Engaged Practice Definitions

The terms below are some of the processes, fields, and approaches that artists, architects, and designers may reference, participate in, or practice as they work to make systemic social, economic, and environmental change. Let us know if you have any suggestions or questions.

// community-based design / community design
An interdisciplinary field that is committed to building local capacity and providing technical assistance to low- and moderate-income communities through participatory means. It emphasizes participatory planning processes in which professionals treat community members as principal stakeholders, encouraging their active role in the design process, while directly influencing and informing projects as a means of encouraging lasting ownership.  (Where Do We Go From Here?) (Good Design Guide)

// community art
Based in a community setting, community art is characterized by dialogue with the community and often involving a professional artist collaborating with people who may not otherwise engage in the arts (Community art)

// cultural equity
A movement to dismantle racial, social, and economic inequality in artistic and creative fields by advocating for diversity, prosperity, redistribution, self-determination (cultural equity)

// design thinking
An iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding. At the same time, it provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. (also see human-centered design, impact design) (What is design thinking and why is it so popular?) (Design thinking process)

// environmental design
The physical surroundings that provide the setting for human activity, ranging in scale from buildings and parks, green space to neighborhoods, the local community, as well as supporting infrastructure, such as roads and expressways (Environmental design)

// equity centered design
Creative problem solving process that focuses on the root causes of inequity and upends inequitable power relationships. Based on equity, humility-building, integrating history and healing practices, addressing power dynamics, and co-creating with the community. Related to liberatory design. (Equity-Centered Design Framework, Equity Centered Community Design)

// human-centered design
A process emphasizing observation, empathy, abstract thinking, prototyping, and iteration while working directly with end users. It’s goal is to create solutions that are desirable, feasible, and viable. (Good Design Guide) (also see design thinking, impact design)

// public interest design
A human centered and participatory process of design, typically in the built environment, that focuses on the “triple bottom line” – social, economic, and environmental impact. Projects address critical issues faced by the community through collaborative processes and fee-based projects (Public interest design)

// impact design
Focused on efforts and projects intended to have and evaluated according to measurable social impacts (Good Design Guide) “Impact design” brings together social, environmental, humanitarian, sustainable, human-centered, public-interest, and other related design disciplines focused on creating positive change and lasting impact (Impact design) (also see human-centered design, design thinking)

// inclusive design / universal design
Designing for the needs of all types of people, regardless of age, size, or ability. It considers the situation (design delivers a valuable experience to people regardless of their circumstances), is consistent (intuitive and consistent), gives control (flexible in use), offers choice (different ways for people to interact with the design), prioritizes content (easier to focus on core tasks, features, and information by prioritizing them within the context and layout), adds value (improves the experience for different users), and requires low physical effort (efficient and minimizes fatigue) (Inclusive design principles) (Universal design)

// relational aesthetics
“A set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.” (Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, pg. 113). (Public Engagement)

// resilient design
Intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions that is able to adapt, evolve and respond to changing environments and conditions, such as climate change and disasters (What is resilience?)

// socially engaged art
Socially engaged art describes art that is collaborative, often participatory and involves people as the medium or material of the work; often public art without ownership (Socially engaged practice) (History of social practice). Born from a hunger for an art that actually makes a difference socially, environmentally, and otherwise (A critique of social practice art). An antithesis of the art market because it cannot be owned, preserved, or exhibited easily (What happens when social practice art meets the market?).

// social practice
An art medium with the goal to create a social circumstance; the viewer experience of the constructed social environment becomes the art. The focus is on engagement, human interaction, and social discourse stimulated by the art (see relational aesthetics).

// social entrepreneurship
Identifying issues of exclusion, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity that lacks the financial means or political clout to achieve any transformative benefit on its own, identifying an opportunity in this unjust equilibrium, developing a social value proposition, and bringing to bear inspiration, creativity, direct action, courage to challenge the status quo; creating a stable, new ecosystem that ensures a better future for the targeted group and society. (Social entrepreneurship)

// sustainable design
Sustainable design seeks to reduce negative impacts on the environment, and the health and comfort of building occupants, thereby improving building performance. The basic objectives of sustainability are to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources, minimize waste, and create healthy, productive environments. (Sustainable design)