Design for Social Impact | The Plan Journal


[The Plan Journal, 2016, volume 1, issue 2]


Design for Social Impact


How do we leverage the power of design to actually, as designers, make a difference? What does it mean “designing for social impact” beyond socio-economical analysis and reporting, or before it becomes political activism and advocacy? How do we grow our design intelligence and sharpen our design tools to make our projects more relevant for society? And how do we assess social impact for design interventions?


In recent years, the discourse in our field has progressively put an emphasis on the social role and impact of design. From the 2010-11 MoMA exhibition “Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement,” to the current Venice Biennale “Reporting from the Front,” the works of architects, urbanists and designers (particularly of the younger generations) concerned with improving people’s quality of life seem to have caught the attention of increasingly wider audiences. There is a clear demand for understanding how architecture and urbanism, beyond their typical mandate for compelling spaces and places, can also define strategies, plans, systems, typologies, products, infrastructures that can impact people’s daily life with unexpected quality, while overcoming constraints, stereotypes and bureaucracies with design intelligence and inventiveness.


Often through new models of professional engagement, designing for social impact can remain a way to practice, and research in, architecture centered on the fundamental principles of the art: simply, by also addressing the needs, aspirations and resources of many, vis-à-vis ever more complex socio-economic, political and cultural issues. It can also mean to bring the “cultural beauty” of architecture (that is its power of offering synthetic solutions to highly complex problems) to those who would not normally afford to enjoy it. As Alejandro Aravena pointed out, “these difficult complex issues require professional quality, not professional charity…socially minded architecture is a choice, not a responsibility…the more complex the issue, the more the need for synthesis.” 1

The TPJ seeks contributions that can address the above questions and can illustrate how “design for social impact” is being envisioned, developed, realized, experienced and evaluated around the world. We welcome proposals that can illustrate innovative research on this topic from a variety of angles: from historical/theoretical critiques on the state of the discussion, to typological or technological investigations, to cross-disciplinary studies, to projects of reflective practice for specific sites and contexts, to evaluation of, and/or proposals for, new forms of urbanism, to experimental pedagogies.

Our intention is to delineate another meaningful frame, from a journal perspective, on the current landscape of research about this important contemporary challenge.


Submission Options

Priority for peer-review evaluation and publication will be given to complete manuscripts, but proposals in the form of long abstracts [300/500 words] will also be considered. Authors of accepted proposals will then be encouraged to develop complete manuscripts, which will then go through the peer-review process. 



Complete manuscripts and proposals due by  September 12, 2016

Complete manuscripts expected to be published on-line by December 2016

Invitation to develop accepted proposals into complete manuscripts by October 10, 2016

Accepted proposals to be developed into complete manuscripts by  January 16, 2017

Complete manuscripts from proposals expected to be published on-line by  March 2017


To Submit

Please log in and register on the TPJ manuscript management system “Editorial Manager”:  Once registered, from the “Author Main Menu” go to “New Submissions,” then select “Submit New Manuscript,” then, from the scroll down menu, select the article type “Article/Essay/Research” for a full manuscript submission or “Abstract (only)” for a proposal submission. Then, either way, follow the prompts.


Questions Any question can be directed to:


1. “Architects have no moral obligation to society says Alejandro Aravena,” Dezeen, February 23, 2016. - accessed July 1, 2016.