Carnegie Mellon University
HAC_PhD_Design_2023.pdf (13.63 MB)

Social Design Dreaming: Designing Future Visions of Racial Justice

Download (13.63 MB)
posted on 2024-03-07, 16:58 authored by Hillary Carey

As an ongoing contested struggle, racial equity in the United States faces significant resistance.  Advocates for racial justice confront apathy, ignorance, and robust denial. These advocates actively  connect past, present, and future to untangle systemic oppression, yet they rarely tell stories of the  future outcomes they are working to create. Instead, they emphasize challenges and changes to be  made in the present. This dissertation proposes that designers for social impact can enhance the  efforts of changemakers by fostering, specifying, and prefiguring their visions of a better future.  

Compelling visions of successful outcomes motivate people to move toward change. Visions of  racially equitable futures can extend and amplify engagement in justice projects. Vivid depictions of  everyday future life describe why change is needed and worthwhile. However, crafting powerful  stories of everyday futures is a difficult task that benefits from collaboration between change makers  and designers. The creative orientations of design can enhance the efforts of advocates through  exploration, playfulness, solutioning, iteration, and materialization.  

I argue for a new practice of design, Social Design Dreaming, that emphasizes long-term visions as a  leverage point for social change. I clarify why visions are effective by drawing on design theory and  practice, futures studies perspectives and methods, and utopian and radical imagination theories.  My interviews with racial justice advocates identified challenges and opportunities for supporting  visioning in racial justice. I created workshop structures that work in racial justice contexts to foster  hopeful visions from people actively working to make change. I then offer approaches to get  specific about what those future visions entail through stories and illustrations. Finally, I offer a  framework that identifies orientations to prefugure and evoke the futures they want to bring about.  

Through activities, illustrations, and prefigurative actions, participants imagined aspirational and  specific outcomes of justice projects. They found elements of hopeful futures in their everyday  practices and created hopeful visions of future worlds that imagine new rituals and behaviors rather  than newtechnologies. In this way, visioning proved to be an uplifting, novel, and resonant practice  for racial justice advocates. With social design dreaming, racial justice advocates have new tools to  dream of futures that draw us toward change. Society needs more voices and perspectives to create  visions of a better world for us all, one that is just, free, and joyful.  




Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • Design

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Jonathan Chapman Alexandra To

Usage metrics



    Ref. manager