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Design Activities

The 1973 Design Research Society Conference, co-sponsored with the US Design Methods Group, represents a landmark in the story of DRS conferences. This could be said of all conferences for different reasons and writing these down it feels like a review of wines of different vintage and character: the formal, understated but optimistic 1962; the weighty and academic 1965; the architectural scope but philosophical depth of 1967; the politically engaged 1971...  It's worth recognising that these tasting notes are all based on limited access to the wine. The proceedings are available as published and the design of the covers of these, the label, tends to (and is no doubt intended to) make a statement about the event that is contained within it. Each event is also subsequently referenced by commentators. The Design Council Journal is a good source of this (as seen in previous posts) but there is also a natural tendency for editors to look back at earlier conferences to provide a context for their own. 

The 1971 organisers had, according to their introduction to the proceedings, embraced their Participation theme by offering different ways for delegates to participate with the proceedings and this seems to reflect the concerns of the time where design adopted more user centred perspectives. The 1971 proceedings feels like a 1970s school library book which conveys this sense of inclusivity but at the same time retains some kind of pedagogical authority. Surviving artefacts from 1973 tell a different story. 

There were no formal proceedings published for the 1973 conference and therefore there is no formal reflective record of the event from the perspective of the organisers or editors. Some commentators suggest that there were no formal proceedings at the conference itself. Paper sessions were not chaired, participants were not able to present their papers and the title of "Design Activity Conference" became bastardised by one reporter into "The Design Inactivity Conference". But this journalistic pun belies a more complex and committed undertaking on the part of the organisers.

Whereas the 1971 conference reflected the opening up of the design process to the user the 1973 opened up the design process to a wider whole of society where authority can not be assumed and where those who do assume it can be questioned. It's tempting to draw wider analogies (wider even than a wine tasting) which identifies the UK in a state of political turmoil. The Provisional IRA are in the middle of their renewed bombing campaign across London, millions of workers are or have been on strike against Government imposed pay restraints, Colin Ward's Anarchy in Action is published. There is surely some resonance here and a wider cultural context of every conference (maybe to include the pop songs of the day as well as the political climate) is something for later.

My point here though is that the conference organisers seemed to be circumspect about their organising. Not in the sense of the logistics of the event itself: the preparations for it, traced through the various folders that were produced and circulated, are testament to the rigour of this process and the commitment of those involved. The themes were clearly engaging with the concerns of the DRS: 

  • Design Morphologies; 
  • Design Processes, Techniques And Algorithms; 
  • Design Objectives; 
  • Design Case Studies; 
  • Design Education, Professionalism And Management

But the authority of the organisers was implicitly questioned by their own actions. All papers were submitted were accepted, all papers were pre-circulated, the conference structure and the activities included were open to discussion. While this led to the kind of criticism about inactivity mentioned above (and I write as somebody who is always mindful, then mildly irritated and increasingly annoyed when conference speakers over-run) it also demonstrates a further opening up of the boundaries of design. If the 1971 level of participation showed the designer crossing the conventional border of their domain to engage with the user, the 1973 event showed that border to be artificially constructed and permeable in both directions.

The cover of the "Third Information Folder" of the DRS/DMG Design Activity International Conference, 29-31 August 1973. Not many copies of this folder appear to have survived. A "Second Information Folder" has the same motif as a tightrope walker, in blue, holding an umbrella. There may have been a "First Information Folder" but this is as yet unseen. A poster for the conference has a juggler (in red)

The cover of the "Third Information Folder" of the DRS/DMG Design Activity International Conference, 29-31 August 1973. Not many copies of this folder appear to have survived. A "Second Information Folder" has the same motif as a tightrope walker, in blue, holding an umbrella. There may have been a "First Information Folder" but this is as yet unseen. A poster for the conference has a juggler (in red)

Through the graphic design of the conference material the designer, if we identify with the Vitruvian man used as the motif to be a designer, is presented as a juggler, a tightrope walker and an acrobat. But the Vitruvian man is also "everyman" (yes it's still a man - a gendered history of these conferences is perhaps pending) and these circus acts represent a wider set of activities taking place in a more inclusive circus ring than that provided by the rooms, lecture theatres and bars of the conventional conference.

