Dean Dori Tunstall on Respectful Design

A design leader, professional design anthropologist, advocate and educator, Dr. Dori Tunstall is celebrating a year as the head of OCAD U’s Faculty of Design.

Dean Dori Tunstall standing in front of a wall of red, brown and pink thread spools
Dr. Dori Tunstall. Photos by Samuel Engelking

As new Dean of the Faculty of Design, one of the big questions I had upon arrival was: How do you hold together six undergraduate programs and five graduate degrees? Of course you need a unifying ethos — the unique character of the culture. Over the last few months, the Faculty of Design has been developing the ethos of Respectful Design.

What is Respectful Design? It’s not about a specific definition but rather, diverse meanings. At the original Respectful Design workshop held in October 2016, more than 40 faculty members and guests from other faculties created video statements in answer to the question, “What does respectful design mean to me?” These were aggregated into departmental or program level statements as well as the entire Design faculty level, and serve as the basis for our meanings of Respectful Design:

Respectful Design means valuing inclusivity, peoples’ cultures and ways of knowing through empathic and responsible creative methodologies.

It means deepening our relationships to the lives of the materials that connect us to the craft of making.

It means designing ourselves back into the environment. For example, adding Indigenous concepts of Seven Generations to inform sustainable design.

It means celebrating need over want.

Respectful design means acknowledging different values, different manners of production, and different ways of knowing.

Respectful Design is the evolution of the faculty’s “Design for Humanity” ethos, established by Professor Alex Manu out of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) The Humane Village for Compassionate Design journals in 1994 and 1997. In the first The Human Village Journal, Manu writes:

We have been led in our present condition by the short-sighted greed and insecurity of both individuals and corporations, by the titillation of covetousness to stimulate consumption, and by our narcotic love affair with technology at its most trivial. A moral code for the Humane Village must recognize that the creation of artifacts and environments is a holistic act. People, communities and the ecosystem are indissoluably intertwined (2004: 14).

Respectful Design interweaves Design for Humanity with new understandings based on Indigenous learning and ways of being. Respect is a key principal in various Indigenous communities, including the Seven Grandfather teachings in the local Canadian Ojibwe nations, where it is referred to as mnaadendimowin. Respectful Design decentres human beings to describe more relational connections between all things plant, animal, fungal and mineral, and requires greater accountability in our social and environmental relations.

The context for the evolution of the Faculty of Design’s ethos is OCAD U’s commitment to decolonizing its curriculum, research and practices. Decolonization is the first principle in OCAD U’s Academic Plan. Decolonization in the Indigenous context is about reclaiming Indigenous land, languages and communities. It’s about reclaiming the sovereignty stolen from them.

In the context of the Faculty of Design, it is holding ourselves accountable for design’s role in glorifying colonialism. For example, OCAD U is famous for supporting the Group of Seven painters who put Canadian art on the global map. One of those seven, Franklin Carmichael created the brochures for the Canadian National Railway promoting the travel and settlement of Canada by Europeans.

Respectful Design means embarking on a process of identifying and reframing the Eurocentric biases in our curriculum so that we can minimize the harm that we do though our teaching.  The important thing is that this ethos is mostly embedded in the work carried out by our students, faculty and staff. The job now is to further discover and deepen what it means to the Faculty of Design, so that we can share those meanings more clearly with the rest of the world.


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