Creative Currents for our Common Futures: A model for collective reflection in action for engaged design research practice Creative Currents for our Common Futures: A model for collective reflection in action for engaged design research practice

Over the past two decades Design has actively engaged with sustainability as both a topic for, and as an agenda for intervention in entrenched social and technical practices. The collective expertise of the authors is in the area of design for sustainability, which we articulate as the practice of Social and Sustainable Design. Our work deals with projects that focus upon design as a socially engaged and negotiated creative practice with a strong sustainable design or service design focus. Often located as visions for the future these projects are speculative and propositional, and are undertaken through a set of defined methods and strategies to think through the projects and develop the solutions. The design process in our projects typically includes stakeholder consultation, co-design and co-creation via a four stage progression of immersion, exploration, intervention and demonstration. Project outcomes in this mode of practice are variously designs of products, services or product service systems and in some instances the visualisation of social innovation enterprises extends all the way up to construction of service blueprints and business plans and engage with social issues (such as urban violence, disability, and shame), and sustainability (micro power generation, recycling and resource security). Additionally this work has extended the notion of the “social and sustainable” to include culture theory, art practice and contemporary aesthetics through the articulation of a position of both the post-professional and the industry of one. A project dealing with an urban community of free runners was undertaken within the community of Traceurs (as parkour practitioners are called). Another project was a collaborative art practice focused upon the body and sensory perception where the design process significantly used visualisation by making.(not sure we need this). In recent years we have seen the amplification of the social dimension in our projects and we have also realised the outcomes of the projects as social innovations. We campaign for a dematerialised world and have seen design projects become new, viable and self sustaining social entrepreneurship ventures. The paper is undertaken as a reflection to describe a codified practice of the design of social and sustainable intervention. The paper offers a theoretical positioning and alternative territory for design, which will be visually described through images from projects followed by a discussion of the methods that we deploy in our shared practice.

When Design is Research: A proposition realised as artefact constitutes design’s knowledge contribution

Austrailan modes of Practice based PhDs have gained currency the world over within the creative disciplines. However with time and translation into other contexts the operating models often lose the core spirit that the focus on ‘practice’ as both a method and topic was intended to privilege the useful knowledge domain of creative practitioners. Written theoretical takes on the Practice based PhDs describe, Practice-based and Practice-led, as the two ways in which scholarship can be undertaken. This has direct parallels with the way design research focussed upon discovery of new knowledge itself is categorised as Research through Design or Research about Design. The first is not about design knowledge at all and the later is what non-design scholars have tended to do. The often justificatory tone of these texts are attempts at the validation of PhDs in creative practice within the paradigm of the traditional notion of doctoral study as an advancement in knowledge, where the implicit assumption is that this knowledge is required to be textual. Such a justificatory stance was to be expected in the hotly contested nature of the territory of the PhD in design which struggled to gain acceptance with the discipline and then had to gain acceptability with suspicious external institutions. In the contemporary context however such hybridizations can be set aside and the gauntlet of ‘design is research’ can be thrown down to prompt a purer construction of scholarship in design. When design itself is accepted as research, it throws up two questions, how is the PhD to be constructed and how is the work of scholar to be validated? This paper describes a mode of PhD that answers these questions by describing a research paradigm that privileges the practitioner and uses a particular institutional practice for the validation of the scholarship.

Networks of evolution and a typology of ideologies and practices in modern design

In the first decade after independence, India was managed by its new rulers with a measure of caution and conservatism, focussed as they were upon healing the wounds of partition and maintaining the continuity of ongoing development projects set up by the British colonial administration. At the end of this period, as captured eloquently in the text of the second five year plan, the new elite let fly their bold vision for the new India. Their focus? How do you rapidly increase the size of the Indian economy? A group of journalists invited a year later to view the plan and its impacts, remarked that the plan ignored the consumer, and invested heavily in expensive infrastructure for the production of steel. The consumer though did figure in the un-funded part of the plan which “laid special stress on increasing the supply of consumer goods by using existing skills and equipment and steadily introducing technical improvements in the village and small-scale industries sector”. This innocuous line, and the implication that someone else may fund ‘technical improvements’, was to be of immense significance to design. This ‘someone else’ was to be foreign aid agencies and international experts, who came to India to study different aspects of society and propose aid-funded interventions. The specific focus upon consumption as an engine for national prosperity would lead the Ford Foundation to fund a travelling design exhibition for India and a feasibility study on design education, which would form the seed for a ‘new’ design institution in India. This new institution would be reliant upon aid, state support and seek legitimacy by being aligned with the vision of the state, and for years to come almost directly echo the words from the second five year plan. This paper, as a reading of texts, goes back to the years surrounding the launch of the second five year plan to develop a narrative of the re-development of design in the modern era in India. Through this paper I aim to describe a network that determined a particular course for the evolution of design in the modern era in India.


