Friday 7 October 2011

Some impressions from the Design Development and Research Conference, 2011.

Written for Design Academics.

I recently enjoyed attending the inaugural Design Development and Research Conference (DDRC), organised by Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT)'s Design and Informatics Department and hosted at CPUT's Belville campus. In contrast to Cape Town's Design Indaba, the DDRC ran for two days and focused on research into the design process and was aimed at educators, rather than creative superstars promoting their ideas to their fellow Creative Class.
I presented in the conference's Dilemma stream on the paper "Secondary school students use of online portfolio and social bookmarking software" (outdated abstract at to a small, but keen audience. In particular, I was lucky to lunch with design lecturers; Wayne Coughlan and Bruce Snaddon and learn from their experiences with CPUT students.

This presentation was part of panel on: "Designs for Learning: South African Youth’s use of Micro-blogging, Online Portfolios... and Computer Games." A common theme of the panelists was the importance of giving learners and students platforms to express their opinions; whether this was Marian Pike's experiments with using Twitter to deliver lectures and encourage feedback; Nicola Pallitt on students' representations of what computer gaming meant to them; Muya Koloko's encouragement of policy makers to consider computer gamers' opinions when defining age-restrictions; or Anja Venter's contextulisation of local learners' use library computers for gaming. Panelists' talks were well received and I hope our Digimob group is invited to the next DDRC for a repeat performance, just with new material :) ...

The organising committee did a sterling job of attracting interesting speakers. My four favourites were:

Professor Tracey Bhamra's keynote highlighted that providing people with information on climate change had proved insufficient for behaviour change; it is mostly ignored without an immediate reason for changes to be made. She showed the Sustainable Design process for products and how it helped designers to prompt users to make sustainable behavioural choices.

Her talk resonated with Professor Aquinaldo dos Santos' work with promoting sustainable design in Brazil. In particular, I enjoyed his examples of light-fittings that changed colour (from green to red) the longer they were used and a shower floor that became  uncomfortable to use if one showered for a long time.

Professor Jacqueline Rose Guile's keynote showed design projects that had been assisted in becoming culturally and economically sustainable; such as Siyazama in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Nalamunye in Uganda and Editions in Craft. In addition to the local-sensitivity and social responsibility shown in her design education, I also appreciated her discussion of the design process; particularly the importance of 'excitement' PLUS the 'reality check' {since there are "too many solutions to poorly identified problems"!}.

Professor Johannes Cronje spoke about what design 'is', proposing four categories to understand its grammar: 'Populist', 'Conventionalist', 'Functionalist' and 'Formalist'. He also added a fifth; 'Eclectic' during questions. As a designer, I thought this was useful to consider in responding to a brief; it is hard to design a successful response if one tries to span  more than one key focus area. This basic grammar was also useful to thinking about my own creative preference: I like formal experimentation and have previously struggled with educators with preferences for 'conventionalist', 'populist' or 'eclectic' approaches. At least now I can understand why. It was a question of conflicting grammars....

The DDRC 2011 was a great opportunity to learn from design thinkers; I look forward to participating in the next one.

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