Decolonising Futures in Design Education

Decolonising Futures in Design Education was a 3-day event, hosted by Elisava Barcelona School of Design and Engineering, to share and discuss resources developed within the FUEL4DESIGN project with design educators, researchers and practitioners. As a means to this, we devised a common theme of decolonising futures in design education. This is one that brings us together around key, critical and challenging matters, views and practices in engaging with learning, making and research design.

The event was divided in 3 main topics, related to FUEL4DESIGN intellectual outputs:

  • Language and Futures – 18 May 2021
  • Philosophy and Futures – 19 May 2021
  • Making and Futures – 20 May 2021

It was broadcasted through the digital platform Zoom, and each day started with a member of FUEL4DESIGN introducing the topic and the project outputs in this matter. Afterwords, guest speakers and panelists provided us with topical and testy substance for our dialogues and deliberations on developing further design futures literacies that are experimental and experiential, creative and critical.

These were followed by training capsules on resources developed in FUEL4DESIGN and tutoring introducing futures methodologies and knowledge into educational practice.

General learning objectives:

  • Trigger some discussion in the field around the topic “Decolonising Futures in Design Education”.
  • Position yourself in relation to language, philosophy and making in the field of Futures and Design.
  • Improve your practice by learning new techniques developed in FUEL4DESIGN.

Hereunder, for each day, you will brief information of each part of the session; the recordings of the introduction, the keynote and the discussion panel (from Elisava’s F4D Vimeo showcase); and a clustered compilation of the chat comments.

Introduction by Andrew Morrison.
Learning objectives:

  • be oriented to issues, views, challenges and potentials on decolonising design and futures literacies
  • be introduced to matters of decolonising futures in the context of the projects’s Design Futures Lexicon
  • be engaged in briefings and activities on selected items of the Lexicon

Keynote: Frederick van Amstel​: “Domesticated futures and monster aesthetics”.

  • The domestication of the future is a colonialist strategy that reduces existential time to a desirable space of possibilities that can be designed, packaged, and sold to underdeveloped nations as docile (design) products or as docile (design) services. Monster aesthetics is a reaction to this strategy that sets free domesticated futures by expressing otherness and dissensus through feral designs. This talk features selected feral designs from the designing for liberation research program conducted in Brazil.

Discussion panel: Martin Avila, Ariel Guersenzvaig, Henry Mainsah, Monika Parrinder, Rahul Patel.
Starting questions:

  • How can language suppport decolonisation in design and futures education?
  • How do we prepare students to be critical and not just awed by the future?
  • Which dangers and opportunities language hybridisation brings to a decolonising process?
  • Which other languages can express the contradictory nature of human futures?”


  • [Frederick van Amstel], I love the concept of you own personalized and stratified and contaminated English. 
  • [Rahul Patel]’s comment about removal of historicalization also applies to removal of localization… and removal of bodies. In design, I mean. 
  • [Monika Parrinder]’s introduction of dissensus is a great point. Agonism as productive anti-solutionism, a la Carl DiSalvo. 
  • [Martin Avila:] 100% agree – all social change starts with each of us, one by one. 
  • Regarding [Ariel Guersenzvaig]’s comment, a pretty challenging question is how to articulate Ethics beyond (or not just) a deontological conception (based on duty). 



