What are Social Structures?
Social structures refer to the patterns and relationships between and within groups. When social structures exist within a single group, they pertain to repeating behaviors. Social structures are vast and complex, but you can sub-divide and conceptualize them in many different ways.
For example, social structures can be both institutional and relational. In an institutional setting, behavior is influenced by norms, cultural factors and formalities. Relational social structures include any sort of relationship between people, regardless of the system they belong to. For example, a user experience (UX) designer may be friends with the janitor because they share an interest in quilting or skiing. Such a bond is included in the relationship social structure, but not in the institutional structure.
Another common approach for organizing social structures is dividing them into two tiers: microstructure and macrostructure. The microstructure contains the singular elements or components of the social structure, including individuals. Macrostructure is the relationship between distinct groups. For example, you can chart the macrostructure amongst the many design teams of different design agencies.
By analyzing networks and structures, a designer can get a deeper and more intimate understanding of the environment that their future product will have to face.
Literature on Social Structures
Here’s the entire UX literature on Social Structures by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:
Learn more about Social Structures
Take a deep dive into Social Structures with our course Design Thinking: The Ultimate Guide .
Some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Google, Samsung, and General Electric, have rapidly adopted the design thinking approach, and design thinking is being taught at leading universities around the world, including Stanford d.school, Harvard, and MIT. What is design thinking, and why is it so popular and effective?
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Design thinking methods and strategies belong at every level of the design process. However, design thinking is not an exclusive property of designers—all great innovators in literature, art, music, science, engineering, and business have practiced it. What’s special about design thinking is that designers and designers’ work processes can help us systematically extract, teach, learn, and apply these human-centered techniques in solving problems in a creative and innovative way—in our designs, in our businesses, in our countries, and in our lives.
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Social Systems and Their Role in Product Adoption
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