What does design have to do with politics?

© Tim Marshall

At the door of yet another municipal elections in the country, politics, through the proposals of each candidate, once again occupy a prominent place in daily life. Even more so if we take into account that it is through local elections that citizens have the opportunity to choose what vision they want for the place where they live.

It is true that we can (and should) always discuss the quality of the proposals or even the candidates themselves, but this is what democracy is all about, a space for debate that is open to everyone, in the noblest vision of politics, of proposals, discussions and consensus.

Design and politics

At this point, most likely, you will already be asking yourself: “Politics? Here? What does this have to do with design?”. The answer is far more obvious than it might first appear. Otherwise let’s see. The design discipline (and designers) spend their lives touting two things. One, design is a discipline focused on solving people’s concrete problems. Two, one of its fundamental characteristics is its awareness of a structured process with different stages, in which research is a fundamental part for the construction of relevant solutions for people.

Design is by definition a discipline of causes. It is not and cannot be aseptic to the environment that surrounds it. As much as you like, it is impossible for design not to take advantage of some perspectives. Not the perspectives of certain political parties, but of problems that concern people in their daily lives and that design can help solve through its process.

On the other hand, if we look at design as a discipline capable of comprehensively building solutions, we notice that its intervention can go far beyond the design of products or services (the solutions most recurrently associated with the discipline) and also be an instrument very valuable political.

When we talk about the complex relationship between the discipline of design and politics (not with politicians), we can come to the conclusion that many of those that are characteristic of the generality of design processes could help a lot in the construction of candidates’ electoral programs , especially in the context of municipal elections.

Local elections have a fantastic feature. At the end of the day, we are always talking about concrete problems that are very close to people’s daily lives. Things that happen in your neighborhood or city that for better or worse affect your quality of life.

The importance of research

Especially everything that touches on the dimension of research in the design process, user research if we are, for example, in the context of the user experience (UX) area, could be a very important help for any candidate in the construction of their electoral program. Through research methods and tools, each candidate could be able to identify, in a concrete and structured way, the real needs of people, involving them in a decisive manner in this process.

The constant research into people’s needs and the intelligent use of quantitative and qualitative data rather than simply the achometer, could in policy be a management tool with a fundamental importance to meet the needs of populations.

Research (or lack thereof) in electoral programs

For those who may have already read the electoral programs of the various candidates, more than the stuff we see every day in the media, the essential questions to be asked, from the perspective of design, could very well go through:

  • How many of these proposals are the result of people’s concrete needs?
  • How many of these proposals can be supported with some type of quantitative or qualitative research?

In addition to the ideological barometer of each candidate, which will naturally have an immense impact on the strategic vision they may have, putting proposals on the table in the debate, research-based proposals ensure that the management of public affairs challenges goes far beyond moods or assumptions. . The common good cannot be managed without sincerely and truly involving the people for whom the actions are directed. Therefore, it is perfectly legitimate to question, how many of the proposals presented by the candidates in their electoral programs in these local elections:

  • Did they involve direct consultation of populations ensuring the plurality of the sample?
  • Are they the result of quantitative information collected through questionnaires?
  • Did they take into account the findings of national and international studies?
  • Have you evaluated in a structured way examples of policies and solutions implemented in other national or international cities that are comparable to each other?
  • Do they come from the proper assessment of solutions implemented in the past and from which strengths and weaknesses can be recognized?
  • Or, do they reflect the result of a collaborative exercise to build a common vision for a team rather than the will of isolated people?

Politics before politics

Politics is not an exercise in individualism. It is not, or at least shouldn’t be, a choice between them, but, especially when we talk about local power, an exercise in participation, also using design and many of its research tools, that can and should start in the construction of the proposals for the electoral programs of each candidate.

Simply customizing politics in people, for better or for worse, leaves politics hostage to those people, instead of the ideas that each perspective, different ways of seeing the public thing, play a leading role.

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Ruben Ferreira Duarte

Ruben Ferreira Duarte


Hi. My name is Ruben Ferreira Duarte and I am a portuguese UX/UI Designer, currently living in Lisbon (Portugal). www.everythinks.pt