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Design Participation

Following the earlier archaeological thread of when the DRS was founded and which was its first conference here is a quick sift through the options of London 1962, for the early doors; Scarborough 1964 for the consolidation point; Birmingham 1965 where according to Bruce Archer the seeds were sown; Portsmouth 1967 when the society had been formally announced; and now here is 1973, the conference that is introduced by Reg Talbot in the Foreword of the Proceedings as "the first major conference of the Design Research Society". Thanks Reg. That was in September 1971 and there are a series of tweets from the proceedings here. Reviews of the conference were mixed, picking up on both the definition and the experience of participation. The term Design Participation is a term that Nigel Cross thought he had invented specifically for the conference. (Cross, 1972, Design Participation, Academy Editions, p.14). Below is a review of the DRS Design Participation Conference, from Design 275 November 1971 p22

 

 

Goodbye mandarins?
It was bold of the Design Research Society to hold a three day conference on Design Participation at Owens Park, Manchester, and bolder still to devise a way of running it which practically precluded formal participation by the 150 delegates. Reg Talbot and Nigel Cross-the DRS organisers had however included some excellent ideas, like playing back videotapes of each day's speakers, laying on participatory management and design games and not least by keeping the bar open until midnight.
The conference was noticeable for its lack of consumer voices - the exception being William Osborne (one of Ralph Nader's assistants), whose contribution was somewhat marred by US v THEM zeal, which included the suggestion that anti-pollution committees should not accept industrialists. Not surprisingly, fashionable concern with environmental questions dominated most of the contents although Professor Chaddock (Loughborough), E Matchett and J N Siddall (professor of engineering, Hamilton, Ontario) spoke for engineers. The subject matter was dominated by systems methods, cybernetics and simulation techniques, and it was clear that 'computer envy' lies deep in the psychosis of many research projects. ("Anything your computer can do mine can do better").
Christopher Evans (National Physical Laboratory) described the use of computers in medical research; Nicholas Negroponte (MIT) outlined an experimental approach to participation and computation; Tom Markus (Strathclyde) described control systems and usefully quoted Parkinson's "the beginning of the end is when a company builds its headquarters": John Page (Sheffield), John Christopher Jones (Open University) and Robert Jungk (Berlin) summed up - all of them in various ways drawing attention to the conflicts between political, administrative and design processes.
Although some of the papers had clearly been produced for another purpose, the conference usefully exposed a wealth of techniques that are or will be available to sharpen up communications between users and designers. Less successful was any attempt to produce answers which would diminish "professionalism" thought almost unanimously to be at the root of many grievances - and yet clearly visible in many of the contributions. At the beginning Reyner Banham had asked whether the conference would turn out to be like any other design conference with the "new wonder ingredient- participation" thrown in. It very nearly was because of an excessive emphasis on technology for its own sake. One wonders whether applied technology can ever be achieved without the dreaded professionals.
Design 275 November 1971 p22

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Design Methods in Architecture

Broadbent, G. & Ward, A. (1969) Design Methods in Architecture, London: Lund Humphries

Broadbent, G. & Ward, A. (1969) Design Methods in Architecture, London: Lund Humphries

The 1967 Design Methods in Architecture Symposium suggests a transition point in the DRS odyssey. The printed proceedings make no reference to what would have been at the time a newly formed society and equally the first series of DRS Newsletters makes no reference to what might have been the first full conference of the society. But it might not have been.

We can follow some of the actors from 1962-65 and from the early newsletters - Gregory, Jones, Broadbent - but its Richard Langdon in his introduction to the 1982 conference at the RCA who allows me to say that the 1967 symposium was "organised by the DRS". Not that it matters too much but, along with Bruce Archer's extension of the inaugural year (see previous post) it adds to the odyssey. And the odyssey adds to the case for a definitive archive of the society where the minutes of meetings might help the historian of the future to piece together these fragments of the past.

But the 1967 symposium (organised by Anthony Ward and Geoffrey Broadbent) is a fragment with a long tail. It took place at what Broadbent considered to be a paradigm shift in consciousness. Reflecting this shift, it was intended to mark the beginning of a new phase of thinking in architectural design method. It was to inform, apparently and again according to Broadbent (Design:Science:Method, Proceedings of the 1980 DRS Conference), the birth of post-modernism. It would present a concise, and strikingly well curated debate between behaviourism and phenomenology (see Vardouli, 2014). 

