Newsletter 11



Being here.
The conference coordination team
Ezio Manzini, Jorge Frascara, Carla Cipolla,
Cludio Germak, Brunella Cozzo, Paolo Peruccio, Sergio Corsaro



The Changing the Change Conference is going to start. It will be the result of the efforts done by a large group of people: the coordination team, the advisory committees, the peer review committee, the invited speakers and discussants and, of course, and first of all, the many design researchers who prepared and sent their contributions.

As coordination team, we already know the selected papers contents, what the invited speakers and discussants will present and the side activities that will be proposed. On this basis, we are reasonably sure that these three days in Torino will be dense, interesting and agreeable. What we don't know, because it cannot be planned, is if all these good ingredients will generate a real meaningful event: an initiative where the "being there" of many people generates a particular kind of positive energy. That is, a conference the value of which is much more than the sum of its formal presentations, discussions and entertaining activities.

Changing the Change has all the potentialities to become one of these meaningful events. But this possibility depends on a complex mix of factors and on the unforeseeable mesh of interactions that will be built in these three days.

In the next days we will be in Torino, driven by common interests: it will be up to us, and to our capability of "being here", the possibility to transform a conference program in a meaningful event. And, therefore, the possibility to generate the energy we need to make this Conference an important step in the right direction. That is, in the direction of sustainability.

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Design Research/1
Ken Friedman
Swinburne University Faculty of Design in Melbourne


Many years ago, I studied anthropology with John Collier, Jr. John spent much of his life in two ethnic communities. He grew up with his family in the American Indian communities of New Mexico and Arizona. Later, he worked as an anthropologist in the fishing communities of Nova Scotia, where he helped to develop the research method of visual anthropology. John's work was oriented toward creating positive change. He used to say that the problem of social change involves a simple paradox. We can't change one aspect of an organization or society until we change everything, and we can never change everything - we've got to start with one thing.

This is true, yet it is not beyond solution. We can and must start somewhere by finding appropriate points for vital intervention. We create consensus through action, and we do so in part by making theory action.

Theory has at least two meanings for design research. One is a scientific theory of what things are and how things work. The other is an ethical or philosophical theory of desired states: a design outcome. A design research agenda for sustainability requires both.


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Ken Friedman
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Design Research/2
Victor Margolin
(International Advisory Committee Member) University of Illinois, Chicago


The phrase, "Changing the Change", which the organizers have chosen for the title of this conference on design research, has meaning on different levels. In its largest sense, it connotes a change in the way we do research. I suspect that this was the fundamental reason for its choice.

We need a new collective process for introducing a different model of design research. This we might call the level of purpose. What should we do? Another meaning of "Changing the Change" relates to strategy. How do we as a community of researchers organize ourselves in order to achieve this new purpose. We have to change the way we organize our research activities in order to achieve new ends. And third, "Changing the Change" refers to new products or outcomes that might be developed through research. If we join together the three terms: purpose, strategy, and product, we have an agenda that can guide us as researchers in a powerful new direction.

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Victor Margolin
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Design Research/3
Ezio Manzini
(Conference Chair), Politecnico di Milano


Design research is an activity that aims to produce knowledge useful to those who design: design knowledge that designer and non-designer (individuals, communities, institutions, companies) can use in their processes of designing and co-designing.

Design knowledge is a collection of different cognitive artifacts with different purposes: visions to stimulate and steer strategic discussion; proposals to integrate into the development of numerous specific projects; tools to help understand the state of things and implement design ideas; reflections on the sense of what we are doing or could do. Moving form contents to form, the design knowledge we are talking about must be explicit, discussable, transferrable and accumulable: knowledge that can be clearly expressed (by whoever produces it), discussed (by many interested interlocutors), applied (by other designers) and become the starting point for producing further knowledge (by other researchers).

Research that produces conceptual and operational tools for designing and/or to help understand the nature of what we are designing (research for and on design) is usually carried out adopting methodologies, and adapting them to specific requirements, proper to disciplines endowed with a consolidated research tradition. Vice versa, research that produces visions and proposals usually adopts original methodologies, using tools and skills proper to designer culture and practice (research through design). In this case, clearly the research modes are, and must be, very different from those of traditional scientific research: research through design necessarily brings into play a level of subjectivity that would be inadmissible in scientific tradition. At the same time, this is not typical "artistic research", totally guided by the subjective dimension. Design is a discipline that combines creativity and subjectivity with a dose of reflection and arguments on its own choices. The same is obviously true for research through design, with the added factor in this case that the knowledge produced cannot be implicit and integrated in the design but, as we said, it must be explicit, discussable, transferable and accumulable.
Exactly what the acceptable level of subjectivity is in design through research is an open question. We have discussed this and we can continue to do so, but I do not believe that a precise definition of this limit is of such great interest. I believe that what is really important is to discuss the results we have achieved case by case and the contribution they can bring to solving the problems we have to face.


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