An online resource for designing a better world.


In the emerging field of social impact design, we’ve seen important discussions and efforts hamstrung, sidetracked, or misunderstood due to the lack of a unifying vocabulary. This glossary sheds light on the redundancy of certain words and phrases, and we hope it also sheds light on the fact that many leaders and practitioners are using different terms to describe almost identical processes and approaches. Despite arguments over “correct” terminology, we are all speaking the same language.

We’re eager to improve and expand this glossary, and welcome any and all corrections, edits, and additions. In particular, we ask for your help in identifying entities and individuals associated with each term as part of our larger effort to map the field. Simply email



co-design is an approach in which trained professionals engage directly with end-users in order to develop design solutions that are aligned with user needs, responsive to socio-cultural contexts, and reflective of real-world usage patterns. Co-design posits that design solutions must include both professionals’ “expert” knowledge and users’ “local” knowledge in order to be successful.

Entities: Frog Design, Nike Foundation

Individuals: Tom De Blasis, Robert Fabricant

Community Design

community design emphasizes participatory planning and active engagement by community members in the design process as a means to catalyze change that is informed directly by the priorities and needs of those communities and led by its members.

Entities: Association of Community Design, Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design, Detroit Collaborative Design Center, Gulf Coast Community Design Studio

Individuals: Monica Chadha, Kathy Dorgan, David Perkes, Dan Pitera

Community Development

community development is a process of facilitated empowerment whereby individuals and groups of people are able to develop new knowledge and skills in order to effectively advocate for and enact change within their own lives and locales.

Entities: Community Matters, Enterprise Community Partners, Enterprise Rose Fellows, Orton Family Foundation

Individuals: Katie Swenson

Community-Driven Design

community-driven design and community-engaged design are terms whose paramount focus are diverse and inclusive stakeholder participation from the earliest stages of a design or planning processes.

Entities: Surdna Foundation

Individuals: Judilee Reed, Christina Rupp

Creative Placemaking

creative placemaking is the strategic re-shaping of the physical and social environments around arts and cultural activities as means to create more vibrant and civically engaged towns, cities, and regions. It is rooted in collaborative partnerships between public, private, nonprofit, and community organizations.

Entities: ArtPlace, National Endowment for the Arts, Project for Public Spaces

Individuals: Carol Coletta, Jamie Hand, Ethan Kent, Cynthia Nikitin, Jason Schupbach

Design for All

design for all is a marketing campaign slogan launched (but no longer used) by Target, emphasizing high-quality choices for all income levels. It is also used frequently to describe efforts to democratize design at the broadest scales.

Entities: Target, University of Minnesota

Design for Good

design for good is an umbrella term used by various organizations to describe efforts and projects by focused on the use of design to foster social change. This term is often used as an intentionally broad phrase, meant to encompass any and all efforts to use design to create a positive social impact.

Entities: AIGA

Individuals: Ric Grefé

Design for Social Change

design for social change is a phrase associated with efforts and projects aimed at catalyzing transformations or behavior shifts, specifically using design as a process for altering society in one form or another.

Entities: Design Ignites Change, Designing for Social Change (book), School of Visual Arts(summer program title), Worldstudio

Individuals: Cheryl Heller, Mark Randall, Andrew Shea

Design for the Other 99%

design for the other 90% and design with the other 90% are terms premised on the estimate that only 10% of the world population is served by the design professions, focused on instances of absolute or extreme poverty in favelas and slums in the developing world.

Entities: Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (exhibition, publication, and network titles)

Individuals: Paul Polak, Cynthia Smith

Design for the 98% Without Architects

design for the 98% without architects is a phrase calling attention to the estimate that only 2% of new homebuyers in the U.S. have the resources to work with an architect. It suggests that access to design expertise is a valuable social good whose inequitable distribution, like that of other social goods, should be redressed.

Entities: Design Corps (past Structures for Inclusion theme)

Individuals: Bryan Bell

Embedded Design

embedded design or immersive design emphasize the need and value for designers to live and work within the communities they are serving for extended periods of time, particularly before the start of a project, as a means to build empathetic relationships with the community, vet potential ideas, and better understand all factors and contexts that might impact the design process.

Entities: Design Impact, MASS Design Group

Individuals: Ramsey Ford, Kate Hanisian, Michael Murphy, Alan Ricks

Evidence-Based Design

evidence-based design describes an approach to the design process through which all decisions are made based on research data, verifiable facts, and validated measures, as opposed to decisions made based on aesthetics or subjective assumptions.

Individuals: Linda Nussbaumer, David Alan Kopec

Human-Centered Design

human-centered design is a process emphasizing observation, empathy, abstract thinking, prototyping, and iteration while working directly with end users. Its goal is to create solutions that are desirable, feasible, and viable.

