10 January 2017 -
The Design History Society Student Conference Bursary award, granted me the generous opportunity to attend the 2016 Annual Design History Society Conference Design and Time at Middlesex University; where I presented the paper “The emergence of Social Design Through Time and Space”. This paper forms part of my ongoing PhD dissertation: “Designing a Future Practice: A genealogy of the Social Design Discourse in the UK, 1970s-present”, at the University of Brighton. The broader research project traces the inclusion of social responsibility within the design profession in the UK, from the 1970s to present in the context of conferences and exhibitions, as a backdrop from which to analyse discursive shifts
The paper discussed the historical articulation of concepts, which emerge from the need to articulate new experiences or expectations. Moreover, that the representation of such concepts are arguably bound to existing previous terms, from which new concepts receive their meaning-inherited from a linguistic context within a larger social and cultural sphere. Thus, from this premise, the work presented, focused on the contemporary notion of “social design”, and the concept of need, which was unanimously traced back to the period of the 1970s; in particular to its representation at the Royal College of Art’s “Design for Need” Symposium in 1976. Represented as a “ call to action”-a call to reflect upon the social responsibility of the design profession, the paper highlighted the concept of need within further conferences, from the mid-1970s to 1990s. Additionally, the theoretical and methodological concerns that the assessment of discursive shifts represent for design history were discussed through the lens of Reinhart Koselleck’s work on “conceptual history”.
From this backdrop, aligned to the conference theme on time, light was shed on the multilayered temporality between discourse and practice. Concepts were presented as mediators between language and material representations by visualizing shifts in use and meaning of the concept of need, within the context of an “ethical culture of design”. This implied that “concepts were not only perceived as indicators of history, but also as factors in history”; which in turn, arguably situated concepts not solely as elements for periodization, but also, as enablers of action. As such, the discursive arguments presented within documents from the organisation committee, in the fore of the “Design for Need” Symposium, arguably served to enact an initial wave of “need” products. Along with, heightening design as a socially oriented discipline. However, while the period of the 1970s has been widely referenced to historical accounts of contemporary “social” design, by tracing the concept of need in proceeding conferences, the work visualized how it was only until the 1990s, that this discourse was assumed in professional circles. Moreover, within the concluding remarks, while attentive to the historical importance of investigating the ideology that underpinned the 1970s design for need, in order to understand contemporary social design; concerns were raised regarding the continuity in the production of objects enacted from this discourse. Arguing that, research into this period might benefit from a shift beyond the utopian ideals of the “Good Society Project”, by tracing notions of socially oriented design within broader geographical locations. As this hinders contemporary design practice to move beyond representations of low-cost technology, design for “development”-to name a few- once conveyed by the discourse of “need” in the 1970s, and now, by that of “social design”.
Attending the DHS Annual Conference was an enriching experience where I had the opportunity to engage in related research projects, and exchange ideas with fellow PhD students and academics in the field. As a result, the constructive feedback provided during the panel session has strengthened the arguments presented as a chapter of my dissertation.