After a long pause from the seventh EKSIG conference in 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, EKSIG 2023, the eighth international conference of the DRS Special Interest Group on Experiential Knowledge (EKSIG) took place in the early summer of 2023 on 19–20 June 2023 at the Department of Design, Politecnico di Milano in Italy. With the theme “From Abstractness to Concreteness – experiential knowledge and the role of prototypes in design research”, the conference brought together design professionals and academic researchers to examine prototypes as a means for knowledge generation and evaluation. EKSIG 2023 was the largest EKSIG conference ever held since the commencement of the conference series in 2007.
The aim of the conference was to investigate the role of prototypes and their relationship with the multifaceted landscape of today’s design research. As prototypes and prototyping represent ideas and give intelligible form to abstract concepts regarding design solutions, they support the interconnections and collaborations among researchers and practitioners in several design fields. Their role encompasses possibilities that link to the context and aim of design research whose scope of inquiry has recently expanded to tackle various technological, social, and environmental issues (e.g. the impact of technology on society, climate change, social innovation, etc.). With more challenging issues and the current landscape of design research, prototypes have become more complex and embodied the translation of different design languages into a developing concept. EKSIG 2023 was therefore meant to be a platform for design researchers to share and discuss ways in which they have utilised and/or might utilise prototypes and prototyping in their research to generate and evaluate new and existing knowledge.
The conference received a great response with an unusually high number of full paper submissions from researchers all over the world. The papers were largely interdisciplinary and came from researchers situated in various design fields, including, but not limited to, architecture, automotive design, craft, design engineering, design for health and wellbeing, design education, material design, interaction design, service design, social design, and textile design. The 55 accepted papers were organized into 12 tracks for presentation across the two conference days:
Track 1 Interaction, Data and AI / 1
Track 2 Service design and Policymaking
Track 3 Research processes and methods / 1
Track 4 Sustainable and Biological solutions
Track 5 Materials and Crafts
Track 6 Society and Health
Track 7 Materials and Digital
Track 8 Education processes and methods
Track 9 Research processes and methods / 2
Track 10 Mobility and Transportation
Track 11 Interaction, Data and AI / 2
Track 12 Fiction & Speculative design
Figure 1. The conference opening.
In addition to paper presentations, the conference featured three keynote speakers – Pieter Jan Stappers, Kathryn Marinaro and Aldo Sollazzo – and a display of prototypes that were created and utilized in design research and included in the papers presented at the conference. The first keynote speaker was Pieter Jan Stappers, Professor of Design Techniques at Delft University, Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering. His keynote “Prototypes: Footholds to the Future and Footsteps from the future?” highlighted the importance of prototypes and prototyping. He stressed how differently the term prototype as noun and prototype as verb made us think and talk and encouraged the use of the verb together with examples. According to Stappers, prototyping is a logical sequence – “a vehicle for creative confrontations between theory and reality, overlapping perspectives, goal and emerging directions, and people”. “Prototyping in Practice for Research and Beyond” was the title of the keynote presentation by Kathryn Marinaro, Creative Director of Argodesign and the author of the book Prototyping for Designers (published by O’Reilly, 2017). Marinaro illustrated the use of prototypes beyond usability testing. She shared her experience creating and utilizing prototypes in a real-world context, through her work at the digital product design agency, Argodesign. She suggested a spectrum of ways in which prototypes could serve in design practice and research, including prototype as tool, prototype as deliverable, prototype as mindset, and prototype as idea generation. Aldo Sollazzo, Founder and CEO of Noumena, delivered the last keynote of the conference entitled “Advanced Materials Promoting Sustainable Practices”. Through his examples of design projects worldwide, Sollazzo addressed a critical role of innovative materials in tackling climate change and in revolutionizing various industries. He demonstrated how advanced materials had offered a new concept of ecology that enabled sustainable solutions applicable to multiple sectors including construction, fashion, packaging, etc.
Figure 2. Three keynote speakers: Pieter Jan Stappers (top left); Kathryn Marinaro (right); Aldo Sollazzo (bottom left).
Figure 3. Prototypes on display at the conference.
The discussions among the conference delegates appeared fruitful and stimulating. Although EKSIG 2023 was the largest EKSIG conference since the inauguration of the conference series, the scale of the conference was still relatively small (70 participants). Being small in size, the conference participants were able to get to know one another and discuss their research rather informally. The key takeaway from these two days was probably about the profound potential effects and capabilities of prototyping and prototypes in the generation and transfer of experiential knowledge that could contribute to tackling various emerging global issues addressed through the conduct of design research.
The post-conference publication will be published as a special issue of Journal of Design Research (JDR) in 2024.
Figure 4. A group photograph of conference delegates after lunch on Day 2.
Nithikul Nimkulrat, EKSIG 2023 Conference Organiser and EKSIG Convenor; Associate Professor, Faculty of Design, OCAD University, Canada
Photographs by Matteo Bergamini, LAB | Immagine, Department of Design, Politecnico di Milano