Following the "Do like design beside the Seaside" theme suggested by Scarborough in 1964, and perhaps pre-empting recent tendencies toward the exotic conference venue, the symposium was held on Southsea Pier. This romantic cast iron and timber structure was apparently the only auditorium that could be found to accommodate the 400 hundred participants. The December sea outside would have been cold but the debate was at times heated. Not as hot as the pier would have been earlier in the year when it suffered one of its regular fires.

Source: http://www.southseapier.com/

Source: http://www.southseapier.com/

I'm cheating here. This image of the pier on fire was an unfortunate consequence of Ken Russell's location shoot of Tommy which took place on the pier in 1974. 

 

 

 

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The formation of the Design Research Society

It has been a little bit of a niggle in the writing of these pages that the Design Methods conference, a landmark event in the history here, was held in 1962 but the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Design Research Society itself is taking place in 2016. This was exacerbated when reading Bruce Archer's address to the 1995 DRS conference which he used to mark a seemingly premature 30th anniversary by referring to the establishment of the Society taking place at the 1965 Design Method Conference.

Although the idea was clearly in the air at Birmingham it wasn't until the following Spring that the inaugural meeting took place. The following text is from Design, the journal of the Council of Industrial Design, where it appeared as a "point of view" in the September 1966 edition. This neatly states what the DRS set out to achieve with a focus on "design as an activity", undertaken by people from different disciplines and "regardless of their profession or professional status".

 

For those interested in creative processes
  One of the problems with learned societies is that they tend to suffer from inbreeding. Yet even specialists need opportunities to mix with other people who, although perhaps not qualified, may have a contribution to make to the experts expertise; or, alternatively, with experts in other fields who share some common interest. And for this reason, the setting up of the Design Research Society* is especially welcome.
  The society has been formed by the organising committee of the conference on design methods held at Imperial College, London in 1962 (DESIGN 166/37). Although that conference was restricted to invited delegates, it was unusual because they were chosen from widely different occupations they included ergonomists, architects, artists and engineers - but were united by an interest in some aspect of design.
  Even so, instead of talking about their attitudes towards design, or its end products, the delegates were asked instead to discuss design as an activity. And the society, whose founder members include Professor J. K. Page (chairman), J. Christopher Jones (vice-chairman), Frank Height (treasurer) and Peter Slann (secretary), intends to do the same. Its aim is to provide facilities for the exchange of new knowledge about the design process in engineering, industrial design, the graphic arts and all other creative disciplines "by throwing its doors open to all those who can make a contribution, regardless of their profession or professional status".
  As Peter Slann puts it, "There are too many specialist societies for specialists. They do not cover any interplay of ideas between different disciplines".
  At the moment, the society plans to concentrate on organising similar meetings to that held in 1962, and the first one takes place this month. The purpose of these meetings will be to discuss subjects such as creativity, computer aided design and design automation, systematic design methods, system engineering and individual case histories, and to see how various design methods can be applied, for example, to architecture, engineering and industrial design. It also hopes to publish the results of these meetings, and the papers presented to them, in a journal.
  If all these plans succeed, the society may help to break down barriers between different interests and, by giving people an insight into how others go about their creative work, help to destroy the division which exists between the arts and sciences.
*The society's address is Imperial College, London SW7

Design 213 September 1966 p30

 

The article was accompanied by this quite charming portrait of Professor Page:

Professor J.K. Page, Design 213:30

Professor J.K. Page, Design 213:30

The full journal, along with many other design related resources, is available at the Visual Arts Data Service, online at http://vads.ac.uk

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The Design Method

Gregory, S. (1966) The Design Method, London: Butterworths

Gregory, S. (1966) The Design Method, London: Butterworths

The 1965 symposium on The Design Method was held at the Birmingham College of Advanced Technology on 21-23 September 1965. This meeting was called, according to Sydney Gregory in his introduction to the proceedings, in response to the different assumptions that were found to be made by participants at the Conference on the Teaching of Engineering Design held in Scarborough the previous year. The 1965 symposium would, he suggested, explore "in a relatively detailed way what the designer does". This exploration was undertaken at the conference by "more than two hundred people drawn from the most diverse branches of technology and design".

