Completed PhD thesis: Selin Gürdere Akdur on social design in Turkey

My first ever PhD student to complete her studies, Selin Gürdere Akdur has successfully completed her PhD, titled “Socially oriented design practices in Turkey: A critical analysis of participation and collaboration” and presented her thesis on 16 September 2019. Her work involved the compilation and analysis of 93 social design practices at the first stage, and the analysis of participatory approaches via in-depth interviews with facilitators of a selection at the second stage. The findings of the first stage were published here, where we discuss the salient features of the social design field in Turkey, from which we start deriving a framework for the study of local social design practices.

Social Design in Turkey: Paper on The Design Journal

Our paper with Selin Gürdere has been published on the Design Journal as advance online publication. The paper reviews 27 social design projects from Turkey, uses those to provide a local overview. The abstract goes as follows:

Selin Gürdere Akdur and Harun Kaygan (2019). Social Design in Turkey through a Survey of Design Media: Projects, Objectives, Participation Approaches. The Design Journal, 22(1). DOI: 10.1080/14606925.2018.1560592

The literature on social design consists of studies that report on single cases on the one hand and global reviews that are offered for theoretical purposes on the other. There is a lack of local reviews that report on social design practices that stem from peculiar political, economic, design professional and educational contexts. In response to this gap, we provide a review of 27 social design practices in Turkey from the last decade. The projects are compiled in accordance with social design criteria derived from the literature. Sampled projects were analysed via textual analysis of their representations on design media. In our findings, we demonstrate the ways in which local context shapes local social design practices. We also outline a framework for the discussion of prominent issues, range of actors, objectives, and participatory approaches.

This was a difficult one to write, and it took a huge amount of time and effort to come up with workable selection criteria and a representative selection of projects. It was equally difficult to fit everything into 7000 words. By the way, we do not say that these are the best or even the better projects; we know that there are designers out there in Turkey, trying their best to be helpful, to bring change. We hope that the paper will draw attention to projects happening in Turkey, regardless of whether they are presented here. We also hope that similar work is produced for other places so that we can compare and learn and devise strategies.

Download the paper here. (Please note that this is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in The Design Journal on 21 Jan 2019, available online: here.)

CfP: Socially and critically engaged design (DRS Learn X Design 2019)

We have proposed a special track for the DRS Learn X Design 2019 Fifth International Conference for Design Education Researchers, which will take place on 9-12 July 2019 at METU, Ankara. Deadline for papers is 10 December. See our call below:


Harun Kaygan (METU), Selin Gürdere (METU), Åsa Ståhl (Linnaeus U.), Guy Julier (Aalto U.)

Recent literature on design competences reports how design education has changed both its emphases and contexts over the last decades. As design educators, we all seem less concerned with the traditional, technical and designerly skills, than ‘soft’ skills, which are expected to help design graduates at the job market navigate a wide range of job offerings as curators, coordinators, design thinkers, and strategists. In these roles designers collaborate with a wide range of stakeholders for a seemingly endless range of innovation problems. A common sight in design curricula are those projects that are shaped with social and political considerations: projects where design students work with communities, with schools, with local craftpersons; projects of criticality and fiction through which they inquire into todays and futures; projects where they learn to position themselves not only professionally but politically within real-world environments. Rather than considering merely to prime our students for a more flexible job market, however, design educators are genuinely enthused by the learning opportunities that socially oriented projects offer: in teaching design students lessons in social responsibility, critical thinking, political awareness, and empathy.

We are interested in papers that contribute to a discussion over possibilities of integrating socially and critically oriented pedagogies in design education. Possible topics are as follows:

– Strategies for integrating social responsibility, critical thinking, feminist epistemologies and intersectional positions, politics of dissent, etc., into design curricula.
– Use of ethnographic, generative and other design research methods in teaching for fostering awareness, reflexivity, criticality and empathy.
– Shortcomings of novel learning models or practices as currently applied in design education.
– Studies of power asymmetries within social, participatory and critical design practices in education, not least between design educators, design students and project stakeholders.

DiSalvo, C. (2012). Adversarial Design. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
Dunne, A. and Raby, F. (2013)
Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction and Social Dreaming. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
Ratto, M. (2011). Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.
The Information Society, 27(4), 252-260.
Schalk, M., Kristiansson, T., and Mazé, R. (Eds.) (2007).
Feminist Futures of Spatial Practice: Materialisms, Activisms, Dialogues, Pedagogies, Projections. Baunach, Germany: AADR (Spurbuchverlag).
Simonsen, J. and Robertson, T. (Eds.) (2012).
Routledge International Handbook of Participatory Design. New York: Routledge.

Conference website is You may download the call for papers here. There is a submission template and a link for submissions.

