Let's talk about power

September 10, 2020

Power is defined as the capability of doing or accomplishing something (noun). Like many definitions, this doesn’t exactly cover all the nuances of ‘power’ – how it shows up in relationships, what it means to share it, and why we need to talk about it when we facilitate collaboration.

In my own work, I’ve seen power imbalances show up between designers and community organizers, architects and residents, and researchers and participants.

Most of us, whether we call ourselves designers or not, could benefit from better understanding our own privileges and lived experiences, and how these elements translate into different power dynamics depending on the setting.

Here are a few things helping me on this journey:


Power Literacy Field Guide

A beginner’s guide to democratize, decolonize and create socially just public and social sector participatory processes.

This field guide includes a series of worksheets which support designer’s through the process of developing power literacy. You can download a free PDF, but Maya’s also raising funds through this kickstarter campaign to create a printed version. If this is something you’d love to see in the world, why not support it?

Equity-Centered Community Design

How can we make sure that you’re designing inclusive and equitable outcomes for all - no matter how big or small the decision?

Creative Reaction Lab, based in St. Louis, champions Black and Latinx youth to become leaders in designing healthy and racially equitable communities. CRL’s Equity-Centered Community Design approach paves the way for a more equitable, transformative design process.

Kelly Ann McKercher: Co-Design and Power

Power differences often prevent people from working together in meaningful ways, if at all.

This talk by KA McKercher is a thoughtful step into understanding power in relation to a collaborative design practice. They speak to their Model of Care, which draws on practices of co-design, as well as trauma-informed, and strengths-based and recovery-oriented practices.


As Antoinette Carroll said:

Systems of oppression, inequality, and inequity are by design. Therefore, they can be redesigned.

This was originally published on my newsletter, Design With. It was archived in 2023.