Advancing Social Justice Through Design Thinking

November 12, 2019

How can we take our design process to create places that elevate the human experience, and apply it to create projects and development programs focused on human thriving? KSS Partner Ed Klimek, AIA, NCARB, is exploring the link between design thinking and social justice through his pursuit of a master’s degree in global development and social justice from St. John’s University.

How can design thinking advance social justice?

In addition to practicing architecture and design for the past 30+ years, Ed has led a solidarity lending program in Guatemala for the past decade. The program, a partnership of Ed’s church, Queenship of Mary in Plainsboro, and the local parish in Santa Rosa, Guatemala, facilitates small, low-interest loans to grow local businesses. Leveraging the strength of relationships and community between the two parishes, the program has a repayment rate of 98%. Through this partnership, members of both communities benefit from more than monetary loans—they grow, build solidarity, exchange ideas, and are supported by constructive relationships.

Through the formal study of global development and social justice, Ed seeks to link his professional life more closely with his work as a volunteer. Ed’s goal is to more thoroughly investigate the fields of global development and social justice so that he may elevate his practice, allowing him to fuse design with global development in pursuit of a more just world.

The design world has approached social justice primarily through the creation of tools that can be used to promote its advancement. Architects engage communities to design schools, clinics, housing, places of work, community centers, and so on, that can be vehicles for justice. Industrial designers and engineers design systems and tools to purify water, provide electricity, and enhance communication. This work is unquestionably important, but what if we could mobilize the process itself—the concept of design thinking—to promote justice within communities? As designers, we speak the language of development; we use the design process to advance projects toward tangible outcomes. Now the challenge is to apply that language towards integral human development.

As a graduate student, Ed is diving deeper into this concept, learning more about the intricacies and far-reaching impact of global development and social justice. Ed’s goal—to elevate his practice and create more meaningful change in the realization of a more just world—aligns with KSS’s long held belief that great architecture can create meaningful and lasting change. Already, Ed’s study is having an impact on how we approach workplace design as concepts of human capability become integrated in the process with new ways of looking at design. The results of Ed’s academic endeavor will undoubtedly continue to benefit our firm, our clients, and our world while advancing our mission to innovatively design for impact.