Edited by John Cary & Gilad Meron

After last year’s Social Impact Design Summit, we began to work on one popular request: to compile a glossary of social impact design terminology. In the emerging field of social impact design, we’ve seen important discussions and efforts hamstrung, sidetracked, or misunderstood due to the lack of a unifying vocabulary. This glossary sheds light on the redundancy of certain words and phrases, and we hope it also sheds light on the fact that many leaders and practitioners are using different terms to describe almost identical processes and approaches. Despite arguments over “correct” terminology, we are all speaking the same language.

We’re eager to improve and expand this glossary, and welcome any and all corrections, edits, and additions. In particular, we ask for your help in identifying entities and individuals associated with each term as part of our larger effort to map the field. Simply email

Check out GOOD Magazine‘s feature on the glossary, online here.

  • Following-up on the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s 2012 Social Impact Design Summit and newly-published white paper on the subject, we are happy to start chipping away at one “short-term recommendation.”

    Among the many crowd-sourced recommendations from the Summit was one, listed on page 38 of the report, to “Compile a glossary of social impact design terminology to form a unified approach to describing work.” Too often, we have seen important discussions and efforts hamstrung, sidetracked, or misunderstood due to the lack of unifying terminology in this emerging area of practice.

    We’ve compiled the following glossary based on the recently published white paper, our daily coverage of the field, and numerous other sources. Although this glossary sheds light on the redundancy of certain words and phrases, we hope it also sheds light on the fact that many leaders and practitioners are using different terms to describe almost identical processes and approaches.

    Our aim to help build more fluid discourse within the field by demonstrating that despite arguments over “correct” terminology, we are all speaking the same language. To that end, each entry is followed by an alphabetized listing of names of entities that practice, propagate, or fund that specific type of design, as well as names of individuals who are leaders or pioneers associated or self-identified with that term.

    We are eager to improve and expand this glossary, and welcome any and all corrections, edits, and additions. In particular, we ask for your help in identifying entities and individuals associated with each term as part of our larger effort to map the field. Simply

  • co-design is an approach in which trained professionals engage directly with end-users in order to develop design solutions that are aligned with user needs, responsive to socio-cultural contexts, and reflective of real-world usage patterns. Co-design posits that design solutions must include both professionals’ “expert” knowledge and users’ “local” knowledge in order to be successful.

    Entities: Frog DesignNike Foundation

    Individuals: Tom De BlasisRobert Fabricant

  • community design emphasizes participatory planning and active engagement by community members in the design process as a means to catalyze change that is informed directly by the priorities and needs of those communities and led by its members.

    Entities: Association of Community DesignCitizens’ Institute on Rural DesignDetroit Collaborative Design CenterGulf Coast Community Design Studio

    Individuals: Monica ChadhaKathy DorganDavid PerkesDan Pitera

  • community development is a process of facilitated empowerment whereby individuals and groups of people are able to develop new knowledge and skills in order to effectively advocate for and enact change within their own lives and locales.

    Entities: Community MattersEnterprise Community PartnersEnterprise Rose FellowsOrton Family Foundation

    Individuals: Katie Swenson

  • community-driven design and community-engaged design are terms whose paramount focus are diverse and inclusive stakeholder participation from the earliest stages of a design or planning processes.

    Entities: Surdna Foundation

    Individuals: Judilee ReedChristina Rupp

  • creative placemaking is the strategic re-shaping of the physical and social environments around arts and cultural activities as means to create more vibrant and civically engaged towns, cities, and regions. It is rooted in collaborative partnerships between public, private, nonprofit, and community organizations.

    Entities: ArtPlaceNational Endowment for the ArtsProject for Public Spaces

    Individuals: Carol ColettaJamie HandEthan KentCynthia NikitinJason Schupbach

  • design for all is a marketing campaign slogan launched (but no longer used) by Target, emphasizing high-quality choices for all income levels. It is also used frequently to describe efforts to democratize design at the broadest scales.

    Entities: TargetUniversity of Minnesota

  • design for good is an umbrella term used by various organizations to describe efforts and projects by focused on the use of design to foster social change. This term is often used as an intentionally broad phrase, meant to encompass any and all efforts to use design to create a positive social impact.

    Entities: AIGA

    Individuals: Ric Grefé

  • design for social change is a phrase associated with efforts and projects aimed at catalyzing transformations or behavior shifts, specifically using design as a process for altering society in one form or another.

    Entities: Design Ignites ChangeDesigning for Social Change (book), School of Visual Arts(summer program title), Worldstudio

    Individuals: Cheryl HellerMark RandallAndrew Shea

  • design for the other 90% and design with the other 90% are terms premised on the estimate that only 10% of the world population is served by the design professions, focused on instances of absolute or extreme poverty in favelas and slums in the developing world.

    Entities: Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (exhibition, publication, and network titles)

    Individuals: Paul PolakCynthia Smith

  • design for the 98% without architects is a phrase calling attention to the estimate that only 2% of new homebuyers in the U.S. have the resources to work with an architect. It suggests that access to design expertise is a valuable social good whose inequitable distribution, like that of other social goods, should be redressed.

    Entities: Design Corps (past Structures for Inclusion theme)

    Individuals: Bryan Bell

  • embedded design or immersive design emphasize the need and value for designers to live and work within the communities they are serving for extended periods of time, particularly before the start of a project, as a means to build empathetic relationships with the community, vet potential ideas, and better understand all factors and contexts that might impact the design process.

    Entities: Design ImpactMASS Design Group

    Individuals: Ramsey FordKate HanisianMichael MurphyAlan Ricks

  • evidence-based design describes an approach to the design process through which all decisions are made based on research data, verifiable facts, and validated measures, as opposed to decisions made based on aesthetics or subjective assumptions.

