulness of positivist methods based on third-person knowing decreases.


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2023-05-31 — Updated on 2023-08-28


How to Cite

Udoewa, V., & Gress, S. (2023). Relational Design. Journal of Awareness-Based Systems Change, 3(1), 101–128. (Original work published May 31, 2023)



Original Articles (Peer-Reviewed)