  • There is a dichotomy in the presentation of the Global North and Global South. How is domestication probed with continuing Indigenous Nations vs Nation States? 
  • When the oppressed design for others, will they inevitably become oppressors? 
    • This question raises the question of how we define design. Is design inherently colonial? Might we need to talk in pluralities — designs, vs. design? 
  • How do you think we as designers can be accountable for bringing oppression to indigenous people and ethnic minorities in the global South. How can we be self-aware that we might be doing so in the first place? 
    • “The worst kind of oppression is when the victims think and talk in the language of their oppressors.” M.F. Moonzajer. 
    • Robert Phillipson professor of international language studies, defines English linguistic imperialism as: “the dominance of English… asserted and maintained by the establishment and continuous reconstitution of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages.” English is often referred to as a global “lingua franca”, but Phillipson argues that when its dominance leads to a linguicide, it can be more aptly titled a “lingua frankensteinia” (Phillipson 1992:36). 
  • Can people genuinely care and empathise with different cultures in a mutual learning process? 
  • I feel like language is often a barrier to understanding. Words can also be stripped of its power e.g. moving from “buzz words” diversity to inclusion. Maybe it’s time to consider other sensory communication more? 
  • How can we decolonize academics when academia as we know now is a colonial institution that prioritizes those who hold the wealth in our society? 
    • Let me add: and how to avoid epistemic violence? 
    • Very difficult to do this only through individual classes. 
    • Perhaps the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color on the frontlines of movements should be the lecturers in academia. 
    • But the criteria and process for hiring lecturers would have to be redesigned by the very people who are loathe to, or have no knowledge about how to do so. 
  • Definition of design influences assessment of design, and we can’t seem to escape from assessment in education. So, whose definitions do we use? 
    • Perhaps we need to redefine assessments too? They are part of the learning process, so let’s rethink all of it. 
    • Assessments for students and staff (hiring) all need redesigning 
  • Should we distrust ‘language’? Should we be suspicious of it? As [Stacey Leigh Ross] says perhaps there is more to language than speech and writing? Where is the body in this? The performative? The stammering and the stuttering? As Gilles Deleuze argues, ‘Stuttering occurs when a “minority” employs the language of its “majority” to disrupt the latter by counter-subordinating the former — the minor takes the major from behind to “minorize” its power. Stutters cause the majority language to collapse into a zone of intensity, to bifurcate, to expose the inner disequilibrium the majority uses order-words to ensconce. Thus, Deleuze writes, the “stutterer in language” is always like a foreigner in the language…’ 
  • [H]ow non-verbal design languages (tacit, ancestrally inherent understanding and use of spatial/material forms and patterns) can also support decolonisation in design futures education? 



  • The work of Alfredo Gutierrez Borrero, who discusses “design with other names”. Gutierrez Borrero has a done a lot on redesigning design words from indigenous perspectives. 
  • Eduardo Kohn on escaping language. 
  • Work done in New Zealand on design research Maori framings 
  • Categories:,_Fire,_and_Dangerous_Things 
  • [Laura Forlano’s] perspective drawing from Carey’s work on Communication as Culture. 
  • I’m wondering if precisely in relation to language(s) and the decolonisation of design practices and how to decolonise through design, if the panelists have in mind projects or pedagogical methods that practice care(s) through active listening. So that other places of enunciation can be articulated, with different and situated tools. 
    • [Sarah Kettley] led a project on the person-centred approach of Rogers, with listening attitudes at its heart; and explore how to support the encounter of persons in design through methods for listening using material practices. 
  • “The teacher is no longer the-one-who-teaches, but one who is taught in dialogue with the students, who in their turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow.’’ Paulo Freire. 

Introduction + FUEL4DESIGN training capsule: Andrew Morrison.

Keynote: Frederick van Amstel​: “Domesticated futures and monster aesthetics”.

Discussion panel: Martin Avila, Ariel Guersenzvaig, Henry Mainsah, Monika Parrinder, Rahul Patel.

Introduction by Betti Marenko.
Learning objectives:

  • be oriented to issues, views, challenges and potentials relating decolonising design futures and philosophy
  • be introduced to matters of decolonising futures in the context of the projects’s Philosophical Pills
  • be engaged in briefings and activities on selected items of the Philosophical Pills

Keynote: Janine Francois​: “Each One Teach One: hip-hop as a radical pedagogy of possibilities”.

  • Each one, teach one is an afro-diasporic proverb originating from chattel slavery and means it is person’s responsibility to teach others once they have become enlightened with new knowledge. My keynote address, will take inspiration from this proverb to conceptualise hip-hop as a radical pedagogy of possibilities where design thinking and futurity sit at the helm of constructing new worlds and possible futures.

