Interdisciplinarity, Rick Robinson;
Changing Conditions, Shelley Evenson;
Shifting Paradigms, David Thorburn;
Social Economies, John Thackara;
Design Research, Sharon Poggenpohl;
Designing for Experience, David Small.
Final Reports (PDF)
Interdisciplinarity, Dori Tunstall & Julie Lasky;
Changing Conditions, Christopher Vice & Jon Kolko;
Shifting Paradigms, Anne Burdick & Holly Willis;
Social Economies, Alice Twemlow & Peter Hall;
Design Research, Judith Gregory & Deborah Littlejohn;
Designing for Experience, Andrew Blauvelt & Andrea Codrington;
Combined final reports (w/ Interdisciplinarity presentation diagrams): slides.
The goal of the New Contexts / New Practices conference is to generate and publish ideas about how design education will address the defining trends of contemporary practice and culture. Rather than a show-and-tell of what people are currently doing, this is an authoring conference AIGA Defining the Designer of 2015. In particular, the conference agenda tackles how design education can both reflect changing conditions and shape future practices in a reconfigured communication landscape.that will build consensus and action plans for where we should be heading if graphic design is to remain relevant in the 21st century and if we are to achieve the competencies outlined in
The six topics that form the core conference content are as follows...
Design has long expressed interest in interdisciplinary collaboration and periods of our history in design education attempted to prepare students for such work. The 1970s showed concern for collaboration among the design disciplines, often organized around a search for common methods. Students learned what it meant to design in various professional practices by taking courses in another design field or by creating the graphic components of large-scale projects that also involved architects and industrial designers.
In the 1980s, our interdisciplinary interests shifted to theory in fields other than design through which we could explain how audiences construct meaning. We borrowed from linguistics, literary criticism, and cultural theory to confront the questions raised by post-modernism. Faculty read and incorporated these borrowed theories into their project briefs, lectures, and assigned readings, and encouraged students to use general education classes to expand their understanding of related fields. Parallel interests in writing directed students to elective offerings in the humanities and to more formal instruction in criticism.
Today’s design problems exist at the scale of systems and communities, too big and too complex for any single discipline to address. Our collaborators are likely to be from fields as diverse as anthropology, cognitive psychology, computer science, business, and social policy. Yet the prevailing strategies of design education belong to another time and may leave graduates unprepared to address the interdisciplinary demands of complex, systems-level problems. Further, the approaches to developing student understanding in fields other than design are still those of general education, in which non-design courses parallel the core curriculum but are never truly integrated by design faculty in the work of studios.
These conditions raise many interesting questions, including:
Rick Robinson is an interdisciplinary social scientist with a PhD in Human Development from the University of Chicago. He was a co-founder of E.Lab, a research and design consultancy, chief experience officer at Sapient, and is currently a research fellow at Continuum in Boston and editor for pulp, a salon for writers (and readers) at the intersection of design, business, social science, and technology. An expert and author in the development of ethnographic methods for design research, including in Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter: Reflections on Research in and of Corporations, Rick brings a broad perspective to design practice and innovation.
It could be said that the discipline has been slow to understand the full implications of interaction design and service design. Soon after the emergence of interactive technologies, some argued that the primary role of the computer was as a “tool” for replicating conventional production methods. Others questioned whether the skills of a print designer were adequate for creating the conditions for user experiences. And initially, interaction design focused mostly on buying and selling transactions and gaming, with design for education, work, and access to the privileges of democracy following only after the dot-com bust and the growth of social media. It is only within the last decade that design education has acknowledged the importance of screen-based experiences and much of that work is still in the tradition of film and motion graphics, not true interaction.
Service design is a relative newcomer to the field and challenges traditional object-centered notions of design. Service designer Shelley Evenson quotes an IBM report that places more than 70% of the US labor force in service delivery. She goes on to describe how designing a service is different from designing a product:
When designing a product, much of the focus is on mediating the interaction between the person and the artifact. Great product designers consider more of the context in their design. In service design, designers must create resources that connect people to people, people to machines, and machines to machines. You must consider the environment, the channel, the touchpoints. Designing for service becomes a systems problem and often even a system of systems challenge. The elements or resources that designers need to create to mediate the interactions must work on all these levels and, at the same time, facilitate connections that are deeply personal, open to participation and change, and drop-dead stunning.
The implications of these practices for the future work of design raise a number of questions for educators:
Shelley Evenson is an associate professor of design at Carnegie Mellon University and a principal in user-experience design at Microsoft’s FUSE LABS (Future Social Experience Labs). With over 25 years in consulting experience, she was formerly founder of seespace and chief experience strategist for Scient. Shelley is a pioneer in the emerging practice of service design and a member of the national board of directors of AIGA.
