Trauma-Responsive Design: Addressing the Hidden Gaps in Design Research Methodologies and Practice
The goal of this thesis is to study trauma and its impact on design by addressing gaps in design practice, providing suggestions for teaching in design pedagogy, and propose a new framework for the integration of trauma-informed principles in design research methodologies. In the context of design, this exploration of trauma will demonstrate the opportunity and responsibility for designers to practice trauma-responsive design.
Trauma is a matter of concern for everyone and, in some parts of the world, is considered a significant public health issue. The breadth and depth of trauma can impact us at the individual, relationship, community, and societal levels. What’s more, at times it is so pervasive in how it functions under the surface and in the shadows that our lack of understanding can actually perpetuate harm through our design work. In this research, the six guiding principles of a trauma-informed approach from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is used in building a trauma-responsive design framework. This work applies the key principles of safety, trust, collaboration, agency, empowerment, and cultural awareness to a set of participatory, co-design demonstration projects. Additionally, this study will define the nuances and key differences of a trauma-informed and trauma-responsive approach in design. For example, a trauma-informed designer would take trauma into account when participating in the design research process. Alternatively, a trauma-responsive designer would actively anticipate the potential existence of trauma so that it can be appropriately and ethically addressed at all levels and at all stages of the design process. In doing so, this latter approach requires of us a complete rethinking of how we are currently doing design in practice and pedagogy. Studying trauma in the context of design has resulted in a collection of readings that promote trauma literacy, relational empathy, compassion-building, and analysis of non-clinical therapeutic techniques in the design research process. The significance of this study will provide adaptations to current design methods and create new ones, as well as generate new knowledge and scholarship for trauma-responsive design.
Trauma, Trauma-Informed Care, Social Work, Ecological Perspective, Social Construction Theory, Lived Experience, Human-Centered Design, Participatory Design, Co-Design, Trauma-Informed Design, Trauma-Responsive Design
Primary Research Question
How are trauma-informed care principles relevant to the design research process?
Rachael Dietkus is a social worker-designer and the founder of Social Workers Who Design. Her experience spans 20+ years of advocacy and leadership with social justice non-profits, the federal government, and higher education, including the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, AmeriCorps, the Serve Illinois Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, and the United Nations Human Rights Council. Rachael is also a licensed clinical social worker, certified clinical trauma professional, and a fellow with the Social Work Health Futures Lab. Her interest and passion for integrating social work values with design-centric methods started while pursuing her MSW in 2008 and have deepened in her work as part of the Design for Responsible Innovation MFA at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Social Workers Who Design
Greater Good Studio’s Restorative Design Conference (conference presentation)