Discussion panel: James Auger, Laura Benítez, Annabel Crowley, Bruce Snaddon, Ron Wakkary.
Starting questions:

  • How can philosophy suppport decolonisation in design and futures education?
  • What does a decolonised future look and feel like to you?
  • What is the role ‘care’ in relation to decolonisation?
  • How do we build new equitable worlds?


  • What I like the most from these pills is that they turn philosophical concepts into metadesign tools. 
  • Historicity is one of the most important and underrated design qualities. Designers are making history and should do it more responsibly. 
    • I agree our actual work will be the history of the remote futures. 
  • Really interesting that the connection between even Western, apparently Modernist craft practices and epistemological power structures has been made so well too – it felt too privileged to name it yesterday, but it looks like Ansari does it well. 
  • Cultural action has proven to be a crucial strategy for decolonization, as these examples from Hip Hop shows. 
  • Truly love that we don’t need to create new but reconnect to what has happened in the past! 
    • The key is to ensure that the original authors get the credit they deserve. Traditionally this has been a problem for innovators in marginalised communities. 
  • One of the best decolonial strategies white (male, cisgender, well off) designers might use is to listen! 
    • Active listening, yes. 
  • Wonderful and fascinating re: collective knowledge sharing! It really disrupts current academic cultures. 
  • My white colleagues are waking up to needing to allocate their own time, resource and courage to doing this work for themselves. 
  • Time to move beyond empathy to active caring, demonstration of care. 
    • Without care we would fail to thrive. Yet, despite its centrality to all aspects of our lives, it is remarkable how marginalized care is. 
    • Janine [Francois] brought also an insightful point that I didn’t consider before – empathy (sharing others’ feelings) as different from care… I usually think about these connected. 
    • Care is political too, and can be enacted from a position of power, in which case it can also become, at worst, a tool of oppression; yesterday Frederick talked about readiness to change on the part of the carer too, and this can be found in the theory of the Person Centred Approach (eg Schmid) 
  • Philosophy has been a massive colonizing tool. 
  • Decolonization is rest… it’s a great form of anti-capitalism. 
  • Becoming – with the other 
    • Becoming together, where difference is a potency and not a contraposition. 



  • Connecting back to yesterday, what do you think are the best methods to re-discover, re-unearth, re-frame indigenous or native design languages as transformative tools for the imagining possible decolonial futures? 
  • It would be super interesting to see the comparative studies with Punk Rock. My partner grew up and deeply into punk rock and I am with hip-hop. We are equally critical and radical in different/similar ways. Just we don’t know whom we are talking about when we play some songs or refer to musicians/bands LOL. 
  • How can we learn from Hip Hop in design without falling to unrespectful cultural appropriation? 
  • On the one hand we have the democratisation of knowledge, but on the other hand we have the death of knowledge, how can decolonisation through design change this? 
  • Could you talk about the difference for white designers to actively “make decolonial work” vs creating the space for anti-colonial work by specific people who have historically been excluded from western worldview? 
  • Any ideas or thoughts around how people in privileged positions can develop empathy with ‘minorities’? Is this challenge feasible? 
  • Janine [Francois] made a great point about the western mindset and expectation that we should “know everything” … do the F4D tools allow for not knowing… or stepping aside… or promoting others than themselves? 
    • I often experience current academic culture as very selfish form of hoarding-knowledge. 
  • Do you think design decolonisation can/should help deal with technological determinism, and if so, how? 
  • How do we persuade those of power and privilege within the academy to make space and to denounce the imperial hierarchies that we continue to be saddled with? 
  • How do we as students and educators work to decolonize our learning when the institutions we are in as so deeply tied to colonial power and capitalism? 
  • Are universities/ departments developing equity, climate and social justice approaches to design practice for pedagogy, curricula but also for systems and processes? 
  • Is there a place for “de-design”? As in areas where the active production of designers is simply out of balance from a power perspective. 
    • I’d also like to see collective structures to consider de-designing, undesigning, or not designing 



Introduction + FUEL4DESIGN training capsule: Betti Marenko.

