2015 marks the launch of Iterations a new publication that will provide a platform for the dissemination of Irish Design Research and Practice in Ireland and internationally.
In my role as Irish Design2015 Programme Director and as a member of the Iterations editorial board, I had the pleasure of writing the introductory essay below for the first edition:
Irish Design 2015 (ID2015) is a year-long programme exploring, promoting and celebrating the best of Irish design, research and creativity through events and activities on the island of Ireland and internationally. By raising awareness of the benefits of design in everyday life and the growing importance of design-led innovation to Ireland’s culture, society and economy, the programme aims to encourage both investment in design and the use of design as a methodology to enhance other disciplines or domains. ID2015 is supporting over 200 projects within Ireland during this year of design, and Iterations is a highly significant project within this overall initiative.
Design research focuses on engaging stakeholders at all stages of the research process, from shaping initial questions through developing methodologies to sharing findings and recommendations. As a result, design research can achieve substantial impacts on public and institutional policy and professional practice, as well as raising awareness and understanding among the public.
Innovation is essential to the sustained prosperity of Ireland, but discussion of how to foster an innovative mindset has so far focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – the STEM subjects. Design research is by its very nature innovative: it involves examining how things work and how they can be improved, a process that continually generates new ideas and combinations. Investment in design research is essential to ensure that this creative mindset can contribute to driving innovation across disciplines and throughout the Irish economy.
Scientific research provides information and theories to explain the nature and properties of the world around us. It makes practical applications possible. Unlike scientific research, design research is not only concerned with what exists but with what ought to be. Research in a design context breaks with the determinisms of the past; it continually challenges, provokes and disrupts the status quo.
The establishment of Iterations creates the impetus for a series of collaborative relationships to emerge and blossom. Collaboration demands a level of trust and openness; there can be unknowns, surprises and unintended outcomes. It is a collective process made and remade, revised and reiterated, reinterpreted and reimagined. Design research – whether in the studio, laboratory or street – is an evolutionary process, presenting, archiving and transforming new design processes, methods and concepts. Iterations will become a key forum for investigating the process of designing in all its many fields, and building a research platform to better understand and improve the processes, products, services and systems being collaboratively designed.
In recent years, design research within and beyond Ireland has evolved into three distinct forms – research into and about design, research as design and research through design.
Research into and about design (history, theory and context) is the most established and still the most common type of work undertaken in design research circles. There are many precedents for this type of scholarly work that look closely at some specific area of practice, most notably Ireland, Design and Visual Culture: Negotiating Modernity 1922-1992, edited by Dr. Linda King and Elaine Sisson, which collated essays on Irish design and visual culture and drew upon a number of interdisciplinary fields to address Irish design history. Such research usually employs a method of critical investigation to evaluate and interpret a specific body of knowledge and its signification. In this type of design research, the researcher is unlikely to also be the creator of the work in question. The theoretical perspective taken is generally from a position external to the work being investigated. By reflecting on existing design work from outside the creative process, the researcher is able to take a more objective view.
Research as design (innovative design methods) is a slightly more contested category. In recent years, a number of design researchers have claimed that making designed objects is, in itself, a process of research. This category refers to the notion that the outcomes of the research are, in some way, embodied entirely in the designed artefacts. The research is likely to involve the gathering and testing of ideas, materials and techniques required to make the artefacts. While research of this type is vital to the production of some original design work, it does not necessarily imply that the artefact makes an ‘original contribution to knowledge’ in the traditional sense of research. In this category the designer, who is the researcher, is operating almost entirely within the field of interest. The artefacts are unlikely to be interpreted from an external, objective position. The growing number of PhDs by Practice supervised at the University of Ulster and the National College of Art and Design demonstrate the increasing significance of this form of design research.
Research through design (experimental practice) is considered the taking of ‘something’ from outside the design work and translating it through the medium. Such work, commonly termed ‘practice-based research’, is often interdisciplinary in nature and can range from an idea or concept to a new material or process. In this case the researcher will be engaged in making work within a field of interest as well as reflecting on it and contextualizing it. This reflective method engenders a viewpoint that is both internal and external to the subject of the research. In practice-based research new knowledge is generated by a combination of artefacts and the reflection that they engender. In this type of research the uniqueness and/or value will be contained in the nexus between the written text and the designed objects. Prime examples of this approach include the work of Irish trained designer Anthony Dunne who with his partner Fiona Raby has done so much to help develop a critical approach to design over the last decade through their writing, teaching and creative outputs.
Irish design research and practice will benefit enormously from the establishment of a peer-reviewed journal. Iterations will help establish reputational yardsticks and benchmarks for the design industry and higher education sectors, and inform and engage public sector policymakers and research funders. Iterations will create an invaluable archive, resource and platform for the publication and dissemination of critical thinking & practice led insight, within the discipline of design.
Ireland has a vibrant design research community reflecting the diverse expertise within third level institutions and the commercial design sector. Design research being undertaken within Ireland’s Higher Education institutions is increasingly attracting significant funding from the public and private sectors, and operating on an international stage through large scale EU funded projects.
The Iterations editorial panel is drawn from across the island of Ireland, representing the diverse range of design disciplines, research traditions and approaches. As such, the journal is ideally placed to help foster trans-geographical collaboration and communication, and place Irish design research on the global stage. Through encouraging the development of scholarship and knowledge in design, Iterations can make a real contribution to the development of doctoral education and research training, alongside sharing knowledge across the boundaries of design disciplines.
2015 is a highly significant year for design in Ireland, marking as it does the year of Irish design, 50 years after the establishment of Kilkenny Design Workshops. I am delighted that ID2015 has been able to support the establishment of Iterations – both through funding and assisting in the development of a design research network across Ireland. I look forward to seeing the journal play a pivotal role in archiving Irish design research and helping to inspire, inform and develop Ireland’s design research capacity and culture into the future.
Professor Alex Milton
Programme Director, Irish Design 2015