Is 'Design so White' in Emerging Critical Design Studies? see more
Reflection on Keynote Debate 3: Whose Design?
As a follow-up to DRS2018, we invited select conference participants to reflect on the Keynote Debates and related conversations that took place during the conference. The article that follows responds to debate 3 - "Whose Design?: Sharing Counter Perspectives on Dominant Design Gazes." It was prepared by Renata M. Leitão (OCAD University) and Lesley-Ann Noel (Stanford University), track chairs of "Not Just from the Centre - Multiple Voices in Design" at DRS2018.
Whose Design? Is 'Design so White' in Emerging Critical Design Studies?
Renata M. Leitão (OCAD University) & Lesley-Ann Noel (Stanford University)
Throughout the DRS2018 keynote debates, a huge screen behind the speakers and the moderator showed questions asked by the audience, allowing for a certain participation in the debate. And still, the most asked question was not addressed for two days: “why is design so white?” As co-chairs of the track "Not Just from the Centre — Multiple Voices in Design," this question is central to our work. Not that we believe that design is itself white – as the practice of world-making, it is ubiquitous and widespread –, but mainstream narratives of what constitute “good and valid” design excludes non-Eurocentric perspectives.
Even if that hot question was not addressed for two days, we could see a clear change in the demographics and interests of DRS delegates, compared to previous conferences. The rooms of critical tracks – such as "Designing for Transitions" and "Design, Research and Feminism(s)" – were completely crowded, contrasting with the empty rooms of a few more mainstream tracks. Critical conversations ranged from "A Feminine Approach to Design" to "Indigeneity and Mestizaje in Latin America." Around us, many discussions between delegates involved encouraging the participation of designers from the global South in DRS conferences. Indeed, we both played a part in the process of encouraging more designers of color to participate when we proposed our track.
The question “why is design so white?” was addressed in the third Keynote Debate “Whose Design?: Sharing Counter Perspectives on Dominant Design Gazes” by Andrea Botero (moderator), Sadie Red Wing and Arturo Escobar. Dr Botero asked an important question: "for who is design so white?" Because from her perspective as a Latin American scholar who collaborates with other critical design scholars, design does not seem that white. Inspiring presentations from Indigenous designer Sadie Red Wing and from Prof. Arturo Escobar unveiled counter perspectives. Escobar argued that a field of transnational critical design studies is currently emerging. After three days of encouraging conversations about countering Anglo/Eurocentrism and oppressive perspectives in design among DRS delegates, we have to agree with Escobar.
But still, developing transnational critical studies in design has some challenges. It is noticeable that the question “why is design so white?” was only addressed in the keynote debate between two Colombian academics and an Indigenous academic. The participants of the first two Keynote Debates where not able to address the most asked question. Are only non-Anglo/Eurocentric designers capable or expected to address this kind of question? We hope not, as this question is relevant for the role of design in building and transforming our world and its social structures. Could white design scholars unlearn design Eurocentrism? Could North American and European designers learn from different perspectives and be able to constructively participate in the transformation of design research and practice? We have to believe the answer is a “yes.” And the promising conversations among DRS delegates need to be transformed into actions and new structures that allow for the unlearning of Eurocentrism in design.
Escobar has asked how we can develop non-Eurocentric design work (Escobar, 2018). Design conferences are not known for being diverse spaces. It is not unusual to go to a design conference and count the people of color on one hand. Therefore, one of the first steps to answering this question would be to ensure that these spaces are more diverse. This DRS conference was inspiring because it was evidently more diverse and conversations about diversity were loud. The organisers even managed to facilitate distance participation of several presenters including Adolphe Yemtim from Burkina Faso and Octaviyanti Wahyurini from Indonesia. If we want to talk about diversity, multiple voices in design and constructing a non-European design imagination, we have to address the systemic challenges and barriers that make participation of designers from outside ‘The Centre’ so difficult. Both Yemtim and Wahyurini, among other presenters, faced visa challenges. Another participant withdrew his paper when he considered the cost of participation compared to his cost of living. The hegemony of the English language in design research also creates another barrier to participation. The conversations and participation at the DRS2018 were inspiring, but the challenges faced also remind us that so much more needs to be done.
Escobar, A. (2018). Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical interdependence, autonomy, and the making of worlds. Durham: Duke University Press.
Optimistic design power in Japan see more
Reflection on Keynote Debate 2: Social & Public
As a follow-up to DRS2018, we invited select conference participants to reflect on the Keynote Debates and related conversations during the conference. The article that follows responds to debate 2 - "Social & Public: Exploring changing contexts of design research and practice through the intersections between design for policy and social design." It was written by Shion Asada, PhD Student at RCA - IIS Tokyo Design Lab, University of Tokyo & Director/Design Researcher at Mimicry Design Inc. in Tokyo.
Optimistic Design Power in Japan
Shion Asada, University of Tokyo
It’s clear from this Keynote Debate that many European countries employ design teams within government. There was a deep discussion about the role of design in, with and for government throughout the talk. This significant role and influence of design were surprising to me as a Japanese researcher, since it hasn’t typically been seen in my government. However, the Japan Patent Office, within the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), recently released a Design-Driven Management manifesto. This hints at a significant turning point for the role of design in Japan!
