Exploring how to Reshape and Form of Academic Design Research in Germany

Keynote – Global Explorations of Design Research, delivered at DGTF Unconference in konferenz, Germany

I was kindly by Prof. Brian Switzer, Malte Bergmann, Axel Vogelsang to deliver a keynote on how design research was changing around the world, sharing how the practices is changing, at Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Designtheories und forschung e. V (The German Society for Design Theory and Research), on 17-18 October 2014. Every year they DGTF have a theme, last year was political impact of maker movement and at the 11th conference in an un-conference format they aim to map the current state of design research in Germany. The reason of this focus, is German academic is facing a limited access to funding, and the unconference big questions were:

– How is the accessibility to research funding?

– What are the potentials and obstacles?

– What can we learn from other countries?


The Location

The conference location was so interesting, konferenz at HTWG at the it has not change even during the war it was a place that was not bombed. On the border with Switzerland,  during the wartime Major at the time, had the initiative to to keep the lights in the streets on so that from the sky it was seen as Switzerland, so that town was really interesting to explore and wander around the streets.


((konferenz picture)


The conversations

“Design -action – impact – the thing we do for love”

Prof. Dr. Jan Gulliksen from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm


Prof Jan Gulliksen from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm open the UnConference, made people aware of what design research can offer – sharing case where he has work on health care project that have social significance. Prof Jan concluded that design research is still young and not yet established, the displaining is struggling articulate the value, but if design project were to show design through impact and action, this could help to show the value to funding board that currently don’t support design research.


“Measuring Design Research – the UK approach”

Prof. Dr. Rachel Cooper from the Institute for the Contemporary Arts Lancaster

As an evaluator of research project in the UK for the Research Excellence Framework  (http://www.ref.ac.uk/), Prof Rachel share some key insights this process. In the UK Research Excellence Framework decided how much funding the university received. She share how at time is can be restrictive criteria and little time make decisions. There was presentation was followed by a lively conversation about the KPI should assess the research in design


“Is there there something like Swiss Design Research”

Prof. Lysianne Léchot-Shepherd, Dean of the Haute Ecole d’Art et de

Design Genève (HEAD)

In Prof. Lysianne talked describe the current situation of Swiss Design Research – were currently design research is funded by university school, sns and a fund of applied research, with very few funding project on the EU level, with a small number of Design PhD. Most of the people supervising PhD, are from other sea or from a different background.

In her talk she highlighted that Swiss design research is mainly presented in written form and not presented in exhibition form. She highlighted the 6 steps for disciplinarian, when does it take for an activity to become a discipline – 1. Critiques and claims, 2. cooptation and self-organizations, 3. legitimation: accumulating symbolic and social capital 4. self-references and codification, 5. institutionalization and academician, 6.corporate identity and monopole. She reflect on the Swiss design research and suggest that, point 1 and 3 have been activated and what has not activated is 4 to 6 have not been activated. She said in the other European board she sit on, that there is a similar situation in other counties.

Some Reflections

These keynotes had pointed out the need to improve  we articulate, explore how we measure design research as well as view how the field is developing. But because it so young design research has the time to reshape and reframe. I did not follow an academic root after my design PhD, I didn’t see value is writing paper that people would not read, and be measure by the amount publication I produce.

From talking with Rachel Cooper, that the research project at ‘Imagination Lancaster University’ funded by the EU, such as ‘Beyond the Castle that has changing the way city plan empower the community or the work they have done to help design company reflect on where they have value to their clients were changing how design research was funding and the value it offer to all of the stakeholders and reshaping the practice in the process.As design research in Germany is shaping and reforming, I hope it search for new model and new collaborations that work in their context, hope that traditional does hold people back.

Update March 30th 2015

Brian Switzer has put a really interesting poster that map out all of the academic design research project across the global.

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