Social design rant 3 — Peter Lloyd

As part of our Expert Workshop, we asked participants to each make a 4-minute rant on a designated topic.

We are blogging the text of some of them, with thanks to their contributors.

The third of these is by Peter Lloyd, Professor of Design, University of Brighton.

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‘What’s Wrong with Design Studies?’

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I speak as an Associate Editor of Design-Studies-the-Journal and former Professor of Design Studies at The Open University. So you’d think I might know something about what Design Studies is… well, not necessarily.

We’re already talking about two different things: Design-Studies-the-Journal and Design-Studies-the-Subject, so straight away Design Studies seems to have something of a personality disorder – if that is what’s wrong with the patient, then maybe some clinical therapy might help fix it?

Like all good therapy, let’s go back to childhood. To birth even.

Design-Studies-the-Journal, like punk rock, started in the late seventies, with a remit to focus on the processes and practices of designing – what is it that designers do, it asks, how do they solve problems? (and to be honest, the early years pretty much established what designers do do). The cover is a bit boring, but never judge a book by its cover, someone from Design-Studies-the-Journal might tell you.

Design-Studies-the-Subject is rather younger, though could be older if you include Design-History-the-Subject-and-Journal, but let’s not go there.

Design Issues is a journal that could be about Design-Studies-the-Subject if the name hadn’t already been taken by Design-Studies-the-Journal. It was launched in 1984, about when Tina Turner and Van Halen were topping the charts. Its strapline is ‘history, theory, and criticism’ in looking at ‘the cultural and intellectual issues surrounding design’. Which sounds like Design-Studies-the-Subject to me, although there is more than a hint of Design-Studies-the-Journal in there too.

Design-Issues-the-Journal, it should be said, looks a whole lot better than Design-Studies-the-Journal. Which is something, in my book (which doesn’t have a cover). Always judge a book by its cover, someone from Design-Issues-the-Journal might tell you.

And then there is Design-and-Culture-the-Journal, launched in 2009, the same year as hits from Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and Kanye West. Design-and-Culture-the-Journal is officially the Journal of the Design Studies Forum, which is a nifty way of solving the name problem that Design-Issues-the-Journal couldn’t. Design-and-Culture-the-Journal is about where design ends and something else begins, about ‘the edges of design’, design as a changing and powerful cultural force.

Design-and-Culture-the-Journal has something of a post-modern cover, so you never quite know what you might find in there. Picking up the current issue there is an article from Cameron Tonkinwise called ‘Design Studies – What is it Good For?’ which is very good, though almost put me into a regressive loop. Victor Margolin, in the same issue, says that maybe Design Studies is a bit like Food Studies. Maybe it is, but perhaps it is more like Music Studies?

So maybe what’s wrong with Design Studies is that we don’t recognize that we already have a solution. Maybe the Design Studies patient, its death much exaggerated, and after years in therapy, has finally got better. Maybe what Design Studies needs most of all is a sense of humour?

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