    Individuals: Linda NussbaumerDavid Alan Kopec

  • human-centered design is a process emphasizing observation, empathy, abstract thinking, prototyping, and iteration while working directly with end users. Its goal is to create solutions that are desirable, feasible, and viable.

    Entities: Catapult DesignD-Rev: Design RevolutionDesign for AmericaIDEO.orgHCD ConnectStanford

    Individuals: Krista DonaldsonHeather FlemingLiz GerberPatrice MartinSami NerenbergMarika Shioiri-ClarkJocelyn Wyatt

  • humanitarian design focuses on working with individuals lacking basic human needs such as food, water, shelter, and safety, particularly in response to natural disasters, extreme/absolute poverty, and war-torn areas.

    Entities: Architecture for Humanity

    Individuals: Fred CunyBuckminster FullerIvan Illich

  • impact design is a term focused on any design initiatives or projects intended to be evaluated according to qualitative and quantitative social and scientific metrics. Impact Design is concerned specifically with projects whose impacts can be measured based on pre-determined metrics.

    Entities: AutodeskD-Rev: Design Revolution

    Individuals: Lynelle CameronKrista Donaldson

  • participatory design is an approach which actively involves and engages all potential stakeholders in the design and planning process from the very start of a project in order to allow the community to inform and direct the project and take ownership over its progress.

    Individuals: Henry Sanoff

  • pro bono design is the practice of providing professional design services at partial or no cost for clients who would otherwise not be able to afford them.

    Entities: CatchafiredesigNYCPublic ArchitectureTaproot Foundation

    Individuals: Rachel ChongMichelle MullineauxJohn PetersonAmy RessLaetitia Wolff

  • public interest design emphasizes the creation or redesign of products, environments, and systems, with a clear human-centered approach, while often likened to the well-established fields of public interest law and public health.

    Entities: AutodeskDesign CorpsPublicInterestDesign.orgUniversity of Minnesota College of DesignUniversity of Texas at Austin Center for Sustainable Development

    Individuals: Bryan BellBarbara BrownJohn CaryThomas Fisher

  • resilient design is a conceptual approach emphasizing the need for solutions to be designed with the ability to respond, adapt, and evolve to best fit changing contexts and circumstances, often used to describe the need for infrastructure to withstand disasters.

    Entities: Resilient Design InstituteCompostmodern

    Individuals: Julie Kim

  • rural design is an interdisciplinary process for managing rural change, defining rural issues, and creating solutions to resolve them.

    Entities: University of Minnesota Center for Rural Design

    Individuals: Duane Thorbeck

  • social impact design calls specific attention to the need for designers to test, prove, and document the impacts of their work, particularly emphasizing the importance of demonstrating rigorous measurable social impacts.

    Entities: Cooper-Hewitt National Design MuseumNational Endowment for the Arts

    Individuals: Jennifer HughesCynthia SmithJason Schupbach

  • social sustainability advocates for an evolution of the mainstream sustainability movement, beyond a focus solely on environmental concerns, to include equity and cultural factors. It references the 1992 Rio Earth Summit’s definition of three pillars of sustainability as the environment, economy, and social equity.

    Individuals: Liz Ogbu

  • social/economic/environmental design emphasizes a triple bottom line approach intended to expand the definition of “sustainable design” beyond green building.

    Entities: SEED Network

    Individuals: Kimberly DowdellBryan Bell

  • socially responsible design proposes that designers have a moral or social responsibility to work with all people, particularly those who are most disadvantaged in society. It suggests that the responsibility of designers is not only to their direct clients but also to all people, environments and entities indirectly impacted by their work.

    Entities: ADPSRContract MagazineInterfaceJ&J IndustriesPerkins+WillTandus Flooring

    Individuals: Jennifer BuschTom EllisRoss LeonardRaphael Sperry

  • socially-responsive design centers around issues such as public health or security, while addressing larger systems by raising awareness or catalyzing discourse.

  • socially-responsible enlightened design is a term and approach premised on building awareness among all designers of the impact of their actions on the larger whole; the common good.

    Individuals: Prataap Patrose

  • service design is an interdisciplinary approach to the design, planning, and implementation, and improvement of the interface between users, service organizations, and systems that shape our daily lives, such as healthcare, transportation, and education.

    Entities: Code for AmericaDESISPublic Policy Lab

    Individuals: Chelsea MauldinJennifer PahlkaEzio Manzini

  • strategic design focuses on ‘big picture’ systemic challenges like healthcare, education, and climate change, initially by bringing them to light and then by fostering great collaboration between interdependent stakeholders.

    Individuals: Bryan Boyer

  • systems design is a term to describe the process of identifying the components and variables that influence desired outcomes in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, and impact as a means to understand how the system can be redesigned or altered for the better.

  • transformation design a term to represent a human-centered, interdisciplinary process that seeks to create desirable, sustainable, and lasting changes in behavior and/or environment.

    Entities: Design Council

  • universal design represents or results in products and environments that are usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design

    Entities: Center for Independent LivingInstitute for Human-Centered Design

    Individuals: Valerie FletcherElaine Ostroff

  • values-based practice is an approach to professional practice in which a design studio select clients and projects based on alignment with the studio’s mission and values.

    Entities: Gulf Coast Community Design Studio

    Individuals: David Perkes

  • This working document has already benefited from feedback from an array of people, but especially thoughtful comments, edits, and suggestions from John Emerson, Antoinette Fennell, Caitlyn Horose, Jeanne Lawler, and Raphael Sperry.