Design Culture Salon 18: Is designing for behaviour change ‘creepy’?

Friday 20 November, 6:30pm, Clore 55, Victoria and Albert Museum

Design for behaviour change has been one of the most compelling instruments of design practice in fields from politics, marketing, transport to urban planning. The concept has received enthusiastic reception by many inside government, who apply ‘Nudge’ principles in the formulation of policy. Design insights are regularly applied within PR and advertising strategies. But many critics of behaviour change are uneasy about the ethics and morals of this mode of design thinking and practice. This critique has a long history, since the publication of Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders (1957) to the more recent criticism of the influential Nudge (2009). So, how justified are these concerns? What are they based on and what are the alternatives?  Is there a better way of articulating what we mean by ‘creepy’ or being more transparent about the motives and techniques of designing for ‘behaviour change’?

Chair: Dr Dan Lockton, Research Tutor, Innovation Design Engineering, Royal College of Art

Dr Simon Blyth, Founder of Actant design research consultancy
Professor Peter John, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, UCL
Dr Phoebe Moore, Senior Lecturer, Department of Law and Politics, Middlesex University
Dr Alison Powell, Assistant Professor, Department of Media and Communication, LSE.
Dr Jessica Pykett, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Birmingham


Simon Blyth founded Actant in 2011. Prior to this he was Head of the European Food and Beverage Practice at the design and innovation consultancy IDEO. Over the past years his clients have included: SAB Miller, Mondelez International, Bacardi Global Brands, Department for International Development, Nestle, Unilever and Premier Foods. With a PhD in Sociology, he’s passionate about identifying ‘cultural opportunities’ and designing new ‘social practices’ for his clients. Simon is regularly invited to write and speak on material culture, design thinking, the sociology of consumption and consumer insight. Recent publications include ʻDesign Thinking and the Big Society: From Solving Personal Troubles to Designing Social Problemsʼ,ʻThe Dig: Is Archaeology the New Ethnography?ʼ and ʻRe-thinging (typo intended) Market Researchʼ. Simon has taught at the universities of Bath, Oxford and Southampton .

Peter John joined UCL in September 2011 as Professor of Political Science and Public Policy. He is known for his books on public policy, such as Analysing Public Policy (2nd edition 2012) and Making Policy Work (2011). His book with Keith Dowding, Exits, Voices and Social Investment: Citizens’ Reaction to Public Services was published with Cambridge University Press in 2012 and with Anthony Bertelli (NYU), Public Policy Investment by Oxford University Press in 2013), a study of how governments approach risk when selecting policies. He is currently using experiments to study civic participation in public policy, with the aim of finding out what governments and other public agencies can do to encourage citizens to carry out acts of collective benefit. This work came together in a book with Bloomsbury Academic, Nudge, Nudge, Think, Think: Using Experiments to Change Civic Behaviour which was published in 2011.

Dan Lockton specialises in the links between design, understanding, and human action, particularly with respect to behaviour change for social and environmental benefit. As Visiting Research Tutor in Innovation Design Engineering, he supervises PhD research in areas including cybernetics and the Internet of Things, design for behaviour change around product repair, and applications of synaesthesia in design. From 2013–15, Dan was a Senior Associate in the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, as part of the Age& Ability and Work & City Research Labs. Dan was previously a research fellow at WMG, University of Warwick, and a research assistant at Brunel University. For his PhD at Brunel, he developed Design with Intent, a multidisciplinary toolkit for designers working on behaviour change.

Phoebe Moore is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Middlesex University. She has been teaching International Relations and International Political Economy since September 2000 in the United Kingdom and has published a number of books, articles and reports about labour struggle, industrial relations and the impact of technology on workers’ everyday lives. Her PhD is from Nottingham University was entitled ‘Neoliberal Globalisation and Labour Struggle in South Korea’. She won the Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC) Post-doctoral Fellowship at that time, served at the University of Manchester. Dr Moore won the British Academy/Leverhulme award from the small grants scheme to research the use of self-tracking health devices in companies. This project is entitled Agility, Work and the Quantified Self. She is lead Social Scientist researching the project The Quantified Workplace at Colliers International and has published her first report on the project on the company’s website.

