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Design Social Change with Lesley-Ann Noel — DT101 E128

Dr. Lesley-Ann Noel is an Afro-Trinidadian design educator and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Design Studies at North Carolina State University. Lesley promotes greater critical awareness among designers and design students by introducing critical theory concepts and vocabulary into the design studio. We talk about questioning design practice, dreaming and prototyping, and her book, Designing Social Change.

Listen to Learn About

  • Design studies
  • Designing with non-designers and “design out in the wild”
  • Lesley’s new book, Design Social Change
  • Designing dreams together across our differences

Our Guest

Dr. Lesley-Ann Noel is an Afro-Trinidadian design educator. She is an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Design Studies at North Carolina State University. She practices design through emancipatory, critical and anti-hegemonic lenses, focusing on equity, social justice and the experiences of people who are often excluded from design research. Lesley also attempts to promote greater critical awareness among designers and design students by introducing critical theory concepts and vocabulary into the design studio, for example, through The Designer’s Critical Alphabet. Her research also highlights the work of designers outside of Europe and North America as an act of decolonizing design. Her identity is shaped by her ethnic background as an Afro-Trinidadian; her experience as a daughter, sister and mother; and her lived experiences in Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Tanzania, Uganda and the USA.

Show Highlights

[02:50] Catching up with Lesley and what she’s working on now.
[03:56] Lesley’s latest book comes out November 28, 2023
[04:50] What is design studies?
[05:13] Design studies has two foci: inward on the practitioner, and outwards towards society.
[06:01] A lot of Lesley’s work focuses on who designs, and who gets to define design.
[06:12] Lesley is excited by what design looks like when it’s outside of the design sphere.
[11:10] Working with non-designers has allowed Lesley to see design processes more clearly.
[12:18] Collaborating with designers globally.
[14:05] Grappling with complexity and vagueness in the design space.
[18:32] Lesley’s new book shows readers how they can change the world around them for the better.
[19:33] People need to be active citizens of the world.
[20:25] A Miro Moment
[22:34] Design Social Change is written for everyone, not just designers.
[23:38] The world is always changing and we have the power to change it for the better.
[25:48] The three big ideas of the book.
[26:07] Ask questions. Work to understand the world around you.
[26:47] Emotional intelligence, and moving beyond raw emotion into “what next?”
[27:56] Envisioning a better world, and finding a path to get there.
[28:51] Prototyping a better world.
[30:30] The challenge is: how do we dream together across our differences?
[33:53] People can dream different paths towards the same goal.
[34:57] Why Dawan loves difficult questions.


Dr. Noel on LinkedIn
Dr. Noel’s website
Dr. Noel on NC State University website
A Designer’s Critical Alphabet Cards
Link to her dissertation “Teaching and Learning Design Thinking through a Critical Lens at a Primary School in Rural Trinidad and Tobago”
Article from the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Dr. Noel’s work with emancipatory research and design thinking
AIA recording of the CAE research conference call (does include images as part of the recording) with Dr. Noel where she presented her research/processes in the field of critical design thinking with an emphasis on emancipatory process.

Book Recommendations

Design Social Change: Take Action, Work toward Equity, and Challenge the Status Quo by Lesley-Ann Noel
The Little Book of Designer’s Existential Crises, by Emmanuel Tsekleves and Lesley-Ann Noel
The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Expression & Reflection, by Anne H. Berry (Editor), Kareem Collie (Editor), Penina Acayo Laker (Editor), Lesley-Ann Noel (Editor), Jennifer Rittner (Editor), Kelly Walters (Editor)

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Critical and Emancipatory Design Thinking with Lesley-Ann Noel — DT101 E57

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