Design Journal saw the Birmingham symposium as a marker of the trend that was giving designers "a logical tool with which to make him a more effective part of the production team". Geoffrey Broadbent in his introduction to the proceedings of the next landmark conference at Portsmouth two years later would suggest that the 1962 and 1965 meetings' focus on the logical processes drawn from Operational Research was not wholly adequate to address the wider, and environmental concerns of architectural design. 

Of the 28 contributors to the proceedings, only John Chris Jones had also presented at the 1962 conference. Wolfgang Ernst Eder, Ted Matchett and Bill Mayall, who had all appeared in Scarborough, also presented papers in Birmingham and would all go on to appear in subsequent conferences as would Geoffrey Broadbent whose paper on Creativity, provides a link between the art of Howard Hodgkin presented at ICL three years earlier and some of the methods of Design Thinking that would become a mainstay of the designer's toolbox over the subsequent decades. Looking through the list of contributors it is striking that just nine of them were academics - the rest holding professional positions in the industrial and public sectors. 

Another striking aspect of this event are that these proceedings are still available in print from Springer. 

 

Gregory, S (1966) The Design Method, New York: Springer

Gregory, S (1966) The Design Method, New York: Springer

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TED '64

Leading up to the point when the DRS was "officially" constituted a number of formative events were held where future DRS members disseminated their view of design, primarily focussed on how it was done and how it was taught. These meetings and publications [1,2,3]  can be placed in the wider context of educational reform and technological change marked in the UK by a series of reports and changes to legislation. This context was neatly encapsulated in Harold Wilson's speech at his party conference in Scarborough in 1963 that spoke of the "white heat" of the "scientific revolution" from which a "new Britain" could be forged. The following year Wilson spoke of providing resources to engineers so that they could produce "new processes, new inventions [and] new industries" as he "called into battle" talented designers to produce results that will delight our friends and surprise the world".

After the publication of the Report of the  Feilden Committee on Engineering Design a series of regional conferences on engineering design were organised during 1964 by the Federation of British Industries and the UK Government's Department of Science and Industrial Research. These conferences were followed up by the issue of booklets by the DSIR and Ministry of Technology on the importance of good design in engineering products. [4]

These engineers and designers would need to be educated: the Feilden Report had already made a number of recommendations on how to achieve this. A number of engineers and educators came together in April 1964 at a conference on the teaching of Engineering Design, also held in Scarborough and organised by the Enfield College of Technology, the Institution of Engineering Designers and the Hornsey College of Art. This event represents an important transition point involving a number of participants who would continue to contribute to the development of design research and the Design Research Society.

The 1964 Conference on the Teaching of Engineering Design can be seen primarily as an exercise in sharing teaching methods. Most of the speakers, although not all, were involved in teaching engineering design qualifications at technical colleges and were actively engaged in a resurgence of interest in design. They spoke about how they were developing their courses and how they were running their classes: the appendix lists examples of engineering design courses available at UK institutions.

But there were also engineers from industry. Rolls Royce and Bristol-Siddeley were both represented by speakers who explained what their companies expected from engineering graduates, Ted Happold from Arup was on hand to offer industry expertise if the academies wanted it and Bob Feilden spoke about the need for fresh minds and the need to look at problems in new ways. The conference proceedings generally support a call for further engagement between engineers and a wider appreciation of design aesthetics and what would now be called design thinking. It was, according to Sydney Gregory a good conference but one which highlighted different peoples' assumptions about the nature of design. Some, he reported, saw design in terms of what went on to a drawing board; others took it to be something happening inside a designer's head. A key distinction that continues to exercise design researchers. 

The proceedings of the 1964 conference were edited by Peter Booker and published by the Institution of Engineering Designers. Highlights of some of the papers presented are tweeted here: https://twitter.com/DRS50th.

1. Jones, J. & Thornley, D. (eds) (1963) Conference on design methods, Pergamon
2. Booker, P. (ed) (1964) Conference on the Teaching of Engineering Design, IED
3. Gregory, S. (ed) (1966) The Design Method, Butterworth
4. HC Deb 28 February 1967 vol 742 col.54W

 

Sampling the DRS50th twitter feed:

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Ephemera: recording and recalling the past

I had decided that the best way to approach a research project into the historical conferences of the DRS was to take two approaches.