Alison Powell is Assistant Professor and Programme Director of the MSc in Media and Communication (Data & Society). she researches how people’s values influence the way technology is built, and how technological systems in turn change the way we work and live together. She is currently working on a book about technological citizenship and governance in data cities and Internet of Things-enabled ‘sensing cities’ and working on several projects related to citizenship, cities, data and ethics. This work tries to understand the discourses, practices and governance structures that are part of our society’s orientation towards data. Her past research projects have looked at community wireless networking and its policy impact, digital rights activism in comparative perspective (including Net Neutrality and the opposition to SOPA and ACTA legislation) and the expansion of open source, DIY and hacking culture from software to hardware to open science.

Jessica Pykett is a social and political geographer with research interests in citizenship and the practices of governing, the geographies of education, and the formation of neurological and psychological citizen-subjectivities. Before joining the University of Birmingham in September 2012, Jessica was a lecturer in Human Geography at Aberystwyth University. Here she worked on a Leverhulme funded grant on the ‘Time-Spaces of Soft-Paternalism’. Previously she was an ESRC research fellow at The Open University and has held research positions at the University of Bristol and Futurelab Education. She is co-author of ) Changing Behaviours: On the Rise of the Psychological State. (2013).

This is a free, drop-in event. No need to book.
Directions to Clore 55 here. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reflections on Design Culture Salon 17: Imitation, Inspiration or Theft: What does intellectual property mean in a global design economy?

Following its summer recess, the University of Brighton/Victoria and Albert Museum Design Culture Salon returned with yet another belter of an event. They seem to get better and better. Described as a ‘dream panel’ by one VIP attendee, the combined force of ideas and insights that emanated from it filled the packed room with Friday evening energy.

l. to r.: Mark Waugh, Tania Rufus-Phipps, Sarah Teasley, Arti Sandhu, Landé Pratt

l. to r.: Mark Waugh, Tania Rufus-Phipps, Sarah Teasley, Arti Sandhu, Landé Pratt

In an attempt to head off inflated expectations, I began by warning that the subject of Intellectual Property can be very dull. Here’s a list of the some of the stuff you have to learn to get ahead in IP:

Registered design
Trade secrets

Then you have to understand how these are applied in different territories. For example what is the World Intellectual Property Organization and its Patent Cooperation Treaty? And the Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs and its International Trademark System Patent Cooperation Treaty?

(Pay attention! This stuff may come up in your end-of-year examinations! Or the Christmas quiz, for that matter…)

But, for my money, when you look at individual cases of IP it becomes fascinating. They tell us as much about differing cultural and intellectual practices of places as about their legal systems. Furthermore, as it became very apparent through the evening, the creative industries are very much built on unashamed borrowing, quoting, cutting and pasting, improvising on, extending from and so on. However, its open culture of sharing may seem at odds with the privatizing impulses of IP.

Fashion law expert, Tania Phipps-Rufus reminded us that policy often tells us that IP is a good thing for protecting creative invention and yet, the fashion industry, for example, relies on the continual recycling of ideas. She describes this as an ‘open ecology of sharing’. Digital technology means that design ideas circulate much more rapidly these days and designers have much more direct access to global recognition. At the same time, their work can be copied that much more easily by a broader constituency. Meanwhile, luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Ralph Lauren are really hot on defending their IP. They have the funds and legal back-up to be able to defend their monopolies on particular styles.

As Head of Innovation and Research at the Designers’ and Artists’ Copyright Society (DACS), Mark Waugh is involved in protecting the marketplace for creative practitioners. DACS acts to collect fees for the licensing of creative work for reproduction, returning £15m to its registered participants last year. Nonetheless, he recognizes that postmodernism has involved a process wherein ‘the signature is broken apart’, as he put it. While contemporary capitalism places a pressure for differentiation into the marketplace, reproduction doesn’t necessarily mean copying. Nothing is the same. His observations back-filled the legalistic discussions with compelling philosophical arguments as to the nature of originality.

Arti Sandhu, drawing from her extensive research on and knowledge of Indian fashion, brought in important reflections from beyond the global North. At one level, she observes that there is a complicated exchange going on in Indian high fashion. This involves a to-ing and fro-ing of ‘orientalism’ whereby eventually, at times, Indian fashion recycles Western notions of Indian styles — a kind of re-orientalist design strategy. Origin gets problematical here. Meanwhile, craft in much of India is an evolutionary process, rather than emphasizing newness. It is something that is practised collectively where novelty can be frowned upon. This therefore makes it difficult to pinpoint where the innovations lie. In summary, it seems that IP sits in a tangled web of cultural identity, tradition and positioning.

