In what way has Design Research failed in the last 50 years?

This is the central question posed by Fifty Years of Failures, a research project that will run throughout the DRS2016 conference as one of the three recipients of the 50th Anniversary DRS grant.  

50 years is half a century. In a sense it’s a crossroads, where we–not unlike the Ancient Roman god Janus–look simultaneously towards the past and the future. In this spirit, addressing past failures head on is essentially about anticipating and co-creating the future of the design discipline. 

Importantly, this is something we need to do together. 

Prior to the anniversary conference we’ve been posing the above question to a range of different researchers, who all share some kind of affiliation with the DRS. Amazed with the highly different responses we have received so far, we’re now really excited to invite all conference participants to join the discussion by voicing their own reflections on past failure and future success within our field.

The project is part of the ongoing PhD research of Søren Rosenbak (Umeå Institute of Design). Fifty Years of Failures in Brighton is Søren Rosenbak, Giovanni Marmont and Marije de Haas.



PhD By Design - getting ready

With four months to go until the DRS conference, plans for the next PhD By Design event are well underway. We are delighted with the amount of applications that we’ve already received and the variety of discussants who have agreed to take part.

Following the one-day event with up to 60 practice-based PhD researchers, we’ll be circulating critical questions for the DRS community through a range of different formats: social media, print and through the third issue of the PhD By Design Instant Journal.

It will be interesting to see how the DRS conference engages with these questions - can we facilitate discussions across different generations of design researchers throughout the week?

If you can’t make our event on the Monday (27th) or don’t get your application in on time (deadline is Sunday 6th March) we’ll be setting up a PhD By Design Hub as a working space where you can hang out and make connections throughout the conference.

Looking forward to Brighton!



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Discussing Accepted Papers Online

So, we’ve been thinking about how we manage the accepted papers for the conference so that we can get discussion going prior to the conference.

First though, we’re thinking of defaulting to a Creative Commons Licence for all accepted papers.  For those that don’t know about Creative Commons it is a mechanism which has sharing and building on the work of others at its heart. As one of the conference themes is about ‘designing openness’ we feel this an appropriate thing to do. It means that anyone would be able to use a paper (given certain outline conditions) without asking permission, but that the author or authors get acknowledged. 

The second thing is we’d like to get discussion about accepted papers started online before the conference so we can avoid those occasionally awkward and superficial questions that occur at academic conferences. The problem is that it’s easy to put something out there, expecting a conversation to break out but...

… nothing happens.

So we’re thinking of using edited versions of the peer-review comments that have made for all papers as the starting point to an open dialogue about the papers (with reviewer's and author's permission). At the very least readers would be able to check whether criticisms made have been addressed in the revised paper, and the criticisms themselves could set out some themes for subsequent discussion. In that way session chairs could better prepare for questions, and presenters might be able to use any comments to focus their presentations.

Let us know your thoughts on the above. Would you mind your peer-review comments being opened up? Is Creative Commons the way to go?

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Designing the conference experience

by Veronica Ranner & Dan Lockton, DRS 2016 Conference Experience chairs.

When we attended—and participated in—DRS 2014 in Umeå, it was easy to notice the high standards of detail and thought that had gone into things: the conference felt designed.

We want to make sure that DRS 2016 builds on a conference format that felt representative of how the diverse community of design researchers—once they gather together—could perceive each other and be perceived as a whole. We also want to learn from experiences at other conferences.

As part of the programme committee for DRS 2016, it became quickly clear to us that designing the conference experience is not just an intriguing task, but potentially a crucial element for the overall quality of delivery. It involves an imaginative design process just as much as delivering technical requirements through understanding the social and environmental factors of the conference venue. What distinguishes relevant factors from irrelevant ones for DRS 2016, is what we are currently fleshing out. This task provides us with the opportunity to examine the event experience as a design task in itself. Not so much as to design and programme people into spaces and predict their very behaviour in advance, but to enable and open up transformative spaces for participants instead, as well as re-thinking already existing conference formats.

We know that people's motivations for participating in academic conferences differ—across fields, institutions and people at various stages of their careers. For many of us, travelling to an international conference like this is a substantial commitment, in time and scarce funds, often involving turning down other opportunities. This means we want to make it more likely that you have the best experience possible.

The wayfinding at DRS 2014 was innovative: did it work for you?

The wayfinding at DRS 2014 was innovative: did it work for you?

