3 min read

Design PhD Conference

On the 1st of July I attended the PhD Design conference at Lancaster University. While it's a conference jointly held by Lancaster and Northumbria University, paper contributions came from England to Australia, and generally all of a very high quality.

The Speakers

The presentations were bookended with talks from people that had already finished their PhDs, which was supremely useful, with other talks ranging from first year to nearing writeup.

Martyn Evans kicked off the day with talk of his journey through his PhD on design futuring and amongst other things, enlightened us about:

but above all, I loved his finishing statement:

you start off a PhD wanting to change the world, and end just wanting it to be over.
Martyn Evans on his reflections

Jennifer Ballie of Chelsea College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London had some beautiful slides as she talked about her work into eco-textile design.

She's looked into a number of ways to encourages this, from workshops to online platforms such as Dress Up Download

My favourite comment on her work was:

I thought that I'd be making a digital platform, but realized the materials & scarves were the platform

Jennifer Bailie

Her slides:

Fellow Northumbria student Mersha Aftab talked about her research at Philips, which unusually started with research (rather than a literature study) due to industry involvement. She's actually found the process useful as it has honed the literature she's looking into, rather than just reading everything.

While she has found that getting time with industry is hard, she has a solution:

corner them at conferences and squeeze the informantion you need out of them!

Luke Feast of Swinburne University is an ethnographer looking into design methods. This meant he gave us a number of useful knowledge frameworks (objectivism, constructivism, subjectivism) as well pointing to researchers such as Rittel & Schon.

Luke Feast's Knowledge Framework Matrix

What was interesting about his background is how he emphasised the rigour in hard ethnography — his research into studying when and where insights happen in design studios mean that he isn't just sitting in meetings, but also going to the lunches, getting into the cabs, and generally following them around and watching for informal insights.

The other Northumbria presenter was Alana James (part of my first year cohort!) about ethical fashion. She's looking at the intention-behaviour or (30:3) gap, which is how 30% of consumers say they'd like to support ethical fashion, but only 3% actually do it.
Her most stirring quote was a reputed saying amongst Nepalese women:

if you’re lucky you’re a prostitute. If you’re unlucky you’re a garment worker

Her tips:

  • Talk — use the people around you/like-minded researchers, have a community
  • Contacts — get emails from people, keep in touch etc
  • … and tweet! Use it as a news feed, find people doing similar work to you. [Of course as a tweeter I liked this one]
Alana James — talk, contacts, tweet

Marzia Mortati finished off the day with her PhD Designing Connectivity. Her suggestions from her process were to consider the environment you're doing your PhD in and be prepared to go somewhere else for a while if need be (she was studying in Italy, but found that relocating to England for a while and collaborating with Lancaster Uni was key into getting the PhD done).

Summing up

One of the strengths of this conference was its focus — all speakers appear to have been briefed on giving tips for the research process, and they delivered.

The plenary at the end suggested the following themes, which I agreed with:

  • visualization (there was a lot of mapping shown, and making visual sense of information)
  • social networking (be it twitter, skype, or general online communities)
  • sharing battle tips (as above)
  • the breadth/depth of design and methodology (design is a broad church).

Perhaps the best summing up of the conference was from the panel as well:

Design is about the question “why not?” and a PhD “so what?