Landé Pratt, whose academic work interestingly sits at the interface of IP law and the creative industries and media and communication studies, also discussed issues of the global South in her intervention. She drew attention to how, for example, in many African states there is an ingrained culture of openness and sharing with regards to ideas and innovations. She aligned this with ‘call and response’ modes of public gatherings in sub-Saharan Africa. There has been plenty of looting of cultural value from the global South, however: the Massai brand has been appropriated by no less than six multinational corporations, for instance. Building on Tania Rufus-Phipps’s observations, Landé argued for a kind of hybridity in IP where openness and copying could interlink with legal protection. One of the big challenges in harnessing such a balance is in ensuring that this works equitably across territories.

Design historian Sarah Teasley reminded us of the longer lineage of IP debates. We might take the discussion back to the 15th century and the rise of print, as a Salon attendee  argued later. Or, as Sarah showed, we may take on board the refining of patent law in 18th century England. But she also used the example of Japan in the 1950s to show how IP can indirectly affect design and benefit designers. The drive in Japanese political economy was to distance it from the stereotype of one that merely copied. Companies were encouraged to embrace IP. As a result, more designers were hired to help them create differentiated products. Ultimately, and this is fascinating not just for design historians, patents and other forms of IP are also cultural artefacts. They reflect social, political and economic norms in various territories. Law legitimizes culture.

This issue of the indirect effects of IP on design and design practices leads on to the question of why so few designers protect their own work. A Design Council report of 2010 showed that 66% of design companies did not ‘do’ IP at all and only 1% of them benefitted from royalties. After all, most designers sell IP to clients and, in any case, they don’t want to get stuck into the legalistic quagmire of IP — they just want to get onto the next project, I argued. Tania Rufus-Phipps followed on from this to suggest that IP is only really an issue for designers when it goes wrong. One of the big problems here, currently, is that much IP is not really fit for purpose. Landé Pratt agreed that much IP law is out of sync with creative practices. There needs to be a deeper understanding of how design industries function if they are to be better protected from a legal standpoint.

In discourses around IP, there often tends to be an oppositional dualism invoked: privatization v. commons; IP v. Open Innovation; scarcity v. abundance and so on. Mark Waugh suggested that the enclosures have always been around: there has always been privatization and protectionism, although it has been played out in different ways through history and in different geographical contexts. There is a tendency to romanticize a mythical, libertarian past. Nonetheless, these days there is an issue of corporations ‘hoovering up’ IP — laying claim to an invention before someone else does, whether they use it or not. Again, this suggests that a more rounded approach to IP needs to be taken on the part of policymakers that works for a broad and varied constituency.

There is still plenty to play for. In finishing, Landé Pratt argued that greater harmonization of IP between regions will provide a more level playing field for actors around the world. Arti Sandhu observed how IP is beginning to push back against cultural appropriation. Sarah Teasley agreed that it could be a tool for addressing power imbalances. Tania Rufus-Phipps suggested that there could also be more flexibility in IP law to allow for cultural difference. Mark Waugh concluded by reminding us that IP is still a source of livelihood for many creative practitioners.

But we all agreed that those creative practitioners need to be much better informed about how IP functions, who it is for and what are its benefits and pitfalls.

28 October 2015

Posted in creative industries policy, fashion, intellectual property | Leave a comment

Design Culture Salon 17: Imitation, Inspiration or Theft: What does intellectual property mean in a global design economy?

October 23, 6:30pm, Clore 55, V&A Museum

The fine line between imitation and inspiration has always been a source of contention and debate in design. However the issue has come under greater scrutiny of late, in the context of the increasingly central role played by China and India in the global design economy. Here, the terms Intellectual Property (IP) function in different ways to Europe and America. This Salon will explore the possibilities and complexities of finding a common understanding of Intellectual Property across global design cultures and consider the implications of this for the future of design practice.


Professor Guy Julier, University of Brighton Principal Research Fellow in Contemporary Design


Tania Phipps-Rufus is currently studying for her Ph.D on Fashion, Culture and Intellectual Property in the Creative Economy (at the University of Bristol). Her scholarship focuses on the legal aspects of contemporary fashion business, and her research interests also concern intellectual property as it applies to the Design, Art & Fashion industries.  Tania read law at the University of Kent, Canterbury, and obtained her master of laws degree in intellectual property from the University of London, Queen Mary (2006). She is the founder and editor-in-chief of the blog: Fashion Law & Business and is a lecturer at the London based Italian fashion University, Istituto Marangoni, where she teaches the legal aspects of fashion business on the MA in Fashion Promotion and the MA in Strategic Luxury Brand Management. Prior to this she was a visiting lecturer of law at the University of Hertfordshire where she taught on the Masters of Law programme in Intellectual Property Law, M-commerce Law, E-commerce Law, Entertainment Law, and Contract Law & Negotiation.

