DESIGN RESEARCH FAILURES

Keywords: the role of failure, re-imagining design research, future of design

 

Design Research Failures (DRF) is a project that poses one single question:

In what way has design research failed in the last 50 years?

The project, launching in 2016 and still ongoing, emerged from the schism I experienced between the way in which failure is celebrated in design practice and education, and how little failure is articulated and valued in design research.

Further, it was sparked by the 50th Anniversary of the Design Research Society (DRS), and their anniversary call for projects that “furthers our understanding of the origins of design research as well as the role and contribution the DRS has played in its development”.

Since its successful launch at the DRS 2016 anniversary conference, DRF grew into a broader discourse, including a web platform and a series of engagements (workshops, exhibitions, presentations) within different communities in design, set in Brighton, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Oslo and Nantes.

Deliberately refusing the success-based approach, where a past narrative of success is linearly extended into the future, DRF instead explicitly seeks to nurture an open-ended conversation around the failures of design research, including a diverse set of voices. While the project does not provide a conclusive end point (“THIS is how design research failed in the last 50 years”), it does present an incomplete, growing open data set, from which design research can be re-imagined and practiced differently.

Check the DRF web platform here

Close up of the DRF interactive exhibit at DRS2016 (c)  Pete J Jones .

Close up of the DRF interactive exhibit at DRS2016 (c) Pete J Jones.

A DRS2016 conference participant documenting one of the responses submitted at the DRF exhibit. The analog exhibit itself was constantly morphing as participants wrote out new responses. Alongside this,  a dedicated Twitter channel  were sharing the responses. After the conference, all responses were shared on the  web platform .

A DRS2016 conference participant documenting one of the responses submitted at the DRF exhibit. The analog exhibit itself was constantly morphing as participants wrote out new responses. Alongside this, a dedicated Twitter channel were sharing the responses. After the conference, all responses were shared on the web platform.

Documentation of the DRF workshop, Your Design Research Failures: An Hour of Catharsis, held as part of  the 3rd PhD by Design Conference on April 3, 2017  in  Sheffield School of Architecture .  PhD by Design  is a forum for vocalising, discussing and working through many of the topical issues of conducting a practice-based PhD in design. In this sense, the workshop was an opportunity to collectively address the schism between the role ascribed to failure in design practice and education on one hand, and design research on the other. As the theme of the conference was ‘the role of self in practice-based research’ the workshop set out to create a conversation where participants could openly relate their own research failures to the ones ascribed to the field as such.

Documentation of the DRF workshop, Your Design Research Failures: An Hour of Catharsis, held as part of the 3rd PhD by Design Conference on April 3, 2017 in Sheffield School of Architecture. PhD by Design is a forum for vocalising, discussing and working through many of the topical issues of conducting a practice-based PhD in design. In this sense, the workshop was an opportunity to collectively address the schism between the role ascribed to failure in design practice and education on one hand, and design research on the other. As the theme of the conference was ‘the role of self in practice-based research’ the workshop set out to create a conversation where participants could openly relate their own research failures to the ones ascribed to the field as such.

Research Through Design  is an emerging, experimental conference  “that supports the dissemination of practice-based design research” . For  the 2017 edition , in addition to an interactive exhibit where participants could submit new failures, DRF took on a parasitic unconference-like presence. The main element was a series of displays that juxtaposed pairs of failures that seemed to somewhat contradict one another, with the hope that this would spark discussion. Above an example, screened just before a keynote presentation.

Research Through Design is an emerging, experimental conference “that supports the dissemination of practice-based design research”. For the 2017 edition, in addition to an interactive exhibit where participants could submit new failures, DRF took on a parasitic unconference-like presence. The main element was a series of displays that juxtaposed pairs of failures that seemed to somewhat contradict one another, with the hope that this would spark discussion. Above an example, screened just before a keynote presentation.

Above: A selection of DRF responses. Graphic design of all the responses by Marije de Haas, Søren Rosenbak, and contributors.

On November 23, 2017, through the work of  Bastien Kerspern  and Gaël Guilloux, the first spin-off satellite DRF event was held as part of the Public Innovation Week (La Semaine de l’Innovation Publique) in Nantes, as a way to engage local stakeholders in reflecting on the way in which the approach of designing policies and public action had failed. The question put forward was:   To what extent, according to you, has the approach of designing policies and public action failed? (translated from French).   Above, documentation from the event by  Sylvia Fredriksson . It is very exciting to see DRF move beyond the English language, and venture into new design contexts, with others at the helm.

On November 23, 2017, through the work of Bastien Kerspern and Gaël Guilloux, the first spin-off satellite DRF event was held as part of the Public Innovation Week (La Semaine de l’Innovation Publique) in Nantes, as a way to engage local stakeholders in reflecting on the way in which the approach of designing policies and public action had failed. The question put forward was:

To what extent, according to you, has the approach of designing policies and public action failed? (translated from French).

Above, documentation from the event by Sylvia Fredriksson. It is very exciting to see DRF move beyond the English language, and venture into new design contexts, with others at the helm.

THANKS to (in reverse chronological order) Bastien Kerspern and Gaël Guilloux (La Semaine de l’Innovation Publique), Maria Portugal (with the PhD by Design team) & the Sheffield organising team (PhD by Design 2017); Giovanni Marmont, Marije de Haas, Chris Speed, Jane MacDonald, and the rest of the organising team (RTD2017); Marije de Haas, Giovanni Marmont, Ilteris Ilbasan, Tom Meades and his friend Jack, Peter Lloyd and the organising team (DRS2016), and Marije de Haas for graphic design assistance throughout. Thanks to Kempe Foundations for financial support of the initial launch, and the Design Research Society (DRS) for their continued support of the project. And most of all a big thanks to everyone who have offered reflective, mind-provoking, cathartic, caring and hilarious responses to the question put forth. DRF is a project carried out as part of my doctoral research at Umeå Institute of Design, and is discussed further in my thesis (available here).