This manifesto was originally developed by a study group consisting of government officials and design leaders like Kinya Tagawa from Takram, Chiaki Hayashi from Loftwork and Yutaka Hasegawa from Sony. They engaged in deep discussions about design and ultimately proposed that design should play a bigger role in business and governance, taking power from the management sector. They set policy recommendations to promote this design-driven management and held a bold trial of the policy within the Patent Office itself. This involved appointing a Creative Design Officer and design management project team to analyse and reimagine services from a user’s perspective. The team launched their first beta-version services this September, after only a month. This is an unbelievably fast move, especially considering it happened within the Japanese government!
This manifesto and its quick adoption are like a flower that started to grow and then spread at incredible speed. Passionate young design leaders cultivated the groundwork for these results over many years, and helped open the way for followers in design and business fields. Just this month, Mr.Tagawa from Takram and Ms.Munakata from the Patent Office participated in a talk about the manifesto. Although I was unable to attend, I could sense extraordinary enthusiasm in the potential of design by following the event on Twitter and blogs. To quote Dr. Andrea Siodmok from the Keynote Debate, this recent event was filled with “optimistic design power.”
This initiative is very promising. Japan has many issues to be addressed like an aging society, the dangers of earthquakes and industry structure. I believe design within government will encourage the spread of optimistic and positive design thinking in response to these problems.
DRS 2018 was my first international design conference, as I just started my PhD this year. I was struck by the positive atmosphere and open-minded conference attendees working from many different perspectives. That said, there weren’t many Japanese participants, which makes me feel that we Japanese missed an amazing opportunity. I encourage other Japanese researchers to join the DRS community and potentially gain inspiration to further increase “optimistic design power” in Japan.
The Impact of Design Research on Organizational Culture Change in Industry: Lessons from DRS2018 see more
Reflection on Keynote Debate 1: Design Research and Industry Impacts
As a follow-up to DRS2018, we invited conference participants to reflect on the keynote debates and related conversations that took place during the conference. The article that follows responds to debate 1 - "Design Research and Industry Impacts: Exploring the changing nature of design research and practice within academia and industry." It was prepared by Chris Hammond (IBM Design) & Joyce Yee (Northumbria University), track chairs of "How Organisations Employ Design as a Vehicle for Change" at DRS2018.
The Impact of Design Research on Organizational Culture Change in Industry: Lessons from DRS2018
Chris Hammond (IBM Design) & Joyce Yee (Northumbria University)
On opening day of DRS2018, we heard that design is a key component of Ireland’s innovation agenda and that 20% of Ireland’s exports are design-driven. In the opening keynote debate exploring the changing nature of design research and its practice within academia and industry, Professor Paul Rodgers stated that designers are "facilitators of change." Lorna Ross added, "design is like science, it is a tool for understanding as well as for acting." In the two sessions of our curated track "How organisations employ design for change," we heard no shortage of case studies documenting the adoption of design to create increased value and differentiation. These studies featured a range of organisations: from large, multi-national companies to small businesses.
It is evident that design brings value to organizations. The notion of changing culture through design is widespread but not well understood. Research typically focuses on methods to create better goods and services, but little exists on how organizational culture has evolved and what tactics were used to create new realities for employees. We observed this gap in our own track; few papers directly presented concrete evidence to the theme of long-term sustainable organisational change. Additionally, the majority of papers were overwhelmingly from academic researchers, not practitioners in the field. There seems to be significant interest on this topic, but the lack of practitioner papers and attendees suggest limited design research impact on industry.
The lack of academic research impact on industry practice isn’t a new problem and is not limited to design research. This gap reflects the realities of the different practices and cultures - not a lack of trying. Many academic papers are made inaccessible through a pay wall subscription format. But, impact on practice is an increasingly important issue. We need critical and long-term study in this field of growing importance for design. It would also help inform the research impact agenda in the UK and elsewhere. So, how do we encourage more interactions and engagement between design researchers and practitioners? How do we ensure we focus on evidencing long-term sustainable change while also responding to the changing needs of industry?
In industry, design research involves making as a key research approach. We advance our understanding by not only tracking and understanding an ongoing phenomenon, but in participating in it - by prototyping and creating new future experiences and evaluating their impact. Investigation, understanding and framing are all important moments in design, but it is not until we make new experiences that we can begin to measure and assess the improved future state. This focus on action can create more meaningful interactions between academic researchers and practitioners.
How might we plan experiments to inform knowledge on the topic? Where can we study long-term change over time? What other formats might bring about more meaningful interactions? Would organisations host a ‘researcher-in-residence’? Could the DRS as a traditionally academic-focused society be opened up to design researchers practising in industry or act as the bridge? Do we need intermediary organisations like think tanks to ‘translate’ research with industry, similar to the policy sector?
Current forms of research dissemination don't have the desired impact on industry. What can we as a community do? With the current discourse on decolonising design and the re-evaluation of our existing frames of reference relating to design knowledge, it seems an opportune time to ask how we are using this knowledge to better inform practice. Effective organizational change requires a diversity of experiences and skills. As a community, what experiences need to be shared and how do we advance the research and the practical application? We’re ready to start. Help us to build a community of organisational change for academics and industry!