Postgraduate student comments

I asked recipients of DHS Conference Bursaries to provide some of their own comments on the conference.  Here are some extracts:

En un mundo en el que el diseño propicia el surgimiento de nuevas formas de comunidad y reescribe la historia de la vidadelhombre común, gana importancia el tema de la conformación de los nuevos escenarios ético políticos, la reciprocidad social, el ejerciciodeldiálogo y el fomento constante de juicios y opiniones. A través de las distintas ponencias quedó claro un interés por mostrar que el diseño es un escenario que permite explicar y comprender la manera en que el hombre se transforma en la medida en que transforma el escenario de su cotidianidad.  Esta misma idea puede identificarse en los congresos anteriores y de hecho constituye suhilo conductor. Otro punto importante a destacar es la participación de los distintos investigadores provenientes de diversos continentes y de países en vía de desarrollo cuyas experiencias sirven de base para consolidar un capítulo de la historiadeldiseño ligada a la supervivencia, la inventiva popular, los focos deresistenciay  las formas de producción vernáculas. Augusto Solorzano

What I found the most interesting, was exploring all the different approaches designers are adopting to engage in social and political issues. From the traditional dissent, activism and radicalism, to more recent approaches such as co-design, open source design, and collaborative platforms.  Joanna Choukeir

The presentations of Ken Garland, Laura Kurgan and Henk Oosterling encapsulated the role of designer as activist, practitioner and philosopher, giving rise to the questions:  what are the principles that my work is based on? what long term changes does my work seek to create? what is ‘aesthetics’ when applied to transformational design in public service organizations, such as schools?  These questions were discussed with my new acquaintances over a glass of Cava and these are the questions I bring back with me to England, along with the spirit of the city of Barcelona, that of a friendly realist.  Ksenija Kuzmina

Being 7 months pregnant somewhat limited my ability to fully engage with every aspect on the program for this year’s DHS society conference – and my swollen extremities rather diminished my enjoyment of the marvelous weather we had in beautiful Barcelona. Instead of one particular event or talk, the major highlight for me was the atmosphere of the conference. Attending the conference alone, I was made to feel welcome by the friendly and helpful organizing staff and I also felt supported and encouraged by more senior researchers.   Esther Rosser

In general the talks were all very well structured and comprehensible also when the topic was not close to my research focus. I particularly enjoyed the panel discussions. Surprisingly, people with very different backgrounds and point of view could have a linear dialogue, building on top of each other’s knowledge.  Giovanni Innella

In the last decades, the interest by researchers in participatory product design process has been present in academic debates, but it’s a new venue for communication design. I hope that this tendency will go on further and further. The case studies papers present are high level and as a stimulus for us, as young researchers and professionals, to go on with our research projects and to share the results with the community.  Silvia Schiaulini

I was interested in the conference particularly because it took as a subject design activism, and therefore the politics of design, which constitutes a large part of what I work on in my thesis. I was hoping that the conference would give me the opportunity to listen to recent research on the subject in design history, and help me recognise the trends so that I can position my work more correctly. I am content to say that it did.   Harun Kaygan

As a postgraduate student studying the gendered work experiences of industrial designers in a sociology department, the conference was a good chance for myself to disseminate some part of my work to an audience that consists of design scholars.  Pinar Kaygan

I was quite intrigued by the rather strong Eurocentric perspective reflected in presentations at the conference and realized that the only way to add texture and depth to this debate is to have more contributions from other cultural-philosophical frameworks. A simultaneous realisation was that design history research inIndiahas to be deepened and strengthened. One way to address both these dimensions this is to host the DHS conference in India in the near future. Suchitra Seth

An important role of design is now to internalise what is currently externalised in order to better reflect the essential conditions of connectedness … The Design History Society’s conference next year will be in Brighton on thetheme of sports in material culture. As a Londoner, few things could be asde-futuring as the Olympic Games. I hope the DHS continues to engage with the social implications of design. Jody Boehnert

