Social Needs


Compounding the problem of design is the fact that individuals form groups and alliances to meet needs that are collective in nature. Within most design settings we will be working with both individual considerations and group considerations. Groups, too, have characteristics, products and behaviors, and needs.

Groups come together for a number of functions -- to form families; to study or worship together; to provide support; to share housing, food and companionship; and so on. Groups may be temporary or intended to be more long-term. Some long-term groups have changing membership. In any case, the designer would like to have a sense of the intent and concerns of the group.

One approach to design that has been successful has been the guided workshop. In this approach the designer does not make the decisions but guides the group through a process of building a design by discussion and consensus. In their paper, Consensus: The Way Healthy Communities Make Decisions, Beatrice Briggs and Shari Leyshon identify five elements that must be in place for consensus to work: 1) common purpose, 2) willingness to share power, 3) informed commitment to the consensus process, 4) a strong agenda, and 5) effective facilitation. In a consensus process, no votes are taken. Ideas or proposals are introduced, discussed, and eventually the group arrives at a point of decision. An individual has the choice to block, stand aside, or give consent.

A group design approach is developed in the book Taking Part: A Workshop Approach to Collective Creativity by Lawrence Halprin and Jim Burns. Their group process has four components:

Resources - the knowable and controllable quantities in a given situation both external and internal to the group.

Scores - the vehicle by which groups carry out their activities; the plan, instructions, schedules, and so on.

Performance - the execution of the score by the group; the way in which objectives are realized.

Valuactions - the evaluation, feedback, decision making portion of a cyclic process involving the above elements.

Lawrence Halprin, in his book The RSVP Cycles: Creative Processes in the Human Environment, discusses these concepts further.


In designing with a group the process and the product are both important. In getting to a solution the participants learn more about themselves and about each other and gain a personal stake in decisions and the design.