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DRSelects: Stella Boess

DRSelects: Stella Boess

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. First up, we have Stella Boess, Assistant Professor at Delft University of Technology and DRS International Advisory Council member

To kick off this new series in which DRS International Advisory Council and Executive Board members explore the DRS Digital Library (DL), I’m happy to dive right in. I take it as an opportunity to seek out some papers that interest me in looking back and forward. In browsing the DL, it inspires me to understand better the positioning in design research of my own research questions, which revolve around the relationship between design and use, inclusivity and emerging technologies.

The DRS Digital Library, launched in 2020, mainly through the dedicated efforts of Darren Umney and Peter Lloyd, has some excellent functionalities to find, download and reference DRS proceedings and other design research sources over the years. Research papers are directly downloadable and citable, evidencing a commitment to open science. 

By digitalising DRS conference proceedings and related documents dating back to 1971, The Digital Library makes available an important part of the history of the relatively young discipline of design research – right back to the first DRS conference proceedings. From those initial conceptual and methodical origins that engaged broadly with the relevance of design, the design research field went on for some time to engage much more with the industrial context of design - how to understand and improve it, and how to understand product user needs. An example might be Chamorro-Koc, Popovicand Emmison (2004) who sought to describe the context of use and user's experience through an exploratory study in the product design domain. While the scope widened again, valuable efforts still continue to define and improve the relationship between design and use, for example in studies of how the user is represented in the practice of architects (Van der Linden, Dong, and Heylighen, 2016). Acharya and Wu (2020)’s paper, in contrast, is a highly evocative and personal example of a completely different approach to design research. Perhaps it is just as important an approach: using design itself as a catalyst to reveal circumstances and dynamics in society.

The DRS Digital Library also reflects the DRS conference series’ ambition to champion both quality and inclusiveness. Quality is sought by striving to conduct in-depth as well as fair review procedures. Inclusiveness is sought by embracing the breadth of topics and approaches of interest to design researchers. This has not always gone smoothly, as Leitão and Noel (2020) explain in their editorial of the new Pivot conference series:

“Usually, designs and designers from colonized countries, marginalized and indigenous communities and minorities (the so-called Global South) are judged as “less good” than their counterparts from the GlobalNorth —probably because they are not completely aligned with the “grammar” and values of the Western template. We started in this line of work at the DRS2018 conference, when we chaired (with Dr. Aija Freimane) the track “Not just from the Centre: Multiple voices in Design”.”

I followed the sessions in this track at DRS2018, along with many others, and learned new perspectives. I look forward to seeing future work in the DL that explores these avenues further. Turtle (2022) highlights a related key challenge for the future, which is to investigate “the increasing complexity and dynamism of (socio)technical systems that actively learn”, through AI. Turtle proposes “queering as a strategy that may help subvert existing sociotechnical systems and codings of hegemonic worldviews”. I look forward to seeing – and hopefully, participating in - future design research that develops strategies such as these. 

Happy to hand over the baton now to the next IAC member, and curious to hear of their research interests!

Stella Boess is Assistant Professor at Delft University of Technology interested in inclusion in relation to designed systems in the areas of sustainability, mobility, health. She is a DRS International Advisory Council member and was one of the three chairs of the DRS2020 conference, chairing the paper review procedure. She regularly chooses DRS conferences as the forum to publish – for example her and a colleague’s recent paper “Values arising from participatory inclusive design in a complex process”. (Jansen and Boess, 2022). 


Acharya, K., and Wu, Y. (2020) “Where is your other half?”: A Wedding shaped by the Profile, Politics and Potential of the Indo-China Border, in Boess, S., Cheung, M. and Cain, R. (eds.), Synergy - DRS International Conference 2020, 11-14 August, Held online.

Boess, S., and Jansen, F. (2022) Values arising from participatory inclusive design in a complex process, in Lockton, D., Lenzi, S., Hekkert, P., Oak, A., Sádaba, J., Lloyd, P. (eds.), DRS2022: Bilbao, 25 June - 3 July, Bilbao, Spain.

Chamorro-Koc, M., Popovic, V., and Emmison, M. (2004) Context of Use and User's Experience: An Exploratory Study in the Product Design Domain., in Redmond, J., Durling, D. and de Bono, A (eds.), Futureground - DRS International Conference 2004, 17-21 November, Melbourne, Australia.

Leitão, R.,and Noel, L.(2020) Pivot 2020: Editorial, in Leitão, R., Noel, L. and Murphy, L. (eds.), Pivot 2020: Designing a World of Many Centers - DRS Pluriversal Design SIG Conference, 4 June, held online.

Turtle, G.L. (2022) Mutant in the mirror: Queer becomings with AI, in Lockton, D., Lenzi, S., Hekkert, P., Oak, A., Sádaba, J., Lloyd, P. (eds.), DRS2022: Bilbao, 25 June - 3 July, Bilbao, Spain.

Van der Linden, V., Dong, H., and Heylighen, A. (2016) Capturing architects’ designerly ways of knowing about users: Exploring an ethnographic research approach, in Lloyd, P. and Bohemia, E. (eds.), Future Focused Thinking - DRS International Conference 2016, 27 - 30 June, Brighton, United Kingdom.

 January 12, 2023