…what I found particularly interesting was the Conference theme itself; to highlight and trigger the power of marginal, non-commercial, and often overlooked design actions and applications that have the potential to challenge the definitions of (and links between) ‘central’ and ‘peripheral’ loci, or areas of interest in design historiography. Besides the engaging talks, which have been an insightful gateway to the silent design histories of Cuban, Croatian, Polish, Portuguese, and South African contexts (amongst others) … Marina Emmanouil

There were interesting speeches about the boundaries of Design and his usage to face problems, but as far as I am concerned I missed more proposals about how to do it and which frameworks could be defined. On the other hand I have to point out that it was great to see how the mindset is changing, positioning the design practitioner in the background, going beyond Design Thinking and starting to talk about new approaches of behaviors and methods like Open Design.  Juan Gasca

..the specific subject of this year’s Conference was especially appealing to me, as my interests focus on the activist and dissident graphics, ways of resistance and the responsibility in design. It was also an opportunity for me to present the outcome of the research on the Solidarity graphics, which I had worked on before … I am especially happy to have attended the panel discussions which followed the strands. It was interesting to hear the different opinions which were all very thought-provoking.  Agata Szydłowska


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Designer as Citizen Participant, Catalytic Connector and Re-Coding Shaman!

Alastair Fuad-Luke, Professor Emerging Design Practices, Aalto University, Helsinki led an impromptu workshop. The participants of the workshop were Tim Putnam, Greg Votolato, Silvia Schiaulini, Claudia Garduño García, Patricio Davila, Henk Oosterling, Juan Uribe, Helen Chance, Agata Szydeowska, Agata Antonowicz-Tamm and Jan Hadlaw.

The session kicked off with a light-hearted notion that we had received many ‘design aperitifs’, were digesting and reflecting on the main (dis)course and were perhaps in need of ‘design digestifs’ to help the metabolism. This analogy served to stimulate a conversation about the idea of design shifting metabolisms by (re-?)animating and catalysing new forms of co-production (Figure 2). This finally raised the idea of the double gesture in design, a literal di-gesture of unmaking and remaking, of – in Deleuzean terms – re/deterritorilization or a Derridean design as a deconstructive gesture.

Figure 3

At this juncture some words were emerging which the group felt were unhelpful, or even hindered, the conversation. These were placed in a dustbin or trash can…words such as ‘design’, ‘university’, ‘fixing’, ‘sustainability’, ‘recycle’, ‘broken’ and ‘identity’ (Figure 3). Later the word identity was reclaimed from the bin and redefined in terms of consistency, coherency and continuity. And some wondered whether ‘activism’ was a word that pre-conditioned people’s perspectives and was therefore also a difficult word that hovered near the bin! Although it was recognised that design activism challenges and helps create new value systems.

Figure 4

A vibrant conversation followed about the role designers can and could take in shaping new ideas of ‘relatedness’ (‘connectedness’) by going across and through disciplines and perspectives (Figure 4)….by accepting diversity, multi-versity and trans-versity instead of uni-versity. The activity of design, involving ‘spectactors’ (where both spectators and actors work together as spectactors to achieve the outcome, after the Brazilian playwright and theatre director, Augustus Boal), would produce new consistency, cohesion and continuity of fresh relatedness, but it would always be dynamic.

Figure 5

A discussion ensued about how designers code and re-code information (Figure 5) which acts as a foil for continuously re-assessing our identity (and socio-cultural relations?). Code is fixed (the dominant paradigm?) then broken (de-coded) then re-assembled (re-coded) in a search for new meaning and identity. In short: di-gestion. In this sense the designer can act in a shamanistic way operating on the edge of known worlds (coding is understood or accepted) and unknown worlds (coding is different, perhaps ambiguous).

Figure 6

The session rounded off with each participant gifting their current state of synthesis achieved from the conference activities and papers (Figure 6.) Several thematic areas emerged:

Evolution – design and society are both evolving; the present and the past are weaving anew; there is a process of re-valuing and re-contextualising.

