The term “activism” is commonly used when referring to activities that demand social or political change, such as protests, marches, and petitions. In the world of design, activism takes on many different forms, including posters, videos, images, artworks, and even architecture. Design efforts can be considered to be activism if they identify an issue and encourage change in order to rectify the found problem, working on behalf of a neglected, excluded or disadvantaged group, and does so in a way which disrupts the norm through unorthodox methods (Thorpe, 2011, p. 6).
An example of design activism is Inkahoots Social Buttons installation in Caggara House in Mount Gravatt (Inkahoots, n.d.). Caggara House was developed by Brisbane Housing Company to provide affordable public housing to tenants over 55 years of age (The Senior, 2016). The Social Buttons installation consists of three large buttons which can be used to vote on social activities. The user selects their preferred activity from a given list by pressing the first button, then selects their preferences for where and when by pressing the second and third buttons. The votes are tallied each month and the most popular choice is sent to the residents by text message, and the housing organisation takes care of any transport requirements (Zuber, n.d.).
The Social Buttons meets the criteria for design activism as defined by Thorpe as it identifies the issue that older tenants may have difficulty making social connections, and it serves as a vehicle of change as it allows and encourages the tenants to attend social activities. The over-55 demographic is one which is often neglected by technological advances, and the installation provides a unique bridge between the tenants and the data collection and communication technology that lies behind the buttons.
Inkahoots. (n.d.). Social Buttons / Inkahoots. Retrieved from http://inkahoots.com.au/projects/social-buttons/~details.
The Senior. (2016). Clever addition pushes all the right buttons. Retrieved from http://www.thesenior.com.au/lifestyle/clever-addition-pushes-all-the-right-buttons/.
Thorpe, A. (2011). Defining Design as Activism. Retrieved from http://designactivism.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Thorpe-definingdesignactivism.pdf.
Zuber, C. (n.d.). Inkahoots + interactivity: press the buttons. Retrieved from http://designonline.org.au/inkahoots-interactivity-press-the-buttons/.