Scope and Concerns
The Design Conference and the International Journal on Design Principles and Practices are sites of discussion which explore the meaning and purpose of 'design', as well as speaking in grounded ways about the task of design and the use of designed artefacts and processes. The Conference and the Journal are cross-disciplinary forums which bring together researchers, teachers and practitioners to discuss the nature and future of design. The resulting conversations weave between the theoretical and the empirical, research and application, market pragmatics and social idealism.
In professional and disciplinary terms, the Conference and Journal traverse a broad sweep to construct a transdisciplinary dialogue which encompasses the perspectives and practices of: anthropology, architecture, art, artificial intelligence, business, cognitive science, communication studies, computer science, cultural studies, design studies, education, e-learning, engineering, ergonomics, fashion, graphic design, history, information systems, industrial design, industrial engineering, instructional design, interior design, interaction design, interface design, journalism, landscape architecture, law, linguistics and semiotics, management, media and entertainment, psychology, sociology, software engineering, technical communication, telecommunications, urban planning and visual design.
The business of design is in a state of flux. The roles, the tasks and the personae of designers are changing.
No longer the technical expert, the heroic aesthete or the inspired individual of our earlier modern past, the contemporary designer has to draw upon dispersed sources of creativity and innovation. Collaboration, today, is key. The paradox of increasing specialisation is the need for a more broad-ranging and holistic integration of design tasks, working between and across design disciplines. Design is becoming an ever-more social, indeed sociable, process.
The imperative to collaborate, moreover, extends well beyond the domain of professional interaction and working in design teams. It also extends to the relationship with the users, clients and consumers of design. Designers today need to build deeply collaborative relationships with design's 'public'. Participatory design and user-centred design are just two key phrases that describe this imperative.
Broadly speaking, the balance of agency is shifting from the knowing designer who creates what is good for grateful consumers, to a dialogue which involves more careful and systematic processes of user consultation, research, co-design, testing, evaluation and continuous redesign. The emerging design democracy turns the designer into conversationalist, facilitator, mentor and pedagogue—destabilising the legacy self-understanding of the designer as artist, technocrat and expert. The new politics of design plays through tensions between historical roles and contemporary expectations. Along the way, what's lost and what's gained? What's inherently difficult, and what's intrinsically liberating?
As soon as the balance of agency shifts, a polymorphous, polyvalent social world presents itself. 'Any colour you like, as long is it's black', said the heroic Henry Ford, who conveniently assumed that every consumer in his mass market had identical needs and interests. But as soon as you start talking niche markets, useability and customisation, you discover diversity in an ever more dazzling range of hues and shades—local and global, of different abilities and disabilities, of ages and genders and affinities. The paradox of today's design democracy is that designing for everybody means designing for many different interests and uses.
Then there are new forms of social insistence: that designers work to objectives of sustainability, access, safety and the social good. These are the stuff of regulation and compliance. Or, if you will internalise these insistences, they are the stuff of professional ethics.
These are some of the things that are, quite simply, changing the job of being an architect, urban planner, industrial designer, engineer, visual designer, web designer, knowledge manager, communications or media designer, fashion designer, researcher or educator.
Design's modalities are also in a state of flux, its working tools of representation, communication, visualisation and imagination.
Digitisation of text, sound, and still and moving image is one important site of transition. This has spawned new practices of modelling and simulation, of prefiguring the real in the virtual. It has also created the virtual as a design end-in-itself.
The result is a new multimodality and synaesthesia, or the imperative to cross between modes. Designers need to able to 'do' professional design discourse, as they speak and write their way through complex collaborations with co-designers. They need to be able to 'do' visualisation as they image design alternatives and picture them into reality. They need to be able to represent spatial realities, prefiguring the three dimensional through the two dimensional and turning plans into tactile artefacts, manipulable objects, architectural spaces and navigable landscapes. Today's media inventions have become the mothers of design necessity.
Nor is this innovation simply for innovation's sake. It is also for the most practical of reasons: the increasing need to document for the purposes of planning and project management, regulation and compliance, risk assessment and risk management, and project specification and contractual clarity.
So, what is this thing design? What is the design of something? And what does it mean to 'do' design. The word 'design' has this fortuitous double meaning, simultaneously describing intrinsic structure or morphology, and an act of construction.
Design is inherent, whether its sources are organic, unconscious, common sense or the professional work of a 'designer'. Design in this sense is structure, form and function.
Design is also an act, a process of transformation. The narrative of design runs like this: take the available designs in the world (inherent to found objects, architectures, landscapes, processes, human relationships, cultures). Then engage in the act of designing, or rework and revoice these designs. This is never just a business of reproduction and replication. It always involves an injection of the designer's social interests and cultural experiences—their subjectivity and identity, no less. The residue, as the narrative draws to a momentary close, is the world transformed, no matter in how small a way. But the world is never quite the same again, and the redesigned is returned to the world, becoming traces of transformation that join the repertoire of available designs—new openings to new design narratives.
Such a view contrasts with older understandings of design in which designers as much as the users of their designs were passive recipients or at best agents in the reproduction of received, sanctioned and authoritative design forms. This may have been appropriate for a world that set store on stability and uniformity.
But today's world is a place of change and diversity. Designing, in a dynamic, transformative sense, can be enabling, even emancipatory. It is a process of changing the world.
In this spirit, the Design Conference and the International Journal of Design Principles and Practices will range from theoretical reflection on the nature of design to case studies of design practice and from research-based perspectives to the experience-based perspectives of design insiders.