Ambivalence – about activism, activity, transferability between cultural contexts; comparative activism.

Personal qualities designers need as activists – look at each individual and listen to yourself; the importance of ‘being with’, ‘listening’ and ‘endurance’.

Positive change – where the ‘designed beauty’ represents ‘good’.

Text by Alastair Fuad-Luke

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Day 4: reflections, comments and more

Without a hint of jet-lag or hangover, delegates launched into the final day. In fact, it occurred to me that Barcelona has this strange effect — at least on me — which is, the less you sleep here the better you feel. It´s a bit like carnival when you get into that thing called, in the vernacular, ´mas´. This is where a euphoria is induced through a combination of being focused on one thing and very little sleep over several days.

Conference delegates were welcomed at the doors to FAD by an impromptu, unscripted appearance of the activists F*** For Forests.

F*** For Forests activists welcome delegates.

Jody Boenhert gives more explanation in her excellent blog on the conference.

Clive Dilnot and his Parsons posse took the stage for the first part. Billed as ´design as politics´, this colloquium used Tony Fry´s provocative text of the same name as springboard to discuss how designers, design educators and design historians might move up a gear in confronting climate change.

Cameron Tonkinwise gave us a useful and lucid background to Tony Fry, drawing attention to his contra-plurastic politics, practice and pedagogy. Politics, he argues, only deals with margins while design is everywhere else. Sustainment should be made sovereign. And in putting these last two together, Fry looks for a politics that lies outside politics.

Damien White then gave an extended and fascinating critique of Fry´s thinking. In particular, he drew attention to Fry´s lack of attention to the economies of sustainment. (Of course this neatly chimes with my own preoccupations, so forgive the bias here.) Furthermore, Damien posited that the discussion needs to link more obviously and stridently to related issues of gender, the home and labour.

Karen Pinkus argued that we are not apocalyptic enough in the face of what we are dealing with. There is an urgent temporality while at the same time, Fry´s notion of defuturing runs the risk of running to a kind of fossilized notion of sustainment.

So the discussion moves as much to how we might interpret and enact Fry´s work as the work itself. Clearly his work is of deep importance at this juncture and we need to be thinking about how to move design education on, to radicalize it, to risk it, even. And we should indulge ´sceptical gaeity´ or, as Gramsci put it, ´cynicism with optimism´.

Laura Kurgan gave us the final keynote. If Ken Garland had provided something of the historical and Huda Abifares the geographical, perhaps this pattern was repeated between Henk Oosterling´s keynote and Laura´s. The focus was on mapping and how the relationship between information control and spatial control might be opened up for critical inspection by creative practice. But it can also produce new data representations that have important effects and affects by which we interpret and act on the world.

After the profuse thanks in all directions, Paul Jobling introduced the DHS conference for 2012, to take place at the University of Brighton, second week of September again. The theme: Sport.

Drinks, canapés, more talk on the terrace, tours… the conference is still going on as I write.

Speakers: send in your papers. Delegates: think about how the material from the conference can get further diffusion.

Stay in touch and keep sharing your comments.

Beneath the cobble stones, the beach. And that´s where I´m headed for now.

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Day 3: reflections

I realised at some point today, probably after lunch, that the most important thing for a successful conference is conviviality, because that leads to sharing and that leads to delegates being prepared to give themselves over to that. But even before that, I´d say that an important component is good food … which leads to the conviviality. And I hope you´ll agree that we got that important component in place.

There are too many highlights of today to be able to give them justice. But what seemed to come through strongly was the positive result of mixing things up. So, for example, a session that included Palestinian (Zeina Maasri), Portugese (Maria Helena Ferreira Braga Barbosa, Anna Calvera, Vasco Alfonso da Silva Branco) and Cuban posters (Claudio Leonardo Sotolongo Menendez) produced a fantastic discussion on the flows of ideas and images between graphic designers in the 1960s and 70s.