Speaking cloth: Including women’s account of body experiences in health innovations

This paper is about a project that works upon getting women to reflect upon their bodily experiences and to draw and paint their experiences as a way to communicate-out their journeys of childbearing. I arrived at this project of visual narratives because of the dissatisfaction I felt upon reading the solutions within texts on the subject of Maternal deaths in poorly serviced contexts. Words are a great vehicle for the urban educated but as ‘technical vocabulary’, through demanding a medicalisation of local knowledge of childbearing practices, they also become the very instruments that disenfranchise the lived experience of pregnant women. The research question then was – how can these women speak so that they are heard, so that their voices are heard in all their complexity and not in a simplified way that fits into current medical and public health theory? My answer has been to use the gallery, the exhibition space in urban centres as the stage where these voices are expressed. The first hand-drawn cloth was a cultural probe that was used in field work encounters with women in remote communities in Assam, India. The experience of using the ‘painted cloth’ as a vehicle to incite an outpouring of experiences from affected women and hurt families led to the development of 5 themes of narration. These themes were illustrated for exhibition by a Melbourne based artist where she reflectively drew upon her personal experiences to draw-out her narratives. I have since been working with a New Delhi based Textile artist to set up a project to get remote-rural-poor craftswomen to do similar paintings. These paintings are their stories – telling of their experiences of their childbirth experiences and of incidents in their community. These works are a way for the “voices” of these women, and the stories from remote rural communities, to be heard in urban centres through exhibitions of their works. The aesthetics and form of the story will go a long way in retaining the details in the narratives. By becoming images these narrative works are not reducible, as words often are, to being bracketed  as “formulaic problems”. This format (gallery) and this location (urban) is one part of the project focussed upon contributing a unique dimension that of  the perspective of remote-rural-poor women, to the policy discourse surrounding maternal deaths in communities distant from urban centres. Once the pieces are produced the next activity is the performance. The project envisages a travelling exhibition that stops at key places to conduct a conversation as a workshop, a provocation or a symposium. This event is envisaged to be a reading of the stories from the cloths as a conversation that aims to look at maternal health from the perspective of the women. The amplifying of the voices of remote-rural-poor woman is intended to give health innovators access to the lived experiences of pregnant women and to consider the women as partners and components of the solution ecosystems being developed.

Abstract submitted to Include 2013

The significance of Provocation in negotiating sustainability and future orientated Vehicle Design

The carbon footprint of a car is made up of the embodied emissions to make the car and the tail-pipe emissions of the car over its lifetime. A focus upon ‘reduction’ as a theme within sustainability agenda in car design would thus translate to a reduction in car production volumes and a reduction in demand for travel. The “car design research network” is a design project that uses serialised propositions exploring these dual-provocations through a networked enterprise model to come up with product service solutions for the future . The project selectively sets up studio projects, industry collaborations and simulates design as virtual models and prototypes. The studio projects offer students a research project location to undertake a project that asks of them to define a radical vision of a future, with an emphasis upon the naive as a disruptive agency.The project’s focus upon ‘reduction’ is in opposition to the notion of ‘growth’, the primary driver for new product development in Industry, and constitutes the fundamental device used in the research project to disrupt the collective narrative of car design thinking. The paper is a reflection upon the methods used, the outcomes generated and the impacts achieved through the research project.

Visualizing new traditions: Responses to the medicalization of the body in remote rural Assam

In India a woman dies during childbirth every 8 minutes with a majority of these deaths occurring in  remote and rural communities. A significant proportion of these deaths occur in Assam a state defined by ethnic conflict, economic underdevelopment and a huge body of untamed water in the Brahmaputra. The state in India, which leads the world in having the highest number of maternal deaths (defined as maternal mortality ratio – MMR), has a public health focus upon reducing maternal deaths through programmes within the National Rural Health Mission. While maternal-death is decidedly a medical and, in remote communities, a public health issue there are location on this planet that frustrate both the government and the medical profession as a purely medical solution fails to solve the problem of maternal deaths effectively. The Fifth Goal Project, a design project focussed upon product service systems in remote rural contexts in Assam, privileges provider plurality and the sustainability of health eco-system to construct a campaign project in the maternal health space. The paper describes the project programme and the process of visualisation of new cultural practices and of the development of new artefacts embedded in new or old cultural practices.