How might designerly ways prompt and facilitate interdisciplinary understandings of EU legal (dis)integration?

Amanda Perry-Kessaris |

The content of this post was presented at the launch workshop of the EUFutures Research Network held at City, University of London on 4 November 2022.

Amanda Perry-Kessaris, Professor of Law, Kent Law School


This post explores how we might draw on design-based methods to enhance our willingness and ability to work across disciplines when conceptualising and investigating EU legal (dis)integration.

From a designerly perspective, EU legal (dis)integration is a messy or ‘wicked’ problem (Rittel and Webber 1973)—that is, it is open, complex, networked and dynamic; and involves competing, often incompatible, values and interests. As such, it requires interdisciplinary approaches. But interdisciplinarity is itself a messy process of negotiation—conceptually, empirically and normatively.

To sense and make sense of messiness requires approaches that are structured enough to offer analytical purchase, yet flexible enough to accommodate diversity.

Like other sociolegal scholars, I see sociology as the discipline with the greatest potential to create the kind of structured-yet-flexible spaces needed to accommodate interdisciplinary understandings of the economic lives of law, including EU legal (dis)integration. To take a sociologically-informed approach to law is, as Roger Cotterrell (2018) puts it, to reinterpret law as a social phenomenon; to do so systematically—by drawing on sociological conceptualisations of social life as occurring on multiple levels (for example, actions, interactions, regimes and rationalities), across multiple dimensions (for example, instrumental, traditional, affective, belief, material), and in multiple forms (for example, ad hoc and long-term, impersonal and trusting); to do so empirically, with reference to real world examples; and to do so with normative direction, specifically with a view to nurturing the ‘well-being of law as a practical idea’.

So, sociologically-informed approaches are well-suited to generating conceptual spaces within which to negotiate—that is, to co-identify and co-synthesise—empirical and normative insights about EU legal (dis)integration from across the social sciences.

But identification and synthesis are processes—messy, experimental processes which, not least in an interdisciplinary context, require an unusual level of collaboration and communication. Here sociology has less to offer. We need instead to look to methods that, albeit not all individually exclusive to, are in combination characteristic of, design-based disciples such as graphic design, interaction design and systems design. I follow Nigel Cross (2011) in referring to these methods as ‘designerly ways’.

Designerly ways

Views differ as to which of these ways are essential to design. I choose to highlight three specific characteristics because they strike me both as distinctive, and as especially relevant to lawyers (Perry-Kessaris 2019, 2021).

The first is designerly mindsets, which are simultaneously practical (able to make things happen), critical (able to see what is wrong with things) and imaginative (able to see what is not yet or still, for us, present) (lawyers share these traits). This mindset is reflected in and sustained by specific, mutually reinforcing, processes and strategies.

Designerly processes emphasise experimentation—that is, iterative rounds of divergent (relatively ‘creative’) thinking in which we generate as many ideas as possible and follow where they lead; and then convergent (relatively ‘scientific’) thinking in which we test those ideas, whittling them down to the ones that fit best the situation at hand.

Finally, designers make ideas visible and/or tangible not only in their final outputs, but also as a research strategy—as a way of sensing and making sense of things along the way. In this way they emphasise experiential communication; and one consequence of that emphasis is that collaboration is both prompted and facilitated.

In combination, these ways are especially well-suited to addressing ‘wicked problems’, such as EU legal (dis)integration. This is, first, because they prompt us to accept indeterminacy—that is, for example, it might be possible to reach a shared understanding of what ‘the’ problem or ‘the’ solution is; and, second, because they facilitate us to proactively embrace that indeterminacy by working provisionally—that is, experimenting towards possible alternative possibilities. More specifically, and of particular importance to those with an interest in law, designerly ways prompt and facilitate us to experiment by working abductively, that is, drawing on intuition (Perry-Kessaris 2021).

Designerly ways in practice

We increasingly see design, designers and non-designers working in ‘design mode’ (Manzini 2015), playing a central role in addressing social problems (Perry-Kessaris 2019, Allbon and Perry-Kessaris 2022). Indeed, the European Union itself has explicitly turned to design through its plans for a ‘New European Bauhaus’ – an interdisciplinary initiative intended to create ‘a space of encounter’ in which those living in Europe can ‘imagine’ and then collaboratively ‘build’ a ‘beautiful’, ‘sustainable and inclusive future’. Like its early twentieth century German namesake, the new Bauhaus is expected to draw explicitly on expertise from design, art, architecture, craft and making (Perry-Kessaris 2022).

What does a designerly approach look like in practice; and how might it be deployed by multi-disciplinary groups of researchers to address the messy problem of EU legal (dis)integration?

Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL), a civil society organisation, uses designerly ways to work with communities, corporations and governments across the world. Their work is underpinned by that of economist Kate Raworth  (2017), who argues that economic thinking and practice can and ought to be reframed through this infinitely scalable metaphorical device of a double ring or ‘doughnut’. The inner ring represents the ‘social foundation of well-being’, as manifested in human development indicators such as equality and basic physical needs, below which no one should be allowed to fall. The outer ring represents the ceiling of ecologically damaging impacts, such as resource depletion and pollution, above which we must not allow ourselves to go. Between the two is the ‘safe and just space’ within which economic thinking and practice ought to take place. The doughnut graphic communicates the overall approach accessibly to diverse lay and expert audiences. Projected on a wall as a digital artefact it creates a structured-yet-free conceptual space in which to synthesise the multiple values, interests and constraints that shape any scenario or world. When made material—laid out on a floor—it creates a physical space for participants to explore and engage with possible futures.

What if…

To illustrate how we might draw on design-based methods to enhance interdisciplinary investigations of EU legal (dis)integration, I will engage in a little speculative—‘what if’—event design which draws on my experience in working with legal researchers.

What if scholars from a range of disciplines are invited to a participatory workshop aimed at addressing the following question: What are the respective merits of each discipline (political science, sociology, economy, history, law) in explaining ‘the way EU law is created, applied, used, transformed in the process of EU integration’?

The event, set out in Figures 2-5 below, would comprise four stages, each building on insights generated in the previous stage.





I am confident that designerly ways can generate structured-yet-flexible enabling ecosystems within which we are better, or differently, able to sense and make sense of the world, both individually and in collaboration; and that these are the kinds of spaces that we must generate if we are to develop interdisciplinary approaches to investigating EU legal (dis)integration. I hope I have tempted you to consider those possibilities.


Emily Allbon and Amanda Perry-Kessaris eds (2022) Design in Legal Education. Routledge.

Roger Cotterrell (2018) Sociological Jurisprudence: Juristic thought and social inquiry. Routledge.

Nigel Cross (2001) ‘Designerly Ways of Knowing: Design Discipline Versus Design Science’ 17:3 Design Issues 49.

Amanda Perry-Kessaris (2022) ‘Could alternative econo-legal futures be made more possible and probable through prefigurative design? Insights from and for Cyprus’ 72:4 Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 623-650 

Amanda Perry-Kessaris (2021) Doing sociolegal research in design mode Routledge.

Amanda Perry-Kessaris (2019) ‘Legal design for practice, activism, policy and research’ 46:2 Journal of Law and Society 185-210.

Kate Raworth 2017 Doughnut Economics

Horst W J Rittel and Melvin M Weber (1973) ‘Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning’ 4:2 Policy Sciences 155-169.