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Design’s Big Debates
Design Research conference Umea, Sweden

The field of Design research is growing rather quickly. Where a lot of academic conferences focus on specific topics, the Design Research conference in Umea (Sweden, June 2014)) decided to question the big societal issues in order to pushing the boundaries of design research.
That requires also rethinking on the format of the conference. Where usually researchers only give paper presentations, this conference challenged them to participate in morning debates and over 30 compelling conversations that were meant as a format to allow people that usually don’t participate to get involved.

Designers are unprepared for the consequences
For the morning debates, 2 experts in the field were asked for a delightful disagreement on poignant design issues. They had to tease out extreme positions. For a session on life hacking the proposition Genetic material should be open source and available to ‘hackers’ lead towards an agitated discussion. Proponent Christina Agapakis  (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UCLA Synthetic biology )plead for open source innovations, whereas Jamer Hunt (associate Professor of Transdisciplinary Design, Design Strategies Parsons) focused more on the (ethical) consequences. Would you trust teenagers to tinker with biological material? For Hunt it was very clear that designers are unprepared for the consequences of their actions.
The discussion had a nice follow up at one of the conversation sessions that centred around Design for Dialogues. Tobie Kerridge (researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London) and Veronica Tanner (Ph.D. Candidate at Royal College of Art ) presented speculative prototypes that obviously spark nice discussions but - as Carl di Salvo (Associate Professor in the Digital Media program at the Georgia Institute of Technology) questioned- , how can you judge what the impact is? What are the consequences of the speculative design interventions?

Designed futures
200 years ago a design research conference wouldn’t exist.  Around 100 years ago we could have had a debate on design but definitely not on design research, mentioned Clive Dilnot (professor of Design Studies in the School of Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons). Dilnot was asked as a proponent in a debate on the proposition: In the future designers will be very important, design much less so.
As for Dilnot, we have to look at the history of design. “Design did not call design into being, industrialization did; what does this mean in our post industrial society?
His opponent Anna Rosling Ronnlund (co founder Gapminder) pointed out that there is a future for designers, and specifically in Africa and Asia. In 100 years from now there will be around 5 billion people in Asia, 3 billion in Africa, whereas Europe and America will have 1 billion. For Dilnot this clearly indicates that the epoc of the west is over.
There is no future; a future is no longer guaranteed.

Foster Interdisciplinary teamwork
The fact that the future is no longer predictable is repeated in many conversations. What is predictable though, is that for the Big Issues, that this conference centres around, it is essential that designers work in multidisciplinary teams. But what is the role of the designer in these teams? Is he the one facilitating, leading or catalysing it? Rather interesting is the remark that social scientist rarely speculate about the future whereas for designers propositional questions are in their DNA. They like to make sense of diverse voices and work with technological imaginaries. With diegetic prototpypes they can suspend disbelief about societal changes. Therefore
design practitioners can be a strong catalyst for multistakeholder operations. Design artefacts can be used to foster dialogue in interdisciplinary teams explains Bas Raijmakers (Reader Readership Strategic Creativity Design Academy Eindhoven). He presents how the Value Pursuit, a game that aligns expectations, designed by one of his design researchers (Karianne Rygh) can stimulate networked collaborations.

Design and ethics
A very important topic at the conference was also the question how to prepare design education for the future? Service design is probably one of the newest kind of offerings on the roaster of classes on design, mentions Stefan Holmlid, (Assistant professor/lecturer in interaction and service design, Linkoping University).
How do we find those basic and generic skills that work under transforming conditions?
Is the next thing biodesign? Is it something else?”
We clearly need more debates to find out!

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Published: 30-Jun-2014 12:39


  • Design's big debates

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  • Design's big debates

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  • Design's big debates

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