Keynote: Janine Francois​: “Each One Teach One: hip-hop as a radical pedagogy of possibilities”.

Discussion panel: James Auger, Laura Benítez, Annabel Crowley, Bruce Snaddon, Ron Wakkary.

Introduction by Oscar Tomico.
Learning objectives:

  • be oriented to issues, views, challenges and potentials on decolonising design and futures making
  • be introduced to matters of decolonising futures in the context of first person perspective design interventions
  • learn and apply first person perspective design interventions in futures scouting through making.

Keynote: Laura Forlano​: “Design’s Intimacies”.

  • How do we imagine, design, use and maintain digital technologies in ways that allow all lives – human and non-human — to flourish? The answer to this question requires new understandings of what it means to be human, new conceptualizations of knowledge and expertise, new inventive methodologies as well as new ethical and political concepts. Drawing on an autoethnographic account of living with “smart” medical systems that draws on Haraway’s situated and partial knowledge, I develop the concept of the disabled cyborg, which suggests a different set contingencies and processes. Finally, I will illustrate the ways in which a first-person perspective might open up new questions and practices for design futures. How might we create a more generous understanding of human-machine relations?

Discussion panel: Saúl Baeza, Mark Ingham, Sergio Urueña, Tomás Vivanco, Elizabeth Wright.
Starting questions:

  • How might designers develop a deeper understanding of their own partial and situated knowledge through autoethnography and taking a 1st person perspective? What is the role of theory in an approach grounded in praxis?
  • What does it mean to develop a deeper understanding of the ethics, politics and responsibilities of designing and living with non-humans – whether algorithmic or natural systems? Why/how do you care about these non-human relations?
  • When you start with a deep understanding of your own everyday relations with non-humans, how might methodologies for design futuring evolve in new ways? Can you ask “what if” about your own relations?


  • Technoableism makes me think about Elon Musk’s recent claim to have invented a microchip that can ‘cure’ autism, much to the #ActuallyAutistic community’s frustration 
  • [Oscar Tomico], I’d love to know more about the perks and challenges of combining 1st, 2nd and 3rd person perspectives when making empathic art/design. 
  • Your attention had to shift from monitoring your own body to caring for the system. 
  • Especially powerful as a disabled person to rebel against the self-proclaimed ‘objectivity’ of academic sciences, given disabled/crip histories in the sciences 
  • Good to offend current ossified academic institutions! 
  • We simultaneously need to tackle the mistrust of the individual in ‘scientific’ research – at the very least this reveals to us as researchers the need to trust OUR respondents as well as our own accounts of lived, entangled experience; this is the trap of practice-based evidence in the care professions and research also – see PCCS Books as a key publisher in this field 
  • There is rigour in 1PP as there is in any methodology. 
    • ‘Rigour’ is so loaded a term in ‘Western’ academia 
    • Who decides what is rigour? 
    • Who decides what gets validated or not? 
    • “We aren’t trying to validate anything, we are trying to explore, to understand” I tried to explain this to a qualifying exam committee, and they failed me in an information school. haha. 
  • I am also very concerned that the disability movements, while successful in many ways, leave behind individuals living with mental ill health – they are not so visible, and do not have the same capacity to organise and sustain resistance, and remain for the most part without voice, and intensely mistrusted in research.
    • Disability justice work often speaks to this very explicitly, in particular advocating for interdependence and community care/support away from the state/police – accounting for risk of violence of people with mental health distress. Risk of experiencing violence – not perpetuating (just to be clear). 
  • ‘I am because we are’ / ‘A person is a person through other people’ – I’m thinking about Ubuntu philosophy and what that can mean for the ‘1st person’.
  • I’m fully over white heterosexual normative male perspectives!!!!! my world is shaped in sometimes dangerous ways by these worldviews 
  • When self perspectives clashes with other perspectives, there is a chance for changing perspectives. 
  • Language and formality should not be a barrier to knowledge exchange. 
  • Situating yourself, ancestry, place is important in relation to others. 
  • The practice-based research literature in the Person-Centred Approach is useful here – of course, originating with a white male in the US, but continually critiqued and reflected upon through a lively and diverse community. 
  • I imagine we’d find that the dominant narratives don’t fit real life experiences of all men racialised as ‘white’ and that the mechanisms of domination have tricked many of us into believing in a ‘universality’ of their experiences 
  • Janine [Francois]’s point about curiosity from yesterday is really key. 
    • Being curious and suspicious  at the same time? 
    • Stay in the liminal space as we say. As long as possible. 
  • Questioning the cultural need to be an expert at all is also key. 
    • This was a core point of [Janine Francois]’s talk yesterday: owning our state of not knowing/not being an expert. 
    • Critical thinking is core to stopping the reliance on a single expert voice. 