Entities: Catapult Design, D-Rev: Design Revolution, Design for America,, HCD Connect, Stanford

Individuals: Krista Donaldson, Heather Fleming, Liz Gerber, Patrice Martin, Sami Nerenberg, Marika Shioiri-Clark, Jocelyn Wyatt

Humanitarian Design

humanitarian design focuses on working with individuals lacking basic human needs such as food, water, shelter, and safety, particularly in response to natural disasters, extreme/absolute poverty, and war-torn areas.

Entities: Architecture for Humanity

Individuals: Fred Cuny, Buckminster Fuller, Ivan Illich

Impact Design

impact design is a term focused on any design initiatives or projects intended to be evaluated according to qualitative and quantitative social and scientific metrics. Impact Design is concerned specifically with projects whose impacts can be measured based on pre-determined metrics.

Entities: Autodesk, D-Rev: Design Revolution

Individuals: Lynelle Cameron, Krista Donaldson

Participatory Design

participatory design is an approach which actively involves and engages all potential stakeholders in the design and planning process from the very start of a project in order to allow the community to inform and direct the project and take ownership over its progress.

Individuals: Henry Sanoff

Pro Bono Design

pro bono design is the practice of providing professional design services at partial or no cost for clients who would otherwise not be able to afford them.

Entities: Catchafire, desigNYC, Public Architecture, Taproot Foundation

Individuals: Rachel Chong, Michelle Mullineaux, John Peterson, Amy Ress, Laetitia Wolff

Public Interest Design

public interest design emphasizes the creation or redesign of products, environments, and systems, with a clear human-centered approach, while often likened to the well-established fields of public interest law and public health.

Entities: Autodesk, Design Corps,, University of Minnesota College of Design, University of Texas at Austin Center for Sustainable Development

Individuals: Bryan Bell, Barbara Brown, John Cary, Thomas Fisher

Resilient Design

resilient design is a conceptual approach emphasizing the need for solutions to be designed with the ability to respond, adapt, and evolve to best fit changing contexts and circumstances, often used to describe the need for infrastructure to withstand disasters.

Entities: Resilient Design Institute, Compostmodern

Individuals: Julie Kim

Rural Design

rural design is an interdisciplinary process for managing rural change, defining rural issues, and creating solutions to resolve them.

Entities: University of Minnesota Center for Rural Design

Individuals: Duane Thorbeck

Social Impact Design

social impact design calls specific attention to the need for designers to test, prove, and document the impacts of their work, particularly emphasizing the importance of demonstrating rigorous measurable social impacts.

Entities: Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, National Endowment for the Arts

Individuals: Jennifer Hughes, Cynthia Smith, Jason Schupbach

Social Sustainability

social sustainability advocates for an evolution of the mainstream sustainability movement, beyond a focus solely on environmental concerns, to include equity and cultural factors. It references the 1992 Rio Earth Summit’s definition of three pillars of sustainability as the environment, economy, and social equity.

Individuals: Liz Ogbu

Social/Economic/Environmental Design

social/economic/environmental design emphasizes a triple bottom line approach intended to expand the definition of “sustainable design” beyond green building.

Entities: SEED Network

Individuals: Kimberly Dowdell, Bryan Bell

Socially Responsible Design

socially responsible design proposes that designers have a moral or social responsibility to work with all people, particularly those who are most disadvantaged in society. It suggests that the responsibility of designers is not only to their direct clients but also to all people, environments and entities indirectly impacted by their work.

Entities: ADPSR, Contract Magazine, Interface, J&J Industries, Perkins+Will, Tandus Flooring

Individuals: Jennifer Busch, Tom Ellis, Ross Leonard, Raphael Sperry

Socially Responsive Design

socially-responsive design centers around issues such as public health or security, while addressing larger systems by raising awareness or catalyzing discourse.

Socially-Responsible Enlightened Design

socially-responsible enlightened design is a term and approach premised on building awareness among all designers of the impact of their actions on the larger whole; the common good.

Individuals: Prataap Patrose

Service Design

strategic design focuses on ‘big picture’ systemic challenges like healthcare, education, and climate change, initially by bringing them to light and then by fostering great collaboration between interdependent stakeholders.

Individuals: Bryan Boyer

Systems Design

systems design is a term to describe the process of identifying the components and variables that influence desired outcomes in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, and impact as a means to understand how the system can be redesigned or altered for the better.

Transformation Design

transformation design a term to represent a human-centered, interdisciplinary process that seeks to create desirable, sustainable, and lasting changes in behavior and/or environment.

Entities: Design Council

Universal Design

universal design represents or results in products and environments that are usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design

Entities: Center for Independent Living, Institute for Human-Centered Design

Individuals: Valerie Fletcher, Elaine Ostroff

Values-Based Practice

values-based practice is an approach to professional practice in which a design studio select clients and projects based on alignment with the studio’s mission and values.

Entities: Gulf Coast Community Design Studio

Individuals: David Perkes


This working document has already benefited from feedback from an array of people, but especially thoughtful comments, edits, and suggestions from John Emerson, Antoinette Fennell, Caitlyn Horose, Jeanne Lawler, and Raphael Sperry.