Conference & Events

3 March 2015

2015 Annual Design History Society Conference: "How we live, and How we might live": Design and the Spirit of Critical Utopianism. September 11–13, 2015. California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California

Inherent in every act of design is a vision–however modest, however inarticulate–of a better world: We design because we believe that travel might be made more comfortable, work more efficient, information more accessible, experiences more fulfilling, spaces more convivial, and people's lives more meaningful. By addressing the needs of the present, designers are, inescapably, envisioning the future.

By definition, a vision of a better future is grounded in a critique of the present, insofar as the prevailing organization of social resources obstructs the full realization of our potential to lead productive, enjoyable, and fulfilling lives. William Morris was the first to link a critique of "How we live" to a vision of "How we might live" through the medium of design, and this impulse continues to inspire design practice today.

California College of the Arts, which is at once the westernmost outpost of the Arts and Crafts Movement and the gateway to Silicon Valley, is pleased to host the 2015 conference of the Design History Society. Inspired by the spirit of critical utopianism that connects the 19th century reformers to the 21st century techno–visionaries, this multidisciplinary conference will explore the diverse ways in which designers have sought to balance critical realism with utopian idealism. The 2015 Annual Design History Society Conference seeks to explore this Utopian spirit in all of its many aspects, while engaging with the broadest possible definitions of "design. " The themes and research methodologies of the conference will be of relevance to scholars as well as practitioners, and it will engage historians as well as futurists. It will also build in the themes of previous Annual Design History Society Conferences which have explored design as resistance, design as a postcolonial phenomenon, and design for war and peace. We invite submissions from academics, archivists, curators, journalists and independent researchers from every discipline, every part of the world, and at every stage of their careers. Possible topics include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Postwar, pacifism, and visions of conflict-free futures
  • Constructions of the post–colonial future (and the pre–colonial past).
  • Design as resistance; the consequences of transcending the boundaries of the prevailing social order.
  • Environmental and sustainable utopias
  • Design in film and fiction; design and the literary imagination; science fiction; design fiction; speculative design.
  • Design Dystopias– projects which exclude and discriminate
  • Urban communities-examples informed by the global history of architecture, urbanism, and design.
  • Technology and utopia; projects that harness the supposed power of technology to perfect the human condition.
  • Idealism, ideology, and education; curricula for the design of future designers.
  • Visionary projects involving tactical or strategic alliances between designers and practitioners from other disciplines.
  • New ways of thinking about the relationships between designer, client, and the public such as Critical Design, Participatory Design, the Maker's Movement, and Design Thinking;
  • Globalism/Tribalism: the International Style as design imperialism; expressions of critical regionalism; design for social impact.
  • Design and the human condition: forces still active that nourish the spirit of utopian optimism.

Proposals for individual 20 minute papers, or for 3 person panels organized around a common theme, should be submitted by February 28, 2015, and should include the following:

  • An abstract not exceeding 400 words
  • A brief professional biography (not exceeding 50 words)
  • All abstracts will be refereed through an anonymous, double-blind review and should be submitted to Proposals are encouraged from across the entire spectrum of design and we invite submissions from established scholars but also doctoral and post-doctoral researchers; the Design History Society offers a number of bursaries (grants) to support DHS student members whose abstracts are accepted.

For further information, please refer to the conference website Additional information about Design History Society, its activities and publications, may be found on the DHS website

Questions may be directed to:

We look forward to seeing you in San Francisco in September, 2015.

Barry M. Katz, Academic Convenor
Professor of Industrial and Interaction Design
California College of the Arts


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