Why We Need Design Outsiders


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June 10, 2021

Why do so many designs fail to meet the needs of people and our planet?

This is the question we at /Design Outsider asked when reflecting on our current collective professional and educational experiences ranging from architecture, planning, urban design to education.

So what can be done? Whose knowledge and experiences can ENRICH the design process and ENHANCE the design product? 

In a recent article in Dezeen Harriet Harriss, Rory Hyde, and Roberta Marcaccio collectively declare “the great challenges we face do not conform to neat disciplinary silos, but cross over into the messy space between politics, economics, culture, and spatial thinking” (para.11). Our societies NEED greater collaboration, we NEED more listening and we NEED it NOW. We believe if designers are to contribute to solving pressing challenges, we must meet people where they are in their lives.

While we may have disciplinary knowledge and technical experience, we understand that our clients and collaborators are experts in their own lives with unique perspectives and insights. 

We also recognize while we may have a collective background in architecture, planning and education, we will never be ONLY architects, planners and educators. As Joe Ravetz identifies, to meet the diverse needs of people the “architect may be also a sociologist; the surveyor may be an advocate of local economic development; the landscape designer a food activist” (p.48). Simply put - we ALL wear many hats. 

We at DESIGN OUTSIDER embrace Wayne Hemmingway’s approach to design who says “we need designers who are fleet of foot and can work across disciplines. Design for us is a state of mind” (2013).

As we draw inspiration from our own experiences outside of our professions, we also seek to integrate into the design process, knowledge from those OUTSIDE the design world - design outsiders.

We aim to break disciplinary silos and find common language between the designer and the end user - in many cases a traditional ‘design outsider’.  

We believe there is POWER in bringing people together from diverse educational, professional and life backgrounds. As the authors of the Dezeen article stress, many challenges facing the world today “are defined by their interconnectedness and by change. They cannot be solved with the old processes, but require new forms of thinking and working, combining a planetary consciousness with a responsible humanism that respects and enables local expertise” (para. 12). We feel an obligation to not only TALK about the benefits of bringing unique voices to the design discussion, but SHOW co-design in ACTION! Co-design can be challenging but it can also be fun and inspiring!

On our youtube channel series TWO DAY DESIGN we invite design outsiders to collaborate on design challenges in two days. The goals are to:

  • Highlight the value and provide a platform for ‘design outsiders’ that enrich the design process and enhance the design product.
  • Provide an ongoing educational resource of the challenges, strengths and opportunities of online interdisciplinary co-creation and collaboration
  • AND build a community of like-minded people to spark a movement of global citizens committed to participatory democratic design processes.

We do not adopt a one-size fits all approach to collaboration but rather approach each new project with a willingness to be influenced by local knowledge and the design outsider. We embrace the challenge of designing creative dialogue by enhancing communication options so the voices of the design outsider are heard. 

If you are typically excluded from the design process or don’t have a design background and would like to be a Design Outsider - please get in touch with the team.

Follow along through our Youtube channel.


  1. [1] Harriss H., Hyde R. & Marcaccio R. (2021, Jan 5) "The great challenges we face do not conform to neat disciplinary silos" Dezeen. Retrieved from https://www.dezeen.com/2021/01/05/architects-after-architecture-harriet-harriss-rory-hyde-roberta-marcaccio/?fbclid=IwAR1bN5JaobNkeLvOOgRHgsWb1Fo1XQLQp93Ov8v3rOEzdBa64GyZjCXoc-0
  2. [2] Ravetz, J. (2017). Master planning by and for the urban shared mind: towards a ‘neighbourhood 3.0’. In: Husam Al Waer and Barbara Illsley (Eds): Placemaking: Rethinking the master planning process. London, ICE Publishing: p.39-55.

Do you have a piece of writing or project that aligns with the Design Outsider Manifesto? If so, would you like to use this platform to promote the work you are doing? Reach out to the team here.

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