Mark Waugh is currently Head of Research and Innovation at DACS drawing on experience across the private and public sector in the visual arts. He is Chair of Spacex Gallery Exeter and has recently worked extensively in Korea and South East Asia as Commissioner for emerging artfairs; Art Gwangju and G-Seoul 13 and as Associate Director Of SUUM; Commissioning a number of projects in collaboration with Samsung Electronics including the new media focused award, The Samsung Art+ Prize. He is producer of the International Curators Forum and previously Director of the iconic A Foundation in London and Liverpool. He author of the novels, Bubble Entendre and Come and Co- editor with Thomas Frank of; We Love You / On Audiences.

Arti Sandhu currently holds a position of Associate Professor in Fashion Design at Columbia College in Chicago. She studied Fashion Design at N.I.F.T. (New Delhi) and received her Master’s Degree in Fashion and Textile Design from Nottingham Trent University (U.K.). She has taught Fashion Design in New Zealand and the US. Her research interests lie in fashion and related visual and material culture studies, especially with regards to the impact of globalization, cross cultural exchanges and local pop-culture on Indian fashion and design. She has recently published a book titled Indian Fashion: Tradition, Innovation and Style through Bloomsbury Academic.

Dr Landé Pratt teaches both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in the Department of Media and Communication at Kingston University. She convenes a range of applied, theory and practice-based modules, including: Media Rights and Mashups and, Multi-Media (including documentary) Production. She is called to the Bar of England and Wales and, runs a training consultancy specialising in law / legal strategy relevant to the creative industries. Her current research projects include work on intellectual property, cultural property rights, film and music distribution, photography & design rights and user-generated content. She is interested in legal and enterprise issues relevant to the creative industries across cultures. Prior to her work at Kingston, Landé Pratt project managed / co-produced, the British Film Institute’s web archive on the history of British film and television.

Dr Sarah Teasley is Head of Programme (RCA) for the V&A/RCA programme in History of Design. Her research takes historical case studies from product, furniture and architectural design and manufacturing in Japan since the late nineteenth century to consider broader questions around design, technology and society. She is particularly interested in the roles that technical mediation and policy play in the adoption of new processes, materials and technologies, and in design as a perspective into political economy. Sarah’s teaching and research supervision covers the design and manufacture of objects and spaces in the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries, within Europe and North America as well as East Asia. Her other research and teaching interests include critical theory, the history and philosophy of technology, gender and design, globalisation and the design of mass production and other large systems.

Free event: All welcome! Directions to Clore 55 here. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Series Four Programme

The Design Culture Salon Series Four program is now available to view in the Future Salons section of this site.

The events are free and unticketed: All welcome!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reflections on Design Culture Salon 16: What does design do for citizenship in the age of the consumer?

If ever there was an outcome of Design Culture Salon’s discussion that reflected our political times, then this evening’s was one of them. When it comes to thinking about how design could function in new ways to produce new politics and new forms of citizenship and participation, we all agreed that we are in a moment of ‘existential angst’. All bets are off. We don’t know exactly what should happen, but something should…

We weren’t going to reach a perfect (Nordic-style) plain of consensus through two hours of talk. Indeed, we discovered early on that there were some fundamental disagreements even with the premise of the argument.

By reference to Abercrombie et al’s 1986 book Sovereign Individuals of Capitalism, I opened the discussion to argue that while capitalism was deeply social, the notion of the free individual (and by extension, consumer sovereignty) was a trope that runs through centuries of cultural production.  Think:  late-Renaissance portraiture, Enlightenment literature, the modernist canon in painting (cf. Clement Greenberg). Individualism has had its representational gloss over capitalism for a long time.