Design strategist Hugh Dubberly describes a paradigm shift from a mechanical/
Implicit in designing new tools and systems is the role of ever-evolving technologies. Mobile and sensor technologies, which can respond to unconscious gestures and changing environmental conditions, may not require visual systems for interaction. New augmented reality maps fuse geographic databases with live video feeds and images circulating through social networks. This shift raises questions about the role of a discipline that, historically, has been all about visual representation and the controlled planning process for arriving at a highly-refined artifact.
The consequences for this shift to designing tools and systems raise questions about educational practices:
David Thorburn earned his PhD from Stanford University and taught at Yale University before joining the MIT Literature faculty in 1976. David was the founder and for twelve years the Director of the Film and Media Studies Program and is a former Director of the Cultural Studies Project. He is currently the director of the MIT Communications Forum, which sponsors along with the Program in Comparative Media Studies a series of lectures, forums and Web-based activities comparing our current experience of changing media with earlier periods of cultural and technological transformation. With Henry Jenkins, David is the co-author of Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition.
Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book proclaimed, “The world is flat.” Friedman asserts that technology and economic shifts in the distribution of production and manufacturing have leveled the global playing field. While how to sell American products in other countries through culturally-sensitive motifs and messages once occupied much of our attention, the question today is how to collaborate with others in increasingly co-dependent relationships.
Urban studies professor and economist Richard Florida, on the other hand, argued in a 2005 article in the Atlantic Monthly that “the world is spiky;” that there are hills and valleys in the distribution of economic potential and that we cannot think of places as being homogenous in their culture or opportunities. Florida describes three sorts of places in the world that have less to do with geopolitical boundaries and more with potential in the confluence of resources: 1) those that can attract global talent and create new products; 2) those that manufacture the world’s goods and support its innovation engines; and 3) those with little connection to the global economy and few immediate prospects.
Both views of today’s social economic landscape have implications for design and design education:
John Thackara is founder and director of Doors of Perception, which works with an international community of designers and innovators to envision new and sustainable futures. John was also the first president of the Design Institute in the Netherlands, which was formed by the Dutch government in 1993 to increase the social and economic contributions of design. A prolific author, John’s In the Bubble has become required reading for design and business innovators everywhere.
A 2005 education survey by Metropolis Magazine showed no consensus among practitioners or educators about what constitutes design research; limited access to research findings from professional practice; nascent use of students as interns in the research process; and great confusion about what design issues deserve the greatest attention by researchers. Organizers of the 2007 conference of the International Association of Societies of Design Research reported that only 10% of the paper submissions came from Americans, demonstrating that the US is behind other countries in the generation of new knowledge.
Despite this confusion, there is ample evidence that research will play an increasing role in the future of professional practice and that the typical usability testing in labs and focus groups will be insufficient in informing large-scale communication strategies and technological development. Further, it is apparent that design practitioners consider research to be proprietary and that any large-scale dissemination of new knowledge must come from academic institutions.
It is clear, therefore, that much work is yet to be done in building a research culture. Traditionally, undergraduate “research” activities have been defined in terms of existing information retrieval on the subject matter of the communication, the wants and needs of the client, and the technical demands of message production and distribution, little of which is transferrable to other projects. Further, in many programs there is limited curricular distinction between the research behaviors expected of undergraduate and graduate students, leaving the majority of master’s graduates unprepared for the scholarship and knowledge generation demands of current faculty positions in research-driven institutions.
This underdevelopment of the research culture in design raises interesting questions for design education:
Sharon Poggenpohl has been on the faculty of the Rhode Island School of Design, Institute of Design / Illinois Institute of Technology where she served as director of the doctoral program, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She served as the chair of the 2007 conference of the International Association of Societies of Design Research and has been a tireless advocate for the growth of research efforts in American design offices and universities. Sharon is the author of the recent book, Design Integrations: Research and Collaboration and publisher of Visible Language, one of the few refereed design journals in the US.
American philosopher John Dewey wrote in the 1930s that there are conditions that qualify “an experience” from other events in life. First, an experience must have a beginning and an end; we know when it starts and when it finishes. Dewey referred to this as “material running its course to fulfillment.” He provided examples, “a piece of work finished in a satisfactory way” or “a situation...
Second, an experience is composed of parts that are distinct but that flow from one to another without interruption. We can remember its moments, but we recall them within a continuous whole. Dewey described this as “the enduring whole ...diversified by successive phases that are emphases of its varied colors.” Third, says Dewey, an experience may be described in terms of a quality or unity by which we name it, and thus recall it long after it has happened. Finally, an experience has a pattern and a structure of alternating between doing and undergoing. Doing is the physical or sensory interaction with our environment that we associate with the experience, while undergoing is the mental reflection or emotion, necessary to interpret the doing; an action and a consequence linked in perception.
