Decolonising Design: Mapping Futures

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Best, Susan

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Sheehan, Norm

Burton, Laini

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This thesis expands upon design theories and methods for understanding and speculating futures. New perspectives on participatory design techniques combined with Indigenous approaches to knowledge production are presented as experiments of decolonising futures through creative critical mapping practices. Informed by my Australian Aboriginal and European ancestry, I outline the practice-led research including ways for readers to apply the creative experiments, provided in a series of reflections and appendix guides. I ask what might be an appropriate way of enabling people to map options for their futures. I consider how one might create a design practice that collaborates with people intent on navigating decolonising options. The research reveals strategies for decolonising the self, one’s practice and design. It demonstrates the designing of effective modes of listening, articulating and communicating with people about plural options for their futures. The thesis theoretically develops a critical lens on modernity and colonialism, particularly detailing how continuing and emerging conditions of coloniality debilitate Indigenous peoples’ ability to transition to decolonising futures. It then provides methodologies for a practice of decolonising mapping in which one’s relationship with modernity and coloniality can be understood. The creative experiments apply these methodologies in educational, arts-based, community-based and other event-based and organisational settings. These diverse settings demonstrate a spectrum of new strategic combinations of, for example, Aboriginal yarning, relational mapping, design fiction, plausibility and futures thinking and concept articulation tactics in strategic sessions, participatory workshops, major public arts events, an interactive website and other environments and mediums. The work contributes not only to scholarship in design research, studies, thinking and education, but also beyond the broad design community to policymakers, government, organisational management and other community and social groups who are looking to think about, talk about, and mobilise futures. The practice in this research should be understood as creative experiments, not as ‘proof of commercialisation’ or ‘product’ designs. The primary focus of this qualitative research contribution is on experimentation, creative insight, iteration and reflection of how mapping with people in situated contexts can occur, rather than what has been articulated. Experiments in this research all occurred in Australia, mostly in South-East Queensland. Archived evidence of the creative practice is represented with photos and graphics integrated throughout the document chapters and in a comprehensive appendix. The implications of this research are that it contributes to redirecting the locus of design from a service provision activity towards a rapidly emerging critical design field. This thesis exhibits a unique theoretical, methodological and creative body of work of critical mapping as an articulatory design practice.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

Degree Program

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Queensland College of Art

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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Design theories

Australian Aboriginal


Participatory design techniques


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