Socio-Technical Support

Other Names: Social Design, Public Design, Social Architecture, User-Led Design, Participative Architecture,
A service that combines social and technical disciplinary understanding to both the understanding and output of the required product or system.

Socio-Technical Design Diagram( Rudolph Oosthuizen)


Socio-technical support speaks to an approach of providing support to an individual or group that simultaneously takes into account the human, social and organisational factors in relation to the technical dynamics and possibilities towards a set of needs or desires identified or requested by that user collective.

Socio-technical support in the built environment speaks to an approach that blends concepts and approaches of sociological disciplines with technical expertise of built environment practitioners, in order to better understand and respond to the physical built environment, which is fundamentally inter-linked with the people who regulate, design, construct and inhabit it. Although traditional design processes are inherently socio-technical, there is an endemic lack of focus or care in regard to the sociological side of contemporary design training and practice.

Examples of those who work through socio-technical support (around design) in the built environment.

South African


People Environment & Planning (PEP)

Asiye eTafuleni


1to1 – Agency of Engagement

Ubuntu Design Group


Liz Ogbu


Public Architecture

Julia King

Nabeel Hamdi

Chaal Chaal Agency

Quick Reads

South African

Focus On: Design for Social Impact – Design Indaba

Social Design & Research – DSD Desis Lab

Social Design in South Africa – Arch Daily

Social Innovation & Enterprise – Bertha Centre


Social Design in Architecture – Arch Daily

The Socio-Technical Design of Technical Systems– Interaction Design Foundation

Socio-Technical Systems – Strategos

Architecture as Social Innovation – Future Architecture Platform

Social Architecture – Huffington Post

Social Architecture: Designing for People – Re-Thinking the Future


South African

Low, I. (2020) ‘Transforming the Spatial Legacies of Colonialism and Apartheid : Participatory Practice and Design Agency in Southern Africa’, (March).

Design with the other 90%: Cumulus Johannesburg Conference Proceedings – Cumulus Johannesburg 2014

Bennett, J. (2018) ‘Design Praxis in a post-Rainbow Nation City: a reflection on the limits & opportunities of spatial design led service learning in South African cities’, in Through Local Eyes: Place-based approaches to emerging architectural, urban design and planning challenges in Africa and the Global South Proceedings. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, ET: Université libre de Bruxelles.]

Van Niekerk, Willemien & Petzer, Engela & Ndaba, Dumisani & Pieterse, Amy & Rajab, Azra & Kruger, Tinus. (2015). Revising The South African Guidelines for Human settlement Planning and Design (The Red Book).


Mumford, E. (1996) Systems Design Ethical Tools for Ethical Change, Systems Design Ethical Tools for Ethical Change. Macmillan Education UK. doi: 10.1007/978-1-349-14199-9.

Petrescu, D and Trogal, K. (eds) (2017) The social (re)production of architecture: politics, values and actions in contemporary practice. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Andrew Rosenburg (2009) Expanding architecture: design as activism, Choice Reviews Online. doi: 10.5860/choice.46-4838.

Anderson, N. M. (2014) ‘Public interest design as praxis’, Journal of Architectural Education, 68(1), pp. 16–27. doi: 10.1080/10464883.2014.864896.

Recommend Reading List – LSE

JSD_ZA Contributions on Socio-Technical Support (Design)

…intelligent practice builds on the collective wisdom of people and organisations on the ground — those who think locally and act locally — which is then rationalised in ways that make a difference globally. In the language of ’emergence’, ‘it’s better to build a densely interconnected system with simple elements and let the more sophisticated behaviour trickle up.’ In this respect, good development practice facilitates emergence, it builds on what we’ve got and with it goes to scale

Nabeel Hamdi – Small Change