But there’s something specific about the date of Abercrombie’s book:  it came out in the mid-1980s when Thatcherism was in full sail and the notion of the expression of freedom through individual consumerism was in full swing. Are we still locked into this or does design have a role in reframing both consumerism and citizenship?

l to r:  Irenie Ekkeshis,  Gordon Hush,  Noortje Marres,  Barry Quirk, Leanne Wierzba, Guy Julier. Photo:  Jocelyn Bailey

l to r: Irenie Ekkeshis,
Gordon Hush,
Noortje Marres,
Barry Quirk, Leanne Wierzba, Guy Julier. Photo: Jocelyn Bailey

Irenie Ekkeshis also placed this turn toward the ‘consumer’ in the mid-1980s, arguing that consumer identity had dominated public discourse ever since. However, she noted this was, finally, being challenged. Digital technologies were allowing other possibilities of identity to circulate. As design has been partly responsible for getting us into this framework (‘another fine mess’), it can also be active in taking us to other sets of relationships and identities. Her work at the New Citizenship Project is focused on getting organizations and individuals to see through a citizen lens. For example, a new project of theirs is called Rabble; it finds ways of connecting families into volunteer activities and as such, it garners new possibilities beyond merely ‘going shopping’.

Gordon Hush put us right by arguing that notions of the consumer even went back to the seventeenth century. Aside from this correction, he also suggested that design itself can’t really do much for citizenship, but designers can. Citizenship as a concept is profoundly uneconomic in that it isn’t directed at maximum rent. So if designers look to working in this framework, then they have much to contribute but must look to other frameworks and ways of working. He cited the Scottish Parliament’s clear-sighted engagement with design methods, led by Cat Macaulay where policy is fostered by talking to people, visualising change and prototyping possible outcomes.

Noortje Marres challenged the separation of consumption and citizenship in the debate. These are not separate realms but are deeply entangled with each other, she argued. Design is, indeed, culpable in the process of giving these apparent autonomy. Once the consumer is disentangled from citizenship, then s/he is rendered unaccountable. (I take this to mean ‘alienated consumption’. Noortje cited Walter Lippmann’s 1922 book Public Opinion for its critique of the propensity to conceive of things like citizenship as somehow existing outside ‘normal’ or ‘everyday’ living. This takes politics out of ordinary activities. Design, according to Noortje, should and could be active in showing how politics and the quotidien everyday are entangled.

Barry Quirk began his intervention spectacularly by quoting Gracchus in Ridley Scott’s 2000 film Gladiator: ‘The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the Senate, it’s the sand of the Colosseum’. With 250 days of circus at the height of the Roman Empire, entertainment prevailed over other concerns. There is another point here, though: the world of consumption is not entirely about the private individual – consumption is also a public activity. We vote to have influence over how the taxes we pay are spent, for example. Design, Barry argued, imprisons consumption in its own past. It structures and promotes modes of being rather than opening out new possibilities. How, conversely, can design work to promote empathy and social inclusion in systems of care?

Leanne Wierzba followed up on Barry’s observations on the dominance of consumer culture and its infantilizing effects by reminding us of Barbara Kruger’s 1987 work, ‘I Shop Therefore I Am’. Through this she took us to thinking about Jacques Lacan’s notion of the mirror stage and how ‘I organize myself in relation to the world out there’. Consumerism has become a dominant mode because it helps us position ourselves where other points of reference for the self seem to have faded or gone adrift. There is the possibility, though, that design can provide another mirror to help us look beyond the immediacy of the self-as-consumer and reflect back on the broader social, political, ecological and economic implications of this tendency in our culture.

The question as to whether design should be mobilized to make civic participation more attractive and more celebratory is challenging. At one level, the ‘pencil on a string’ mode of voting is dull; but it is also appropriately dispassionate, it could be said. Gordon Hush argued that we should disentangle politics from spectacle and allow a quiet space for us to think and engage in it, rather than ‘sexing-up voting paraphernalia’. Elsewhere, though, Noortje Marres saw the parallel in issues and brands: both are things that are enroled in; they draw in personal enthusiasm and concern.

Meanwhile, Irenie Ekkeshis sees a great opportunity lost with so much creative power amongst professionals and non-professionals alike when it isn’t mobilized more into the domain of citizenship. This can also come down to the way that choices are arrived at and Barry Quirk made the case for designers to be involved in developing more sophisticated forms of citizen participation in decision-making.

Leanne Wierzba brought up the eternal question of cost versus value here: currently, it is cheaper to maintain ‘old’ forms of citizenship (high consumption levels, high environmental impact etc.) than it is to derive new value in the social domain. The challenge, perhaps, is to design low-cost ways of achieving higher social and environmental value.