The two panel discussions toward the end of the day are tribute to the stamina of delegates. Both the one on Legacies of Anti- and Radical Design and the one on Design Futures and Design Activism saw engaged, precise and energetic debate. My thanks to Alison Clarke and Paul Mickelthwaite for chairing these and the panel members on each.

Both these also suggested that we should be thinking about publishing outcomes beyond the conference. We invite speakers to submit papers that we shall put on the conference website as a record. But I think we can go further to edited books or special journal editions. Volunteer editors, please step forward….

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Day 2: reflections and comments

I only wish I could split myself into 6 and then I could write about all 6 strands. Otherwise, I can´t really do the conference in its entirety justice. I would be too partial, just filtering what I picked up. But maybe you can fill in your own ´highlights´ in the comments.

I was particularly pleased that Oriol Pibernat, Director of Barcelona´s art and design school Eina, was the first speaker of the Anti- and Radical Design strand. He gave a close and considered discussion of the famous crisis of the school in 1972. Therein, he showed, the school briefly ceased even to be a design school but was instead resolutely experimental and explorative. Oriol Ventura Roda followed with a discussion of Carles Riart´s work of the same period, showing how was at once trying to pursue industrial production but also alternative forms of consumption. Tania Costa Gomez then returned us to Eina, showing how artistic experiments there attempted to place art and design back in the realm of the everyday. I think there´s a great opportunity to pursue this period of design history. It offers a rich expression of some of the problematics of its time, both locally to Barcelona in Francoist Spain and also in what it can contribute to a more global understanding of radical design in the 1970s.

So that´s my plug for today. More Spanish design history now!

Fast forward to the end of the day (at least in terms of the core of the conference). No doubt as I write (midnight), many delegates are continuing the peripheral, but important activities that such a conference as this offer.

So we finished the day with Ken Garland and Huda Abifares in conversation.  Perhaps Ken represents historical experiences (in that he, in his own words, is an ‘old geezer’) and Huda represents geographical experiences (in that she works between European and Arabic typographic practices). Much of the discussion focused on the issue of the control of lack of control, the authorship, that graphic designers have and have had. As if to demonstrate this, both of them were open and generous in their conversational patina, stimulating useful and interesting interventions from the audience.

Slide from Huda Abifares' presentation

To put the beginning and end of, at least my day, together, it seems that a strong theme coming through has been that of design activism being involved in loosening up borders. Perhaps it is less obsessed with differentiation, with claiming territorial spaces for itself than other design practices. So there seems to be a quite interesting contrast between this looseness and the idea that it is and has been also geared to achieving particular political or other ends. Pragmaticism meets experiment.

I look forward to your disagreements.

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Day 1: comments and reflections

In case the tours, receptions, coffee breaks and other interstitial moments aren´t sufficient for the sharing of thoughts arising from the conference, you may like to leave these by making your comments on this blog.

So today got off to a flying start. After the formalities of welcoming delegates the floor was given to Henk Oosterling for his provocative and compelling keynote lecture. Entitled ´Designature´, his lecture took us from the early design activist-theorists (Morris, Van de Velde, Wagner) to contemporary thinking on relationality. He urged for radical medi@crity which I take to be an engagement within the interconnectedness of technology and culture rather than a flight from these. Designers are rooted in media and are also implicated into interspaces, he argued. So, if you can´t get out of it, get into it!

Ultimately, Henk argued, it is in public space that the design activist can work. But he presented an expanded notion of public space, arguing that — contrary to the notion of the privatisation of public space — private spaces are a lot more public than we at first imagine.

And then — in the generously provisioned welcome reception — Tim Putnam was toasted for his many years dedicated hard work as chair of the editorial board of the Journal of Design History. Thankyou Tim.

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Medellin on Friday

Jose  Bernardi´s paper, ´Re-imagining Medellin:  a narrative of communal hope strengthened by design´ (originally programmed for 1200 Thursday 8 Sept) has been moved to Friday 8 Sept., at 1000h, Room 2 (219), session: ´Re-imagining the City (4)´.

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