by Sasha Costanza-Chock. MIT Press, March 2020. 350 p. ill. ISBN 9780262043458 (pbk.), $25.00.

Reviewed September 2020
Claire Payne, Web Services and Data Librarian, Stony Brook University Libraries,

Costanza ChockIn Design Justice: Community-led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need, Sasha Costanza-Chock offers a succinct, compelling introduction to the emerging concept of design justice: “a framework for analysis of how design [defined broadly] distributes benefits and burdens between various groups of people.” Unusually, and as Costanza-Chock readily acknowledges, Design Justice is not just the monographic product of her own scholarly endeavor. Instead, the book is undergirded by the efforts of an extant community of scholars and practitioners—especially the members of the Design Justice Network—who have done critical groundwork to build the design justice framework. Costanza-Chock, associate professor of Civic Media at MIT, builds on this collaborative foundation by providing a thorough scholarly apparatus and creating an accessible, readable volume.

In five reflective chapters, the histories, theories, and radical potentialities of design justice work are explored. These chapters are organized thematically, and each describes a problem area in current design practice before articulating more liberatory possibilities: Costanza-Chock explores embedded value systems (chapter one), pushes for community participation in design processes (chapter two), questions how we frame design problems and grant attribution (chapter three), considers where design happens (chapter four), and explains considerations for incorporating design justice into one’s pedagogy (chapter five). This meditation on education leads nicely into the conclusion, which examines how we can and should move design justice forward.

Design Justice is firmly and thoughtfully grounded in a Black feminist theoretical tradition, drawing on concepts like intersectionality and the matrix of domination. Costanza-Chock fluidly engages with these writings as well as a substantial body of scholarship from disciplines as varied as design, media studies, sociology, and information theory. The book does make the fundamental assumption that its reader is interested in combating systematic oppression; the work will most effectively inspire an audience already concerned with resisting structural inequality, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism. Costanza-Chock insists Design Justice is not a handbook for these users, but readers will likely find the logics practicable.

Visually, the book is quite simple; illustrations are not a key part of Costanza-Chock’s rhetorical strategy and are used sparsely. Unfortunately, the book’s typography—while typical of MIT Press—is a bit too uniform. Though the author writes cogently, the legibility of her multifaceted exploration would be dramatically improved with more clearly delineated heading levels.

The intellectual foundation that Costanza-Chock builds here will be of use for undergraduates, seasoned instructors, and readers of all levels in between. The book is an important selection for most academic libraries, and is an especially critical purchase at institutions with significant holdings in architecture, design, engineering, or computer science. In a fitting move, Design Justice has also been made available online via the open access PubPub platform.