by Veronica Ranner & Dan Lockton, DRS 2016 Conference Experience chairs.
When we attended—and participated in—DRS 2014 in Umeå, it was easy to notice the high standards of detail and thought that had gone into things: the conference felt designed.
We want to make sure that DRS 2016 builds on a conference format that felt representative of how the diverse community of design researchers—once they gather together—could perceive each other and be perceived as a whole. We also want to learn from experiences at other conferences.
As part of the programme committee for DRS 2016, it became quickly clear to us that designing the conference experience is not just an intriguing task, but potentially a crucial element for the overall quality of delivery. It involves an imaginative design process just as much as delivering technical requirements through understanding the social and environmental factors of the conference venue. What distinguishes relevant factors from irrelevant ones for DRS 2016, is what we are currently fleshing out. This task provides us with the opportunity to examine the event experience as a design task in itself. Not so much as to design and programme people into spaces and predict their very behaviour in advance, but to enable and open up transformative spaces for participants instead, as well as re-thinking already existing conference formats.
We know that people's motivations for participating in academic conferences differ—across fields, institutions and people at various stages of their careers. For many of us, travelling to an international conference like this is a substantial commitment, in time and scarce funds, often involving turning down other opportunities. This means we want to make it more likely that you have the best experience possible.
Since we first met up to discuss DRS 2016, we began colliding “things we never want to see again / would very much like to see in conferences”, and we continue to add more elements to this growing list. Like the human-centred, participatory designers that we (sometimes) claim to be, we thought it would be important to involve you—the potential 'users'—at an early stage. We are hoping to achieve a better understanding of what people really wish for when attending a conference, through exploring it from a more granular, more diverse, and participatory experience-based perspective. Maybe as designers, we are used to spotting the badly designed elements of an experience, or the problems which we feel could have been considered better. But we are sure that visitors of all stripes can probably reel off examples and instances of conferences we have been to where certain things 'worked' really well, and other things not so well.
Although to some people it might seem merely a semantic difference, it was relevant to us to extend the notion of “attendees” towards “participants” and to weave this into our chair activity. We thus provide you with a knowledge sharing opportunity that could result in immediate change and taken action as of next year’s conference. As design researchers we will keep working towards improving the inclusion of diverse voices. From our conference chairs’ viewpoint we would like to test if we can push the boundary of existing formats a little more.
To us, this means we appreciate and encourage your active involvement and ask you to send us general suggestions and ideas, as well as some more conference “do’s and don’ts”!
Veronica Ranner is a designer, artist, and researcher interested in complex networked cycles, emerging bio-technologies, biological fabrication, systems design, material futures, and new roles for designers. She currently pursues an AHRC funded PhD as part of the Creative Exchange Lab (CX) at the Royal College of Art, where she examines the burgeoning domain of the bio-digital — a converging knowledge space where computational thinking meets biological matter.
Dr Dan Lockton is a designer, technologist and researcher, interested in relationships between design and people’s behaviour, understanding of systems, and consequences for society and sustainability. He is author of Design with Intent (O’Reilly, 2016) and visiting research tutor in Innovation Design Engineering, Royal College of Art. He holds a PhD in Design from Brunel University and an MPhil in Technology Policy from the University of Cambridge.