On Decolonizing Design : Complications and Opportunities in Disrupting Hegemonic Western Ways of Thinking, Knowing, and Creating


Decolonial approaches to design have become increasingly popular as designers begin to tackle the wicked problems existing in our interconnected systems and looming over our future (Irwin, 2015). Many of these systemic issues are a result of the institutions, regimes, and ideologies that result from modernity and the colonial legacies that continue to exert power over the oppressed, marginalized, and subaltern. However, the vague and persistent nature of colonial thinking makes it difficult to define what it means to decolonize, and even amongst decolonial thinkers, definitions and practices vary. It begs the questions of what does it mean to decolonize design, what does decolonized design look like, and how can we measure success (if “success” is attainable at all)? My research discusses three main areas that are key to understanding the areas of decolonizing design: design and anthropological theory, ethnographic and participatory research methods, as well as design education and praxis. From this, I outline ways we can ontologically transform what it means to “design” in the face of wicked problems, as well as pose a series of provocations as to challenge the current decolonial initiatives in design thinking, education, and practice.


Annalisa Pao
Student, BDes, Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Design in Society


Decolonizing Design, Transition Design, Design Anthropology

Digital Media


On Decolonizing Design (pdf)