One of my current obsessions is refuting grandiose declarations of ‘design is this or that’. Can we have a more nuanced discussion where we are more precise about the kinds of design objects we are talking about, the economic frameworks in which design is functioning and the kinds of designers we mean? It seems to be one of the great immaturities of much design scholarship that it takes forever to get us beyond vapid generalisations. I was delighted that we began to talk about the different scales and materialities in which design, consumption and citizeship take place, therefore. These are different, for example, in the home, in the neighbourhood, in the borough or county or at national levels.

Citizenship is pegged to nationhood but may be active in various ways in different territorial conditions. (I refer you here to Doreen Massey’s excellent 2004 essay ‘Geographies of Responsibility’.) These may be brought into relation with one another, though. ‘How does a thermostat mediate climate change?’, Noortje Marres asked. The question perfectly entangles consumption and citizenship. But it also suggests that such everyday and intimate things can open up agonistic spaces where debate about our places in the world and the worlds we want can be activated.

Existential angst, folks, begins at home. But let’s get out there as well.


Guy Julier, 13 April 2015


Posted in citizenship, consumer culture | 1 Comment

Design Culture Salon 16: What does design do for citizenship in the age of the consumer?

Friday 10 April


Clore 55, British Galleries

Notions of the consumer and the citizen have become curiously entangled in recent years. In many cases, design has been the culprit in delivering this entanglement. Advertisements, branding and luxury lifestyle products increasingly conflate buying and consuming with individual agency on a variety of public issues, from climate change to online privacy. But how meaningful is this association? If design has been a powerful tool in merging notions of consumerism and citizenship, then how might it be used as a tool to reverse this? What other forms of citizenship are available to design with?

Chair: Guy Julier, Professor of Design Culture, University of Brighton and Victoria and Albert Museum.

Irenie Ekkeshis, New Citizenship Project
Gordon Hush, Head of Product Design, Glasgow School of Art
Noortje Marres, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Goldsmiths
Barry Quirk, Chief Executive of Lewisham Council
Leanne Wierzba, Winchester School of Art/V&A Research Fellow in Craft/Luxury

Irenie Ekkeshis started her career at leading London advertising agencies Lowe Lintas and Fallon London, working on clients including Unilever, Nokia, HSBC, BBC and Eurostar. She has worked on several innovative projects, including The Tate Movie Project, a collaboration with the Tate Gallery which harnessed children’s creativity to make a full-length feature film, and BBC jam, a free-to-access platform for children aged 5-16 to learn through interactive games. After a period running leading cultural tour operator The Traveller, and following major illness, Irenie became heavily involved in patient participation within the NHS and launched two innovative patient participation projects with Moorfields Eye Hospital and the National Institute of Health Research Biomedical Research Centre. In 2014 Irenie joined Jon to found the New Citizenship Project. In 2015 she was awarded Health and Social Care Campaigner of the Year by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation for her work to raise awareness of contact lens-related vision loss, following her own experience.

Gordon Hush is a Sociologist who now heads the Product Design department of The Glasgow School of Art. In addition, he oversees a suite of Masters programmes, including M.Des Design Innovation & Citizenship. He is not a fan of design as “nice things for rich people” but accepts that this is the world we live in. He tends to view design and its outcomes as a series of relationships between people and things and tries to explain this in terms of experience(s), since this avoids having to talk about human nature. He would like to see design figure as a means of re-distributing wealth and opportunity in our society, and remains curious as to whether it can truly do so.

Noortje Marres studied sociology and philosophy of science and technology at the University of Amsterdam and the École des Mines in Paris. She currently teaches sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, where she convenes the Master’s in Digital Sociology and directs the interdisciplinary research Centre for the Study of Invention and Social Process (CSISP). Her work investigates relations between publicity, technology, and the environment by various means: social and political theory, digital methods, and in collaboration with artists and designers. Her first book, “Material Participation: Technology, the Environment and Everyday Publics” (Palgrave, 2012) was recently released in paperback, and she is currently writing a second: “Digital Sociology: the Reinvention of Social Research” (Polity).

Barry Quirk has been Chief Executive in LB Lewisham for over 20 years. He has worked in local government for more than 30 years, with service and management experience in five London Councils. He is  author of Re-imagining government: public leadership in challenging times (2011) and a frequent lecturer on public policy and management. Between 2006-8 he was the President and Chairman of SOLACE (the national association for local government chief executives). His 2013 Royal Society of Arts lecture ‘Design and Public Services: from soft furnishings to hard disciplines’ is available here.

