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Design Research for Change

Date: 05/11/2019

By Professor Paul Rodgers, the AHRC Design Leadership Fellow at Imagination, Lancaster University.

The AHRC Design Research for Change (DR4C) Showcase at the London Design Fair 2019 included 61 design-led research projects that spanned a range of design disciplines, ways of working, geographical spread across the UK, methodological and conceptual boundaries.

The 61 research projects, many of which were funded by UKRI through research grants, fellowships and the AHRC Design Centres for Doctoral Training, illustrate wide-ranging social, cultural, and economic impact. They highlight the key roles that UK-based design researchers and practitioners play in some of the most complex and challenging issues we face both in the UK and globally and the positive outcomes that are being designed and developed.

They include innovative projects such as developing design tools and processes that will support people living with dementia to live high quality lives; designing gaming interventions to prioritise the rights of girls and women to live a life free from violence; and designing methods for producing more sustainable food practices in the city. All of these design-led research projects highlight the amazing design research talent we have in the UK and the innovative and creative ways of working; they demonstrate how we might transform our future cities and ways of living, how to deliver individual and societal wellbeing, and how to thrive within the context of low-carbon living and resource scarcity.

A feature of the contemporary design research landscape is that it is constantly evolving; design researchers, collaborators, and project partner organisations respond to address significant and complex social, environmental, cultural, economic, and other challenges. Similarly, the boundaries of conventional design disciplines are evolving from design subjects focused on various forms of the material world – such as products, interiors, fashion, and graphics – towards other less tangible domains, such as service, interaction, policy and transformation design. Alongside an increase of design’s depth in supporting innovation and industrial competitiveness, design research is also widening its breadth as it contributes new knowledge in a range of fields such as social innovation, policy design, and health and social care illustrating design’s important roles in shaping our thinking on cities and our future urban strategies and future health and healthcare provision.

We are also witnessing changes in the design research process, which used to be driven by individual designers or teams of designers and is now increasingly led by interdisciplinary teams that also includes end-users and other stakeholders involved in co-design processes and practices. The growth of design research globally is evidenced by the upsurge of international design conferences, organised by the likes of the International Association of Societies of Design Research (IASDR), the Design Research Society (DRS), and the European Design Academy (EAD). Design features in the funded portfolios of every member of UKRI, and AHRC is proud to have supported Design research as a Priority Area for the best part of a decade.

The London Design Fair 2019 took place over the course of four days and included over 500 exhibitors from 40 countries, including independent designers, established brands, small-to-medium sized enterprises, international country pavilions, features and exhibitions. Brought together, the London Design Fair reflects a significant side of the contemporary design industry. During the course of the four days, over 30,000 buyers, architects, interior designers, national and international press and media representatives, designers and the design-savvy public attend to view, commission, and purchase the very latest furniture, lighting, textiles, materials and conceptual installations from around the world.

Reflecting on the London Design Fair of 2019 in general and the AHRC Design Research for Change (DR4C) Showcase in particular, it is clear from the number of visitors to our stand and the level of engagement that ensued, that many wish to see and learn more about how design research can be used to address the world’s most pressing complex socio-economic, cultural, and environmental challenges, and how important it is that funding bodies such as UKRI continue to provide the support it so richly deserves.



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