Insights from the Design Society Conference 2016 (May 16-19, Dubrovnik, Croatia)


Let’s look into the blind spot of a largely engineering-centered content for a selective feedback on the Conference. It is no secret that I am not a big promoter of rationalizing the design process… this was precisely the topic of the rhetoric debate opposing John Gero (UNC Charlotte, USA) and Iris Graessler (Universität Paderborn, Germany). Passionate and joyful pitches divided the audience, at the point that an ex-aequo was declared between pros and against using design methods to guide practices. For Graessler, if methods are useful for educative purpose, designers need to go further, turn off the autopilot and develop their own ! Only experience allows designers to pick, combine and adapt tools for the sake of each project.

As James Spee (University of Redlands, USA) points it out, design is rather about doing the right thing than doing things right. That questions the designers’ responsibility, raised by Klaus Kornwachs (University of Ulm, Germany). In his sense, technologies will never be perfect, so they must be “removable” or “switched off”. Designing in a responsible way means taking reversibility as a paradigm, to preserve as much options as possible for the future. It’s the designers’ role to keep a dialogue with the society open, including doubt & uncertainties. This creates the conditions for a responsible behavior of users.

This modest though humanist vision of design is shared by Aysar Ghassan (Coventry University, UK), presenting a corpus-led study into “design thinking”. He notices that in literature, the word is never associated with negative consequences ! Whatever this honorific context denotes (a common goal ? a claim to legitimacy ?), there is a need for critical thinking now ! A task for the design research community to tackle.

Another one is to clarify the relations between design and management. A discussion with the Design Society SIG Design management raised interesting questions : Is design a form of management in itself (exploration, mediation, decision-making) ? Should organizations be design-led ? Assuming that design should be everywhere, who should manage it ? How might design background improve or worsen managers abilities ? When is a design capability an advantage in management ? All participants agree that giving too much power to designers might lead to the belief that they have a truth to share. If a “design mindset” should lead the way companies act, it must be distinguished from designers as persons. 
Anna-Maria Rivas McGowan (NASA, USA) shares the NASA model : nobody needs to identify design as a separate organ or identified process, though everything is about designing. It is not a matter of persons, methods or fields, but a state of mind like “buried” into the company. Is this the ideal form of design management ?

Later that day, her inspiring talk gives some keys to handle complex systems :

  • Interdisciplinarity (Develop professionally diverse environments over disciplinary closed paradigms)
  • Human-centered approach (Humility means to still consider the human side when addressing large-scale issues)
  • Combining reductionist system thinking with strategic complex system thinking.

The best agenda for designers in this 21st century !


Design Society Conference 2016 – “Excellence in Design” – May 16-19, Dubrovnik, Croatia