2 December 2020 -

It has been over a year since I attended DHS 2019 Conference themed “The Cost of Design” within the first year of my PhD studies in design. So, I’ve decided to reflect on its legacy for me and how it contributed to my own understanding of design as a design researcher.

Firstly, I am thankful for being given the opportunity to take part both as an attendee and a host in the well-curated programme of the conference, which included an exclusive guided tour of Newcastle City Council, a delightful gala dinner, and a publication workshop as well as the paper presentations and provocative keynotes. I would like to personally thank the co-conveners Dr. Elizabeth Kramer and Dr. Janine Barker and the brilliant team of volunteers for making it happen.

Newcastle City Council

I attended several interesting paper presentations throughout the conference. Dr. Isabel Prochner proposed a feminist, community-centered model as an alternative to the heterodox economies of industrial design practice. Her objective to test out the feasibility of such by establishing an industrial design firm based on the model seemed to reconcile the attributed distinctions between academe/industry and theory/practice. Dr. Eeva Berglund drew attention to the taken-for-granted designed-ness of the nations and their physical territories. She provided takeaways for the current politics of sustainability by looking at the history of dissenting narratives of rural and urban economic development in Finland. Dr. Ulrike Haele turned to craftsmanship for its implicit emphasis on “care-in-use” to explore new and more sustainable ways of consumption and decentralized production in a growth-critical economy.

From Ulrike Haele's presentation

Sancha de Búrca approached the cost of design from a less acknowledged perspective and drew attention to the emotional cost of teaching design. She talked about design’s capabilities to benefit the common good, and redirecting design education in order to rethink professional practice as an ethic of care. However, their practice revealed the ethical dilemmas in teaching of design for good. The notion of “critical hope” was essential to manage the students’ expectations despite the common narratives and rhetoric of such socially responsible design practices. Similarly, Dr. Sarah Cheang & Dr. Shehnaz Suterwalla’s paper explored what it meant to decolonize design history, and the personal and emotional cost of a decolonized teaching practice.

Sancha de Búrca's presentation

Professor Guy Julier’s keynote titled “Fixing Liquidity; Making Change Reasonable – Design, Finance and History” highlighted the constantly changing nature and the meanings of design in order to exemplify how the rise of design has been entangled with the rise of neoliberalism. I was struck by the idea of viewing the world as “dormant capital” to be added value by design through the processes of financialization. Quoting Ben Highmore, Julier emphasized that “describing what’s there is a political act,” as I have in my notes. I purchased his book on the topic titled “Economies of Design” (Julier, 2017) right after the keynote.

The second keynote was in the format of a conversation between Professor Aric Chen and Professor Alice Tremlow on “The Costs of Curating Design”. Their conversation explored the notion of boundaries, such as the disciplinary boundaries of design and also the politics of demarcation in making definitions. They talked about the importance of having an institutionalized “headquarters” in the long run despite the ambiguous nature of design work in the nexus of other disciplines. Curating, therefore, was a form of criticism, assemblage, and even “soft activism”. The closing keynote by Dr. Tereza Kuldova titled “Luxury and Corruption: Re-Thinking Design, Crime and Neoliberalism” asked provocative questions by curating two separate strands of her “extreme anthropology” research on luxury and criminal gangs, making diligent connections between the two based on their consumption of the “unbuyable”.

Reflecting upon the conference retrospectively, I find myself curating the multiple histories of design research to reveal the lesser known or meta-narratives of scholarly design research for my ongoing PhD research. In their keynote conversation, Chen and Tremlow asked each other to save a word in case of a verbal extinction, and I’ve been thinking a lot about mine since then. I would save the word “change”.


Sena Çerçi is a PhD Candidate at Northumbria School of Design, Northumbria University, UK.


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