Theoretical Frameworks

When we address design problems we take on a specific philosophical and theoretical perspective. For example, when your design solution aims to be environmentally-friendly, you employ an ecological perspective. The perspective of social constructivism for example entails that we are creators of our social life-world, that we actively create and design the environment and the social relations around us. Social constructivism would apply for example to communication design solutions or improving processes within institutions. Theoretical frameworks guide the angle under which we develop design solutions. Such an approach also encourages you to think critically about the world around you. Here are some more examples. When we talk about ‘ecology’ most of us will think of “becoming green” and environmentally-friendly. Uri Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) i.e., has nothing to do with such understanding, but it investigates our life in different social dimensions such as family, friends, the workplace or society at large. ‘Ecology’ just means a ‘space for living’ and it can be used for investigating specific spheres of social influence. This approach is particularly interesting for designers.

Transformative frameworks aim to empower communities and assist them in self-determination. For example, when we design an educational program or a social network, this falls under the perspective of transformative frameworks. Critical Theory explores the study of social institutions and their transformation Since Critical Theory is related to issues of democratic empowerment it is closely related to dependency theories, such as the World System Analysis (Wallerstein, 2004), who investigate unfair relations and exploitation between dominant and subordinate groups. Critical race theory focuses on the problem of racism. Disabilities theories deal with the meaning of inclusion of disabled persons into mainstream society. Feminist theories explore the discrimination of women in society and culture. We are dealing with real people, real lives, problems and challenges – only a critical designer who is aware about the situation of others in real-life scenarios is able to develop useful and successful solutions. The overarching term is human-centred design. Design evolves in social context and serves to enrich and illuminate peoples’ lives. For MSP 1/2 you are choosing a theoretical, interpretative framework to define the perspective under which you investigate your topic.


Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wallerstein, I. (2004), “World-Systems Analysis,” edited by Modelski, G. and Denemark, R. A., World System History. Oxford: EOLSS Publishers, 13–26.


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