Since we first met up to discuss DRS 2016, we began colliding “things we never want to see again / would very much like to see in conferences”, and we continue to add more elements to this growing list. Like the human-centred, participatory designers that we (sometimes) claim to be, we thought it would be important to involve you—the potential 'users'—at an early stage. We are hoping to achieve a better understanding of what people really wish for when attending a conference, through exploring it from a more granular, more diverse, and participatory experience-based perspective. Maybe as designers, we are used to spotting the badly designed elements of an experience, or the problems which we feel could have been considered better. But we are sure that visitors of all stripes can probably reel off examples and instances of conferences we have been to where certain things 'worked' really well, and other things not so well.

Although to some people it might seem merely a semantic difference, it was relevant to us to extend the notion of “attendees” towards “participants” and to weave this into our chair activity. We thus provide you with a knowledge sharing opportunity that could result in immediate change and taken action as of next year’s conference. As design researchers we will keep working towards improving the inclusion of diverse voices. From our conference chairs’ viewpoint we would like to test if we can push the boundary of existing formats a little more.

To us, this means we appreciate and encourage your active involvement and ask you to send us general suggestions and ideas, as well as some more conference “do’s and don’ts”!

Let’s start a conversation—please do comment below, email us at or tweet your ideas to @vroniranner and @danlockton (#DRS2016)

Veronica Ranner is a designer, artist, and researcher interested in complex networked cycles, emerging bio-technologies, biological fabrication, systems design, material futures, and new roles for designers. She currently pursues an AHRC funded PhD as part of the Creative Exchange Lab (CX) at the Royal College of Art, where she examines the burgeoning domain of the bio-digital — a converging knowledge space where computational thinking meets biological matter.

Dr Dan Lockton is a designer, technologist and researcher, interested in relationships between design and people’s behaviour, understanding of systems, and consequences for society and sustainability. He is author of Design with Intent (O’Reilly, 2016) and visiting research tutor in Innovation Design Engineering, Royal College of Art. He holds a PhD in Design from Brunel University and an MPhil in Technology Policy from the University of Cambridge.



Using Waste for Conference Materials

One of Brighton's most successful design projects in the past year has been the 'Waste House', a building made completely from waste materials, and we're trying to include this kind of thinking into what we do at the conference.  We are planning a conference dinner which will include local 'Zero Waste' chef Doug McMaster, one of the UK's most innovative culinary thinkers, and we are developing conference 'products' from waste material that is currently being generated at Brighton University.  The picture below shows a prototype of a conference badge made from wooden drink stirrers.




The DRS2016 Submission System is now Live

Configuring a conference review system is a delicate and complex operation as there are many factors to consider in making the submission and review process as smooth and straightforward as possible for all concerned - authors, reviewers, chairs, and sub-chairs.  For DRS2016 we have chosen to use ConfTool as it is a powerful way of managing submissions not just during the review process, but also in putting the conference programme together.  ConfTool also integrates easily with Eventor, a smartphone App that becomes your 'what's on where?' guide during the conference itself.

Just one of the configuration menus for ConfTool's powerful paper submission and conference management system   

Just one of the configuration menus for ConfTool's powerful paper submission and conference management system   

Online submission systems have really helped to streamline the submission and review process, making something that only a few years ago needed to be done manually (and before that by post!) into a quick and efficient task.  Submitting papers, assigning reviewers, and discussing content can all be done in a few clicks of a mouse. If you get the configuration right that is...  

It all means that we're able to concentrate on improving the quality of the review process, communicating better with all users, and getting the final papers online before the conference so we can start the conversations and debates about the latest Design Research as early as we can. 



August has been a busy month for DRS2016 preparations!

We've been working on the new website, so that it can be updated regularly, and by a larger number of people, so you should start seeing more material coming online.  Additional Themes for the conference and Special Interest Groups are now all detailed so please do get in touch with the appropriate chair if you are interested in being a part of a more specialised session.

We've also been configuring the submission system so that the submission and review process goes smoothly.  Submission will open during the first week of September.

One new feature of the review system is that authors who submit will be able to grade the reviews they receive, which will enable us highlight the best reviewers.  This is something that we haven't been able to do before, and which will allow us to provide more consistent reviewing in the years to come. 

Finally, the full paper template is now ready for download.  As well as general formatting guidelines the template also contains details about the conference organisation and the review process, so make sure you have a read through before using it for your full paper.

We hope you've had a good summer so far, and are looking forward to receiving your full paper for the 9th November deadline.