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Designing for vulnerable groups in society

Research project My PhD studies is focused on the design of technological artefacts for vulnerable groups and the role of society in correlation to vulnerability and design. In further detail an emphasis is put on the structures of society and how design can highlight such structures enabling a process of transparency and change towards justice.

Social justice and design justice are two emerging perspectives within human computer interaction. In recent years a shift has started to go from designing for large general user groups to looking at the margins of society to find those who may not normally be at the center of design processes. Design often takes the form of being user centered, experience focused and all-around fitting for big user groups but social and design justice seeks to aid with other aspects amongst its users.

Head of project

Linnea Öhlund
Doctoral student

Project overview

Project period:

2020-09-01 2024-09-01

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Informatics

Research area


Project description

As design moves towards the margins of society challenging situations are bound to occur through the complexity and extent of vulnerability experienced by some individuals. This vulnerability has the possibility to influence the development and design of technological artefacts to further extend the usability and sustainability of technology in society.

Recognizing groups in society that are stigmatized, marginalized or discriminated means entering a complex and multi-faceted field of ethics, history and social structures. Can we as designers and researcher enter into the field where answers are not easily found and solutions to problems cannot be reached? I would think and hope so. Such groups can be hard to define and hard to work around due to social structures they live under. For example, in some countries, the patriarchal structures are more prominent, resulting in a complex and hard life for women of certain groups. These women would potentially benefit from having certain types of technology helping them in their everyday life but due to patriarchal societal structures they are not allowed to own or navigate technology. These hardships towards designing or even starting to create technology for vulnerable groups of varying class, ethnicity, religion, gender etc may result in many complex challenges that have to be analyzed and worked with, in different ways relating to structures of society.

As the world we live in evolves so must also the technology created. As groups who have faced injustice throughout history starts to gain recognition in society and politics it is important that technology follows along with this change. By researching the position of digital technology and design within and towards stigmatized, marginalized and discriminated groups it is possible to create a better understanding of them and to further understand what role technology can have in relation to equity and justice.

Latest update: 2021-02-23