Design plus Research
18-20 May, 2000
Politecnico di Milano
The Milano conference "Design Plus Research" was held on May 18-20,
2000 at Politecnico di Milano.
It brought more one hundred and fifty people from culturally and
geographically different contexts to debate about a common issue: the
relation between the activity of research and industrial design.
Participants from about twenty countries met at the campus of
Politecnico di Milano to establish a ground for this debate, aspiring
to build the basis for a culture of research in industrial design.
While the theme of the definition of design research may have
provided the linear trajectory sustaining the contributions of the
about 80 speakers, it is an articulated web that emerges when
exploring either the different acceptions and models elaborated along
heterogeneous cultural lines or the multiple perspectives coalesced
around the need to articulate what makes industrial design research
different from (or similar to) other forms of research.
The conference had no other declared intention than offering a milieu
of expression to this emergent dimension.
As a parallel concern, the initiative was ideally sustained by the
strongly felt need to recognize and to nurture a scientific
community, thus following the path indicated by a number of
conferences that already marked the end of an era of separations,
from the Ohio conference on doctoral education held at Columbus, USA,
to the forthcoming "Foundations for the future" conference, scheduled
for next July 9-12 at La Clusaz, France.
All the aspects of the "Design plus Research" conference were
developed within the activities of the PhD programme of Industrial
Design at Politecnico di Milano. The European Commission, Research
DG, Human Potential Programme, High-Level Scientific Conferences,
promoted and supported the initiative as a Euroconference.
Tomas Maldonado (Politecnico di Milano), Ezio Manzini (Politecnico di
Milano) and Victor Margolin (University of Illinois at Chicago) were
the members of the active scientific committee of reviewers.
Silvia Pizzocaro (Politecnico di Milano) was the chair of the
conference organizing committee.
The final statements of the conference are reported here for information.
Design (plus) Research
Themes from the Milan Conference
We live today in a complex world and everything we design reflects
this complexity. In this framework, the concepts of design and design
activity assume an increasing variety of meanings.
The discussion of how design culture faces this transformation
remains open, but we observe some basic propositions emerging from
the discussion. These are related to the role of design research in
generating a solid ground for discussing design and design activities.
1. In its most general definition, design is the conception and
planning of products, processes, systems and services. Design
research, in its most general definition, investigates "what and how
to design" and "how design is done, has been done and might be done."
2. A more specific definition of "how design is done, has been done
and might be done," involves generating knowledge to develop and
analyse new products, processes, systems and services. This knowledge
can also be used to reconfigure existing systems.
The challenge of "what and how to design" is to create research
programmes aimed at producing "semi-finished design research
results", which are not focused on a specific project, but rather
are intended to produce design knowledge that can be used as needed.
Both of these research activities properly appear as forms of
generalisable design knowledge, which must be considered in the
framework of the new social and organisational context. In this
context, design activity occours as a "flexible network" involving a
variable group of actors who are interconnected according to needs
3. In this scenario, the design process can take place through
parallel activities. Precisely because the speed of design activity
is increasing, it is vital to take the time for through design
research. In other words, it is necessary and possible to tackle
complex questions, thus generating a wide-range of design knowledge,
which can be used to increase critical sensitivity, to widen and
compare experiences and give strategic orientation to real-time
4. Inside the larger network of designers, researchers, producers,
and users, the design research community constitutes a network of
individuals and institutions. This network connects individuals and
creates a platform of interaction to encourage continuing dialogue
among researchers who operate in different ways and in different
domains. What this community has in common is a commitment to
building a design research culture, which can contribute to a deeper
understanding of design itself.
Ezio Manzini, Tomās Maldonado, Victor Margolin, Silvia Pizzocaro