Leanne Wierzba is a design historian, curator and writer. Her research investigates contemporary design practice and the culture of industry, focusing on luxury, digital fashion and speculative design. She is co-curator of What is Luxury? at the V&A and has co-curated a series of exhibitions on contemporary fashion at the Fashion Space Gallery, London College of Fashion. Previous experience as a fashion designer was gained working with notable brands in Vienna, New York, Paris and London. Her writing on fashion, design and contemporary culture has been published internationally.

Free event; All welcome!

This Salon coincides with the V&A exhibition All This Belongs To You.

Directions to Clore 55 here:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reflections on Design Culture Salon 15: How does design address immobilities in our society?

It is now 20 years since the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was passed into law in the UK. This made it an offence to discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of education, transport, goods and services and employment. And yet, it is more complex than a piece of legislation when it gets actualized. Anyone with an impairment or who has accompanied someone with impairments will know that mobilities or immobilities are complex practices that are experienced in a variety of ways. Yes, it is about straightforward things like ramps and legibility. But it also encompasses nuances of language (as a recent edition of Myslexia reminds us), gendered notions of the body, institutional assumptions, the semiotics of materials and a huge range of questions that this Salon revealed.

In his introduction to the evening’s discussion, Rob Imrie reminded us that the subject for debate opens onto the politics of design. How society that is designed for and how society is engaged in designing itself provides a register for its priorities. What is considered to be mobility? For whom and how is mobility structured? These issues transform who we are. At the same time, impairment can be destabilized and in that, normative understandings of what this means can be challenged.

Rob Imrie (right) introduces the panel:  l. to r. Ana Carden-Coyne, Carmen Papalia, James Grant, Graham Pullin, Alison Thomson

Rob Imrie (right) introduces the panel: l. to r. Ana Carden-Coyne, Carmen Papalia, James Grant, Graham Pullin, Alison Thomson

In her opening position statement, cultural historian Ana Corden-Coyne drew on her research on war veterans of both World Wars. Following WW1, there were some 750,000 returnees who were categorized as disabled and in this environment war pensions were partly calculated on the basis lost body parts. This underlines a view of the body as an assemblage of parts, revealing the historical roots of the cyborg physique wherein lost parts could simply be replaced by prosthetics. In this, the body was conceived around a technological notion of hyper-masculinity. It followed from this that war would not be conceived as disabling; rather, the obstacles to rehabilitation were about ‘willpower’ and ‘attitude’. (In this, I am reminded of my childhood hero, Douglas Bader, as played by Kenneth More in Reach for the Sky; but much of its visual and rhetorical language is repeated in more contemporary representations such as via Help for Heroes.) Needless to say, there were resistances to this dominant system: many disabled veterans threw their unweildy prosthetics away. In this account, though, design has and continues to produce both cultural and social norms of disability that need unpicking.

This Salon was devised to coincide with the Shape Arts/V&A artist-in-residence Carmen Papalia‘s productive engagement with the museum. Carmen brings a wealth of experience in performances and enquiries that interface visual impairment with cultural institutions. It challenges the ocularcentricity of places such as the Victoria and Albert Museum by seeking out other channels for engagement. Carmen described how, for example, he has used a sighted companion to describe an art exhibition to him as another way of experiencing it. In this, he made a case for what he calls ‘open access’. This notion takes a fascinating turn from the ‘get round impairment’ school of design, curatorship or museology to challenge dominant, normative assumptions of experience. Open access means that a range of entry-points and registers can be made available and used. Smell, sound, touch, movement, vibration can all be folded into the embodied museum visit for all. Spaces are usually understood and encountered in many different ways, though we allow the visual to dominate. These observations were prefigured by Carmen’s discussion of his cane and how the white cane of the visually impaired became an institutionalising device for him. He has explored this through perfomances in which he has played with the cane to draw attention to its own cumbersomeness and that of the systems of intitutionalisation, or, in an even more spectacular way, by replacing the cane with a marching band as a device.

James Grant took the discussion into the important, pragmatic territory of how you address immobilities in a large provider organisation such as Transport for London (TFL). TFL manages the city’s tube, overground rail and bus systems, but also its red routes, traffic signals, cycle hire and congestion charge. Legislation, such as the DDA, sets the standard for what has been designed, but the pressure of campaigners has also been a positive force for TFL. Mobility, James argued, is at the sharp end of what a fulfilled life means, giving access, for example, to jobs, leisure, family and friends and so TFL is vital in this. Involving people with impairments in the design process is important in developing innovative approaches to information, infrastructure and customer services. Sometimes, though, this works on a very slow cycle: for instance, it takes 10 years between instigation, design, production and implementation of a new tube train design. There is a strong sense of TFL valiantly playing a constant game of ‘catch up’ as old infrastructure is incorporated into new systems or design developments and insights get actualized. Decision making runs from the micro-scale of information or device design through to strategizing the most effective points of intervention across an infrastructure.

