by Dora Souza Dias & Alessandro Esculapio

On Wednesday February 10th Clive Dilnot, Professor of Design Studies at Parsons the New School for Design and Visiting Professor at the University of Brighton, ran the workshop ‘Critical Dialogues for Design Research Students’. The goal of the event was to provide new perspective on the process of doctoral research in design theory, history and practice.

Students of the College of Arts and Humanities who attended the workshop had the opportunity to discuss the present and future of design research inside and outside the University of Brighton. At a time when the word ‘design’ is often abused, the workshop started off with the question: What is design?

The meanings of ‘design’ as object, ‘thing’ (or ‘matter of concern,’ to say it with Bruno Latour) and action were discussed in relation to its disciplinary boundaries in academia. The differences between material culture, design studies and design history approaches and differences at a theoretical and institutional level were addressed. During the discussion, the interdisciplinary nature of design research and practice emerged as the key to its future inside and outside educational institutions. While the multidisciplinary context in which design operates offers many opportunities for research, it also presents a challenge for postgraduate students, who are required to position themselves across different academic fields. These reflections were an opportunity to consider the present ramifications of design research, which is increasingly embracing disciplines as diverse as philosophy and international studies.

Professor Dilnot suggested that the uniqueness and relevance of design lie in its inquisitive approach to the material world. As we have now come to terms with the fact that we are living in the realm of the artificial, design as a research field allows us to challenge the present assumptions behind the ethical, political and aesthetic conditions of human life. His argument seems to reflect the growing popularity of practice-based design research. This perspective also resonated with the projects being currently undertaken at University of Brighton, whose aims include the redefinition of design practice, its political dimensions and its ethical implications for users.

As the workshop drew to an end, students were able to discuss their individual projects. Professor Dilnot acted as respondent, providing insights into the development of a doctoral thesis. The key topics examined were the schematic and visual structure of the research, the use of diagrams and flow charts, the role of the literature review throughout the research process and various approaches to data collection.