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DRSelects: Alejandra Poblete Pérez on Early DRS Conference Proceedings

DRSelects: Alejandra Poblete Pérez on Early DRS Conference Proceedings

To share research interests, put faces to names within the DRS governance and highlight contents of the Digital Library, the Design Research Society is launching a new series called ‘DRSelects’. As part of this series, DRS International Advisory Council or Executive Board member will share a selection of pieces from the Digital Library that relate to any subject of their choosing. Through their exploration, they will share a few words about the works they’ve chosen and how it relates to their research and broader DRS initiatives. In this edition, we have reflections from International Advisory Council Member Alejandra Poblete Pérez.

Introducing myself and my “arriving” to the DRS

I am a graphic designer, with almost forty years of professional practice and undergraduate design teaching, as well as a researcher for twenty years, starting within the PhD Programme at the University of Barcelona.  

This research path drove me to the DRS in the first decade of this century, when I realised that the DRS is the oldest multidisciplinary academic society of design research (since 1966), promoting design theories, methods and practices and, understanding research and its relationship to education and practice.

In these six decades, the DRS has embraced the theoretical concerns of the discipline, providing a space for the dissemination of research work, methodological proposals and reflections, case studies, etc. That’s why the research results from DRS Conference proceedings are the subject of my own studies, as the conferences bring together the theoretical effort of design.

My connections with the DRS Digital Library

In a way, what I am about to relate could be considered a prequel to the DRS Digital Library. 

In 2015 I applied for a DRS research grant offered as part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the DRS. Three researchers received the grant that year, with the commitment to present our research results at the special anniversary session in DRS2016 Brighton Conference: 

Søren Rosenbak, from Umeå Institute of Design, Sweden, presented his work “Fifty Years of Failures”, reflecting on design as a process of learning from failure. 

Darren Umney, from The Open University, UK, presented his study of the networks of design research in a reconstructed review of themes and actors in the DRS papers. 

My presentation was "DRS Conferences: a barometer and a mirror of theoretical reflection of design discipline - a review and a discussion", examining the theoretical development of design research, through the papers published over 50 years.

That was completely in line with Darren’s work, giving us the opportunity to dialogue and collaborate with each other, so I shared with him all the material I had been digitising from the early pre-DRS conferences (1962, 1965, 1967), the printed proceedings of the DRS (1971, 1976, 1980) and partial (or pre-print) material collected from various sources (1973, 1978 and 1984). 

That was the beginning of the Digital Library, driven by Darren Umney, backed at that time by Peter Lloyd, and continued by DRS in a systematic way, committed to open knowledge.

My selected readings

I recommend the reading, and “re-reading”, of those early DRS proceedings, where key methodological concepts emerged, reflecting the concerns of society at that time, anticipating problems or phenomena that we still experience today, as a society and as designers.

Examples of that are concepts such as "participatory design" (DRS 1971), dealing with user participation in decision-making, also addressing disability, and therefore, inclusion. 

The 1973 DRS conference, “Design Activity”, gathered research papers from fifteen countries, addressing topics within design activity, such as the nature of design decision-making, the process and the objectives of design, "the who, the why, the how", in Tom Maver's words.

The DRS 1976 conference, "Changing Design”, addressed the changing role of design in society, taking into account the changes that society was experiencing at the time. Thus, this notion of change opened up new thinking on issues such as design education, technology assessment, and the human context of designing.

DRS1980 "Design: Science: Method" proposed a deeper epistemological reflection, perhaps as a kind of reaction, or rejection, of previous methodological approaches, where this new emphasis lies on design research and “designerly inquiry”, in Archer’s words.

It is also essential to mention the 1978 Conference –led by Professor Nigan Bayazit (RIP) and Mine Inceoglu– which for the first time was held outside of Europe (in Istanbul), opening a space for another kind of reflection.

Although in the Digital Library, only the index of topics and titles of research articles of DRS 1978 is available, it is inspiring to see the topics addressed, such as “Human consequences of design”, “Psychological determinants in the design process”, or the very recent concept at that time, “Design Thinking and methods”.  

Finally, my synthetic view is that the open access that the Digital Library is offering to researchers, teachers, and students –belonging or not to design discipline– constitutes an opportunity to have enough perspective –and context– in understanding the development of design research.

Bayazit, N., and Inceoglu, M. (eds.) (1978) Proceedings of the Design Research Society International Conference, 1978: Architectural Design, Istanbul, Design Research Society.

Cross, N. (eds.) (1972) Proceedings of the Design Research Society International Conference, 1971: Design Participation, London, Design Research Society.

Design Research Society. (eds.) (1973) The Design Activity International Conference, 1973, London, Design Research Society.

Evans, B., Powell, J., and Talbot, R. (eds.) (1982) Proceedings of the Design Research Society International Conference, 1976: Changing Design, Chichester, John Wiley.

Jacques, R., and Powell, J. (eds.) (1981) Proceedings of the Design Research Society International Conference, 1980: Design: Science: Method, Guildford, IPC Business Press Limited.


 April 19, 2023