Beyond individual awareness: a journey into design justice

5 min read Written by: Emma Northcote
A journey into design justice

As a service designer and engagement lead, keen to develop my understanding of design justice principles, I recently attended a course provided by the brilliant Clara Greo and Sonia Turcotte – Power, privilege, and equity: designing and building services and products.  

Having worked in the public sector for over two decades, I’d like to think I’m attuned to the importance of accessibility and act on the need to ensure that my practices and behaviours are not exclusionary or discriminatory. But individual awareness, while crucial, isn’t enough.  

 I thought it may be valuable to share some of my learnings and observations from that insightful course. 

 Unearthing our biases 

 The course challenged us to confront our privilege. We were given a list of privileges and asked to choose just three. This simple exercise sparked eye-opening conversations, exposing our often-unconscious biases. 

 We then delved into how power manifests in services. They used several examples, such as crash test dummies, which are often designed for the male body, neglecting the safety needs of women. Another example: automatic soap dispensers that struggle with dark skin tones. These seemingly neutral designs reflect an obvious power imbalance. 

 The course extended these concepts to how we work. Casual after-work drinks or cashless transactions exclude those who cannot go to the pub, or those who have other reasons not to socialise around alcohol; those on tight budgets, or those without smartphones. We learned to identify these power dynamics and actively work towards solutions. 

 Paradigms and consequence scanning 

The course introduced the concept of paradigms – unconscious blueprints shaping our lives and influencing how we perceive ourselves and the world. Recognising my personal paradigm shift and its impact on my work was a revelation. 

 We also explored something called “consequence scanning” – a framework for analysing decisions. It involves identifying stakeholders, considering potential consequences (both intended and unintended), and assessing how power imbalances might affect the outcome. 

This framework emphasises open communication, gathering feedback from diverse voices, and iterating based on that feedback. Transparency, continuous learning, and sharing knowledge are also key principles.  

Taking action: A call to proactiveness 

 The course concluded with actionable suggestions for creating change. These include: 

  • Embrace Continuous Learning: Actively seek out new knowledge and challenge pre-existing assumptions. 
  • Amplify Marginalised Voices: Advocate for others without centring yourself. 
  • Direct Resources: Donate to causes you believe in. 
  • Revisit Past Work: Reflect on previous projects through a design justice lens. Identify areas for improvement and share your learnings with former colleagues. 
  • Share Your Learning: Educate others and promote alternative approaches to service design and research. This can involve mentoring junior colleagues, presenting at conferences, or even writing blog posts like this one. 

Inspired by the course, I’ve actively sought out further learning resources. I’m ploughing through Clara and Sonia’s recommended reading and listening list, attending webinars (most recently one on decolonising research practices), and seeking new perspectives. 

These early learnings through the lens of design justice have been insightful. It’s a call to action, urging us to move beyond individual awareness and equality, and actively work towards creating a more equitable and inclusive world.   

Learning and unearthing biases is a continuous process. As I learn and grow, I’ll strive to embed these principles into everything I do, from designing services to interacting with colleagues. The goal is to create a culture of design justice in Perago and the broader design community. 

Em’s recommendations for further reading:


‘Design Justice’, by Sasha Costanza-Chock 

‘The Good Ally’, by Nova Reid 

‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’, by Reni Eddo-Lodge 

‘What White People Can Do Next’, by Emma Dabiri 

‘Know Your Place: Essays on the Working Class, by the Working Class’, by Nathan Connolly 

‘Poverty Safari’, by Darren McGarvey 

‘Difficult Women’, by Helen Lewis 

‘Skint Estate’, by Cash Carraway 


‘The Bias Diagnosis’, on Audible 

‘Design Thinking 101’ 

‘Black History Toolkit’ 

‘Streets Apart: A History of Social Housing’, BBC Sounds 

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