Citing the example of Charles and Ray Eames’s explorations in plywood splints during WW2, Graham Pullin opened out the beneficial transfer of design ideas between domains of design. The Eames’s work for the military fed into design for volume production furniture such as the Model DCW chair. Graham’s personal story was that he left work as a product designer at IDEO to pursue a fascination with speech. He explored issues such as embedding emotion into speech technologies. Likewise, he asked what if we regarded a prosthetic hand really as a hand rather than merely as a tool? How, for instance, would we embed the emotional language of gesture into it? In this he is going beyond the mere ‘design as problem-solving’ notion to pose new questions and speculations that exist on the boundaries, or outside the frame, of institutionalised, received understandings. Can we go further, he later asked, in designing for appropriation? This might be where those with impairments can take on the fashioning and development of objects and environments to suit their needs or wishes.

Continuing in a similar vein, Alison Thomson made the case for designers to focus on issues rather than objects. She sees her role and that of other similarly minded researchers and practitioners in what the sociologist Mike Michaels has called ‘inventive problem making’, to reveal previously unthought-of pathways to conceptualizing and addressing immobilities. If, at times, there is a ludic approach here, where play, imagination and disruption play prominent roles in the process, then this distances design from its traditional role in attempting to ‘solve problems’ and, even, just ‘make things work in a be-grudging way’. I think that there can sometimes be a kind of worthiness in designing with disability that results in clunky responses to everyday challenges and, worse still, continues to medicalise impairment. Impairment is sometimes seen as ‘something that can be solved’ rather than something to be explored, engaged and enthusiastically embraced.

This is not to belittle straightforward access issues and, indeed, several comments and questions from audience-participants returned to this. At one level, this concerned very specific issues such as the design of overground or tube stations or the interiors of buses. But sometimes priorities have to be decided. James Grant drew attention to the challenge of needing to take strategic decisions in giving attentioin to certain locations over others in public transport. Hence, for example, the extra complexity of making a fully accessible station (Green Park) that was also a hub for shopping and leisure was worth taking on as against smaller-scale interventions. At another level, though, accessibility is also about the emotional experience of a space. Accessible toilets, observed Tony Heaton, Director of Shape Arts, can often be depressingly barren — lacking in any of the humour or delight that they should incorporate. Tony’s hot tip for hotels that provide amazing access in this respect is the Melia Hotel in Berlin, by the way.

Access is about step-free environments. But it is also about emotional access. As Rob Imrie argued, it should go beyond a box-ticking exercise on an access statement to incorporate a wider range of modalities. It functions at the symbolic in terms of giving recognition to all participants in a situation. A wheel-chair ramp is a slope but it is also a declaration. We were honoured to have Amanda Cachia from the University of San Diego in the audience. Amanda spoke of how she takes her own portable podium to the public lectures she gives and assembles it as part of the performance. Through she gets the scale of the environment to adjust to her atypical height rather that the other way around. Her podium thus becomes an assertion of selfhood as much as some thing to rest her laptop on.

This Salon again demonstrated the richness to be derived in combining participants from a wide variety of backgrounds on a panel. The conversation ranged from the most speculative to the most everyday. While it drew in a few faithful regulars, as ever the theme brought in specialists amongst the audience-participants. We covered a full two hours of discussion and could have gone on.

Friday night and a capacity audience

Friday night and a capacity audience

Ultimately, as Graham Pullin stated, design is bigger than designers. This neatly sums up what we’re trying to get to with these Salons. By calling them ‘Design Culture Salons’ we want to reach beyond the notion that design is just done by creative professionals. It is practised in all kinds of ways: in management decisions, policymaking, media representation, specification and commissioning, and in our everyday engagements in the socio-material world. By clustering our attention around a specific issue — such as immobilities — we can begin to trace the relationships and sinews between the material and human constituents that produce, control or disrupt it operations. But I also hope that design culture is seen as something that is dynamic rather than static and that through discussing it we can also open up ways by which we can intervene on it.

Guy Julier, University of Brighton/Victoria and Albert Museum

19 March 2015



Posted in immobility, mobility | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment