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The Future of Design Studies Journal

The Future of Design Studies Journal

The Future of Design Studies Journal

The Executive Board of the DRS condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the recent treatment by Elsevier of the Editor-in-Chief and other Editors of Design Studies, the academic journal of the Design Research Society.

Some of you may be aware of the current situation affecting Design Studies, which is formally published 'in co-operation' with Elsevier Science. Over 44 years Design Studies has grown to become the leading journal for design research. For much of this time Nigel Cross was Editor-in-Chief. For the last 6 years, Peter Lloyd has been Editor-in-Chief. During this period, the impact factor has grown steadily to 3.85, something that Elsevier have been extremely proud of. However, the reputation, and even the very future of our interdisciplinary journal is now under serious threat.

At the end of last year, Elsevier appointed a new publishing executive, Dr Lily Khidr, to manage the journal alongside the Editor-in-Chief. For many years this relationship between Editor-in-Chief and Publisher has been quite amicable. In February this year, Professor Lloyd received an email from Dr Khidr stating that: "the journal is not growing, financially or editorially and that is usually a recipe for closure." In common with other leading journals in the design research discipline, Design Studies publishes around 35 papers per year. In the same email, Dr Khidr stated that: "the goal is 250 papers published in 2023". This is a sevenfold increase in the number of publications and would represent an acceptance rate of 40% and subsequently a huge drop in quality. Whilst Professor Lloyd had long been in discussion with Elsevier about growing the journal, in his, and the other Editor's, opinion this was simply not feasible or desirable. These concerns were voiced in a meeting between the Editorial team and Dr Khidr at the beginning of May.

On 2nd June the Editorial Team received an email from Dr Khidr stating that a new Editor-in-Chief had been appointed (on 1st June) "with immediate effect". This decision, coming out of the blue, was made without any consultation with the existing Journal Editors, the Editorial Board, or the Executive Board of the Design Research Society. The person selected, Cara Wrigley, has never had a paper published in the journal and is not a member of the DRS (as all previous Editors-in-Chief have been).

While Elsevier claim that they consulted with the "wider community" in making this decision, it is far from clear who this wider community is. Elsevier also claim that the process of selection: "nomination, approach, interview, and appointment" is their "usual recruitment process”, though do not give any further details. To those who work in Universities this process of appointment would be unacceptable. Elsevier also state that:

"there is no obligation or expectation that an Editor would be a member of the DRS. Elsevier publishes many journals 'in cooperation' with different societies and these aim to bring reciprocal benefits; however this does not give those organisations a role in the appointment of journal editors.” 

This a very odd definition of co-operation, in our view. Elsevier has never paid royalties to the DRS, and although members are entitled to receive a discount subscription to the journal, the "reciprocal benefits" weigh heavily in Elsevier's favour.

The reputation of Design Studies has been built by the dedicated work, over many many years, of all the journal's editors, reviewers, and of course the authors. Without all this academic work, the publisher would not have had such a successful journal to play around with. If the publishers current policy is pursued as aggressively as we have seen it to be, it is unlikely that serious design researchers will continue to want to submit papers to the journal, to engage in the work of reviewing and editing, and to encourage their younger colleagues to submit papers. This will lead to the journal's demise as a significant resource in our field. That would be a tragic loss, not just for the DRS, but for the whole of design research.

The positions of all the current Editorial team are now quite uncertain, given the way the publisher is proceeding. It seems unlikely that their appointments will be continued beyond the end of this year, even if they do not resign before then. They are of course outraged, angered and distressed at what has happened.

This kind of policy by Elsevier is not just aimed at Design Studies. Elsevier is already subject to various academic boycotts and editor walkouts around the world. For example, see this story concerning Neuroimage, the leading journal for brain-imaging research:

The current Editors and Editorial Board of Design Studies and the Executive Board of the Design Research Society are currently assessing how they can respond to Elsevier’s action. Many of the Associate Editors (who with the Editor-in-Chief handle the reviewing processes) and the Editorial Board (who carry out a lot of the reviewing, along with many dozens of other volunteers annually) are likely to resign.

Further updates on this situation will appear soon.