Paper at UTAK 2014: Participatory Design as Design Activism


UTAK 2014 (Ulusal Tasarım Araştırmaları Konferansı – National Design Research Conference) was organized on 10-12 September 2014 by the Department of Industrial Design at Middle East Technical University, with the aim to provide a platform for the sharing of the latest design research and educational methods in Turkish language. The organizing committee was as follows:

Conference coordinator: Pınar Kaygan
Conference committee: Naz Börekçi, Aykut Coşkun, Çağla Doğan, Gülay Hasdoğan, Harun Kaygan, Fatma Korkut, Sedef Süner

Besides our role in the organizing committee, we presented a paper that was an outcome of the course ID708 from 2012-13 Fall Semester, run by Harun Kaygan and Osman Şişman. Below you can find a Turkish translation of the abstract:

Sedef Süner and Harun Kaygan, “Participatory Design as Design Activism and the Designer’s Experience in Participation: The Case of METU Assistant Solidarity Initiative”

A topic of debate from mainstream politics to urban politics, from education to design, the concept of participation is defined as the institution of democracy through the inclusion of multiple parties in decision making. However, after Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari who argued that participation is a form of tyranny, and Markus Miessen who criticised it as fake romanticism, it is also possible to interpret the concept as merely justifying the options enforced by powerful parties through a pretence of conciliation and without questioning the actual distribution of power between those who participate and those who make the call. When we look at the field of design, we see that the optimist outlook is dominant, whereby users are included in decision making processes under the paradigm of user-centred design. The participatory approaches are often limited to setups where users contribute with their knowledge and experiences. They neither question the distribution of roles nor benefit from the above mentioned criticism, and we seldom encounter a search for new approaches. The intersection between participation and design activism (Fuad-Luke) or political design (DiSalvo) can provide us with new participatory scenarios as well as new perspectives to the role of design and designers in political processes. When the designer is a part of and a participant in a political struggle, it may be possible to experience a transformation of participation in and through design. This paper discusses different levels and forms of participation through a case in which a designer is involved in the Assistant Solidarity Initiative while also running a project for a graduate course.

Papers at 5T Conference 2014: Resistance with/in/to Design

Products of ID 707 Critique of Design I course, we have presented two papers at the 5T Conference on Resistance With/In/To Design, 15-16 May 2014 at Yaşar University, İzmir. Below you can find the abstracts for the papers:

Nagihan Tuna and Harun Kaygan, “Beyond prevention: Exploring the new technologies of graffiti”

The Victorian Government defined graffiti as “any form of writing, drawing, marking, scratching or otherwise defacing property by any means.” (Graffiti Prevention Act, 2007). Modern graffiti art originated in the 1960s and spread globally, while new tools are developed and place- and scale-related constraints have decreased. This can be done in various styles and using various materials, while the motivation can vary from social recognition to political expression. Still, design literature has mainly approached this issue from the perspective of prevention due to its illegal status. Nevertheless, the use of graffiti during the recent protests has gained attention as a type of design activism. The messages in the streets convey what is happening in the society. In spite of the attempts to regularly remove them, with its remains, graffiti may be one of the most lasting techniques of political protest. Moreover, with the advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) communication, collaboration and demonstration techniques of activists have changed (Garret, 2006). Mobile phones for example have become one of the tools used for making and sharing graffiti. The aim of this paper is to discuss the impact of these advances on graffiti art. For this purpose, we explore and compare existing and proposed technological systems for environmental, or legal, graffiti in the literature, and question whether and to what extent their use is compatible with the practices and motivations of graffiti makers.

Yunus Tuncel and Harun Kaygan, “Abstracted objects: Creating the soundscapes of Gezi Park”

During the recent protest rallies (in Gezi Park, Wall Street, and elsewhere) sound assumed a major role by creating unique soundscapes, not only in the squares where the demonstrations took place, but also in neighborhoods. The objects that are supposed to be kept at home, such as pots and pans or whistles, revolted and flowed out onto the streets to join car horns and slogans. One way to learn from these objects is to see them as “abstractions”, to borrow a term from phonography (Simpson, 2003). The sounds of these objects are abstracted from their “normal” uses in the private sphere and appropriated into the public sphere to provide a basis for festivity, which challenged and reshaped the preexisting web of meanings. In this paper, first, the concept of “abstraction” is described and theoretically elaborated. Then by referring to examples from the Gezi and Occupy protests, and from other phonographic practices and tools from the literature, it is questioned how abstraction could be understood, and realized, as a tool of design activism. Interviews are conducted with people who closely followed the protests to have a better understanding of the practices of and motivations behind abstraction. Ultimately, the aim of this paper is to investigate the relationship between designed objects and their abstracted sounds in the context of design activism.