Social Urban Design

SOCIAL DESIGN – Perspectives for Future Generations

Nicolas Beucker is a teacher and researcher in the field of public spaces and society-oriented design methods. In his studies and projects he deals with how city spaces and surfaces can be designed as an urban interface in an easily readable, emotionally appealing way that invites people to use them. Here he explains his interpretations of social urban design.

Everyday Design Solutions

Design is an optimistic discipline. And with that, design is one of the key disciplines in times of crises and uncertainty. Designer-like thinking and action make it possible to focus on opportunities and possibilities instead of obstacles and risks. Design underpins hopes and show the possibilities of better futures. A designer with this understands design this way will question the demands of a better world and develop an approach of shared responsibility for the shaping of this world. Against the backdrop of a society that strives for ecological and social equity, it is no wonder that social issues have been increasingly finding their way into debates within the field of design over the last few years.
Articles entitled „Design for Social Innovation“, „Social Design“, „Transformation Design“, „Kann Gestaltung Gesellschaft verändern?“ (in English: Can Design Change Society?) and the more generally entitled: „Weltentwerfen“ (in English: Designing worlds) remind designers to use their skills to actively shape a successful community. Their imagination and their ability to communicate these images in a way that allows other to form an opinion about them are becoming increasingly important. Designers imagine things that don’t yet exist and develop images that make it possible to speak about imaginable futures, therefore taking on the role of a mediator for society. Because when we’re talking about what the future should look like, non-designer also need to be able to form an opinion about the ideas. With that, participation in design processes has become a new skill in design professions. Not only do designers need to learn and internalise the concept of participation, participation must also be lived. Designers will have to reduce their role as the authors of their work and sometimes have to participate in co-creative design processes. The more their tasks become societal, the more designer will have to discuss and negotiate their plans with the affected stakeholders instead of just with contractors. In order to do that, designers have to be empathetic and ready to enter into a dialogue as well as treat non-designers as equals. But that doesn’t mean that designers will have to give up their role as the initiators of aesthetic standards in the future, it’s just that with regards to many design questions, aesthetic tools will be met with ethical issues.

Invisible Design

The type of design aimed toward a society-oriented future calls for different requirements than the type of design that stays loyal to distribution management. Which is why curricula are being changed on many universities, just like the Hochschule Lower Rhine, University of Applied Sciences has done. Over the past ten years, design students in Krefeld have had the opportunity to work in projects that take invisible design (Lucius Burckhardt) into account. In social design projects they learn to deal with the relationships that are formed as a result of the design of objects and to correspondingly design products, spaces, situations or forms of communication. However, there is often a lack of a methodological foundation on how to gain an emphatic approach to various planning contexts and the necessary understanding for the different stakeholders. In addition, social design starts dealing with the issue of a designer’s solution when they are already immersed in the analysis of an often unclear and complex task. In social design, it is considered counterproductive to define solution processes for product, graphic, automotive, editorial, web or trade fair design upfront.

StadtRaumFestival “VIERTELPULS”
StadtRaumFestival “VIERTELPULS” or: the City Space Festival “The pulse of the neighbourhood”

Starting in the spring of 2017, social design will be an established part of the design curriculum in Krefeld as an elective field of study. Future designers will be able to systematically learn the methods of concentrating empathy, participation and co-creation. They will discuss exemplary projects in certain fields of interest and user contexts and will diligently negotiate criteria for a better world.

In the interest of an interdisciplinary perspective, Nicolas Beucker established the competence centre for social design at the Hochschule Niederrhein, University of Applied Sciences. SOUND has been working with communities in the Lower Rhine region to develop different approaches to citizen-oriented city planning. Exemplary of this project is the StadtRaumFestival VIERTELPULS, that took place in 2015 in cooperation with the city of Krefeld and the Urbanen Nachbarschaft Samtweberei (the urban neighbourhood velvet weaving mill).


Nicolas Beucker’s current publications:

(2015) Transformation Design: A Piecemeal Situational Change. Transformation Design in Perspectives on a New Design Attitude. Wolfgang Jonas, Sarah Zerwas und Kristof von Anshelm, Birkhäuser: 33-42.

(2016) Design und die Sichtbarkeit möglicher Zukünfte. Social Design in Gestalten für die Transformation der Gesellschaft. (Design and the visibility of possible futures. Social Design for the transformation of society.) Claudia Banz, transcript Verlag: 35-42.

Ministerium NRW



Nicolas Beucker

Nicolas Beucker has been a professor for public and social design at the Hochschule Niederrhein, University of Applied Sciences since 2005. He is a teacher and researcher in the field of public spaces and society-oriented design methods. It is especially important to Beucker to study and shape the city as a habitat. In the interest of an interdisciplinary perspective, he established the competence centre for social design in 2009. The competence centre is currently being re-named to SOUND – Kompetenzzentrum Social Urban Design.

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