Design at the Front

Otto von Busch


Over the last year, fierce discussion have raged about the trend of socially engaged design, where such projects have been scolded as new forms of “design imperialism” (cf. Nussbaum 2010; Pilloton 2010; Sinclair 2010). Resonating with this discussion, the latest US Army Field Manual has included “design” as a central feature in the core battle doctrine. Are we seeing the birth of a “social design doctrine” employed to wage war?


It is tempting to draw parallels between design and the developments of military thinking to reflect some of the issues at stake as design turns to address social, cultural and ethnic issues. As its point of departure this text examines how design and warfare strive for opening new “fronts” in conflicts, new dimensions to strike the enemy, and also use games to train and expand tactical thinking. Today, trans-disciplinary “Human Terrain Teams” of ethnographers, anthropologists and military personnel are engaged in counterinsurgency warfare. Similar to the latest doctrines of warfare, design explores the use of interfaces, fronts and conflict zones, and social design might soon be the next social “surrogate warfare”. As design goes social it urgently needs ethical research and reflection. 



Social design, Social innovation, Design theory

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