Dewey’s reminders of what constitute an experience prompt reconsideration of how we teach interaction:
David Small is creative director of Small Design Firm in Cambridge, MA. David recently held the position of Associate Professor at the MIT Media Lab where his research group, Design Ecology, examined new display and computational technologies, novel software techniques, and the interplay of social, perceptual and cognitive issues at the heart of modern design practice. His innovative exhibitions, such as the Churchill Lifeline Table for the Churchill Museum; the Talmud Project at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum; and the interactive Illuminated Manuscript for Documenta 11 in Germany are classic examples of experience design in which technology engages users in meaningful interactions.
This is an authoring conference. Unlike other conferences in which participants either make panel presentations or simply attend as spectators, New Contexts / New Practices asks conferees to play one of several roles in response to the groundwork laid by invited main stage provocateurs.
Provocation, moderation, and publication — The work of the conference is curated by three groups of people, selected by the conference committee: provocateurs, moderators, and writers (descriptions below). Authoring, forum presentation, and conferring — For those attending the conference, there are three possible roles to play: co-author, forum presenter, or conferee. Co-author and forum presenter participation is determined by peer review selection, respectively, of prospectuses and forum presentation proposals.
Six main stage presenters, one per topic, launch the conference work on Friday night and Saturday morning with a series of challenging presentations and remain with us throughout the weekend. The conference committee has selected these distinguished presenters for their insight into forces affecting the future of design and design education.
Scholars and educators in their own right, six moderators keep things moving in the Saturday afternoon authoring sessions. It is their job to elicit comments and critical perspectives from co-authors and to direct discussion to some resolution that can be captured in written articles.
Six writers affiliated with renowned design publications are assigned to the topical groups. Their role is to distill core ideas; report on the diversity or similarity of opinion; and position the discussion within the current discourse on design and design education. The writers report out what they hear in a Sunday morning session and follow up with published articles.
Forum presenters are individuals selected through peer review of proposal submissions, on one of the six conference topics, to deliver 15-minute presentations for the benefit of all conference attendees. A total of 10 sequential forum presentations will take place on Saturday afternoon in tandem with other conference proceedings.
See the current list of conference attendees.
Educators from across the country present experiences and ideas within the six conference topics on Saturday afternoon during the authoring sessions. The forum presentations are:
Non-authoring conferees not only attend all main stage provocations, but also have the opportunity to attend as many as three authoring sessions on Saturday afternoon, followed by debriefing discussions that make sense of what went on in each session. This allows non-authoring conferees to sample the conference content and to compare notes with other conferees. Conferees are also free to attend forum presentations Saturday afternoon. Catered break and lunch times, scheduled between sessions, allow conferees time to share ideas with provocateurs, moderators, co-authors, writers and forum presenters, as well as each other. On Sunday morning, writers report out on all six topical sessions, giving all attendees a summary of Saturday’s work.
The goal of the conference is to keep good ideas alive through publication and to use conference content in the curricular work of schools.
The conference makes real-time use of the web to keep attendees up to date on what is happening in the conference sessions. Electronic versions of provocateurs’ speeches are posted throughout the conference, thereby informing co-authors’ work. A team of graduate students, working with conference writers, act as scribes for the posting of results during and after the conference.
The conference committee will hold a pre-conference workshop on Designing Flexible Curricula. The workshop addresses the pragmatic matters of crafting curricular responses to the rapidly changing conditions that are likely to define the context for design education in the next decade. Much of higher education currently operates on “curriculum by accrual.” New content and skills are simply added to an existing structure, leaving many faculty frustrated with too much to teach in too little time. The workshop on Friday afternoon deals with specific strategies for building curricular structures that are both agile and responsive. Registration will be limited.
Thank you for your interest in New Contexts / New Practices. If you still have any questions, presently left unanswered by our conference website, please contact specific conference organizers observing the categories below:
Co-author submissions (peer review protocol) — Denise Gonzales Crisp
Forum presentation submissions (peer review protocol) — Denise Gonzales Crisp
Pre-conference curriculum workshop — Meredith Davis
General conference information — Santiago Piedrafita
For a block, discounted conference rate of $109.00 (discount valid for bookings until September 8, 2010), please visit the personalized landing webpage provided by Sheraton Raleigh Hotel, our chosen conference partner.
Conference attendees can access the above webpage to book, modify, or cancel a reservation from July 20, 2010 to October 10, 2010.
Sheraton Raleigh Hotel
421 South Salisbury Street
Raleigh, NC 27601