Summary of Design’s Response to the Crises of 2020

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Design’s Response to the Crises of 2020 summary

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As individuals and communities around the world struggle to respond to crises, uncertainty and technology-driven division, designers can play a helpful role. The RSA, in partnership with the Social Innovation Master’s Program at Ravensbourne University London, brought together four crisis responders to explore design’s response to – and opportunities in – the crises of 2020 and those to come. 

About the Speakers

Ian Burbidge is associate director of the RSA Lab. Helena Puig Larrauri is the director of Build Up, a nonprofit for peace. Melanie Rayment is a director at The Australian Center for Social Innovation (TACSI). Tom Tobia is design director at the RSA and co-founder of Makerversity. Joanna Choukeir is director of design and innovation at the RSA.


The crises of 2020 highlighted the value of the design mind-set to help people and communities respond proactively to uncertainty, disaster and conflict.

The events of 2020 show the world has become unpredictable, polarized and vulnerable to climate disasters. Design professionals can play a role in creating conditions for resilience, finding fresh ways forward and creating space for connection. Their work promotes understanding of how the design of both physical and technological spaces affects our identities and behaviors.

Attention to the design of social media platforms could help reduce polarization in online conversations.

In societies around the world, online conversations result in division and conflict. Polarization often occurs in conversations on social media platforms because the business model of these platforms depends on engagement. Platform owners require data in order to monetize their operations, so they provide content that attracts attention and engagement: simple content that individual users already agree with. And these platforms employ notifications that modify the way users’ brains respond to incentives. Given their content...

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