  • How do we avoid first-perspective design research to block alterity relations and justify the world as we see it and not as the other sees it? 
  • I’m thinking about the point also raised by [Oscar Tomico] of “putting oneself at risk” in this first-person perspective research: do you think everyone can/should do this kind of work? Can we ask masters/PhD students to do this intimate research involving their own bodies, and how do design educators navigate these risks when supervising? 
  • Have you seen anyone connect “perpetual indeterminacy” (a term I was unfamiliar with) to queer/trans theory? 
    • Just a bit of Judith Butler’s work which I suspect will go a long way towards this… 
    • Why Disability Studies Scholars Must Challenge Transmisogyny and Transphobia – Slater/Liddiard – 
  • Short version  – How do we move this beyond theory, ideas and discussion? Longer version – If everyone is a designer, how will that work? Someone still filters everything into a final design brief. Also, won’t it cost more to make making it less accessible? And be more complicated to use if it can be adapted by every user? 
  • I was wondering about the design limitations in the decolonisation processes, especially when it comes to reckless leadership and governance. Any ideas around this? Also do people really need new tools to care about one another? 
  • Are all 1st person perspectives relevant or useful? 
    • Aren’t all things useful, i.e. useful to also recognise what does not fit, or oppresses, your worldviews, and to what needs changing? 
  • I’m totally channelling Devil’s Advocate today – how inclusive are we if we redesign but don’t include white heteronormative male perspectives with all the other perspectives? 
  • The feminist BIPOC history of centering 1PP was useful to counteract this. (Disability studies too). How do we bring 1pp into the space careful about the politics? 
  • (Following up on how we move from theory to practice) – what reflective/reflexive techniques have the panel found helpful as part of their 1PP approaches, and what has been brought into teaching? 
  • Where/ how/ when is 1PP useful? perhaps not when designing crash test dummies or machine vision. 🙂 
    • I think this is a very tricky point to support students in learning how/why/when to do it vs. not do it. 
    • Design a way to avoid the crash? 
    • Crash test dummies actually seems like a good use b/c different people have different height/weight etc.??? 
    • Car Crashes without Cars 



  • Temes de Disseny #36: 
  • Braud on transformative research practices and relational depth in the therapeutic research literature 
  • We can also look to craft theory for another dimension on 1PP – perpetual indeterminacy was discussed in terms of undecidability at Challenging Craft conference by various people, including Hazel White, in 2004; and Luoise Mazanti expended on the to claim craft objects as ‘super objects’ between ‘art’ (abstract) and design (life), and [Sarah Kettley has] discussed both objects and craft practices through the lens of Umberto Eco’s concept of the ‘open work’. 
  • Patti Lather in feminist writing practices and studies and modes of inquiry. 
  • Amy Hardie runs a beautiful ethics-through practice course called Film Medicine, asking students to consider the therapeutic intent of their work. 


Introduction + FUEL4DESIGN training capsule: Oscar Tomico.

Keynote: Laura Forlano​: “Design’s Intimacies”.

Discussion panel: Saúl Baeza, Mark Ingham, Sergio Urueña, Tomás Vivanco, Elizabeth Wright.