Designing Equity

Interviews with selected convening attendees, addressing the questions: What does the phrase Community Engaged Design mean to you? What specifically do you think designers bring to social justice work? What one piece of advice or tool would you recommend to someone who wants to do community engaged design work?  What is the most pressing need for pushing this work forward?


On May 9, 2016, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Surdna Foundation co-hosted Designing Equity, a convening to address the role that design can play in building more equitable and just communities.

During this one-day session, our goal was to push forward the conversation about community engaged design in order to gain clarity about what exemplary practice, partnership, and funding looks like. We focused on how architects, landscape architects, urban planners and designers are working in partnership with people and organizations from low income communities and low income communities of color to improve the quality of the built environment and to build local power and capacity. Throughout the day we raised questions like:

  • What are the equity and justice issues that historically excluded communities confront and how does our work address these issues?
  • What are the tools that designers use to build capacity and agency?
  • How are effective partnerships structured between designers and communities?

By creating an environment for learning and exchange, all participants - whether designers, partners, funders or allies – had the opportunity to engage with each other and walk away with expanded knowledge and a better sense of who’s doing this work. By using direct and jargon-free language and hearing diverse voices present case studies and projects, we sought to update our understanding of how design fits within the broader range of practices that focus on social justice and impact goals.