First, to track down any physical records, artefacts and ephemera that might help to bring give those past events a concrete sense of being into a presence that I could hold onto. Those objects might become useful contributions to the 2016 conference exhibition, and so also give delegates something to hold onto, visually at least, that locates the talks of the day with some of our yesterdays. Taking up that challenge would mean digging around for contact details for the people involved and then, in turn, asking them to dig around in their memories, bookcases and attics for anything that might be of interest.  I wasn't sure what this would lead to. Is it plausible to expect anybody to have carried things around, things that might have seemed important 50 or more years ago but which might have, in the interim, become an encumbrance or an unwelcome reminder of encroaching years. Or, better, a cherished personal record of wisdom accrued and contributions made.  

The previous post on this site referred to the 1962 conference on design methods. I made contact with the organising secretary, Peter Slann who kindly offered to take a look in his attic for anything that might be of interest. When we next spoke he told me about the Roderic Hill building and the supersonic wind tunnels that he had installed there, the new building programme for ICL, the aspirations for the conference to address the need for a more multi-disciplinary approach to design and engineering, the Government interest at the time in design education (and the Fielden Committee), the connections between Imperial and the Royal College of Art, and the conference on teaching design that took place the next year at Scarborough. Oh, and he'd found the tapes of the 1962 conference that they had made at the time, recording the speakers and the discussions that took place during the event.

Peter kindly sent the tapes on and they are currently in the process of being digitised. This will hopefully result in something even more tangible for the 2016 delegate to hold onto or at least something tantalisingly atmospheric if not completely audible: Chris Jones on Method; Ken Norris on Bluebird; Howard Hodgkin on Creativity. Let's hope that this years conference will be similarly eclectic and iconic. Should we be recording the sessions?

My second approach to the project is less physical. There are these DRS History articles, somewhat hidden away in the attic of the DRS conference website, but there is also a twitter feed based on readings of the conference proceedings but sent from an imagined seat in the auditorium. People are joining in already. These are collected at #50yearsofDRS and published through my @DRS50th twitter account. Find them all here:
https://twitter.com/DRS50th
We've been to ICL already and are currently taking an overnight break at the Royal Hotel in Scarborough  (did somebody say fish and chips?) which will be the subject of the next post here.


None of this would be here without the foresight and generosity of Peter Slann - Founding and Honorary General Secretary of the Design Research Society and editor of DRS Newsletter Vols. 1 & 2.
Thank you Peter!

 

 

 

 

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Conference on design methods, 19th to 21st September 1962

The Conference on design methods is widely regarded, and this view is maintained elsewhere on this website and on the DRS2016 twitter feed, as the event where it all started. There was arguably some earlier activity that led up to this conference: the Feilden Committee on Engineering Design for example was convened a year earlier and would go on to recognise the need  "to impress upon the managements of engineering businesses the vital importance of the design function in engineering activity" and to "increase the prestige of design and the status of designers within the engineering profession" (HC Deb 28 Feb 1967, vol 742, cc53-6W).

The 1962 conference clearly contributes towards this impression, marking a stage in the development of design as a multi-disciplinary collection of complementary perspectives. The conference was held between the 19th to 21st September 1962 in "premises made available by the Department of Aeronautics, Imperial College, London" (Jones & Christopherson, 1963:p.vii). The premises in question, the Roderic Hill  building in South Kensington, was the first completed building in an expansion of the campus at Imperial College London that was taking place at in the late 1950s. Opened by the Queen Mother in 1957 this building, with its wind tunnels (as illustrated in New Scientist, 23 May 1957), seems to embody a new era not only for ICL but also for the way that engineering, design and academia might work together in a period of modernisation that would become popularised by Harold Wilson and his white heat.

Roderic Hill Building, Prince Consort Road, London. Home of the Imperial College London Aeronautical Department and of the 1962 Conference on Design methods.(image: ICL website)

Roderic Hill Building, Prince Consort Road, London. Home of the Imperial College London Aeronautical Department and of the 1962 Conference on Design methods.(image: ICL website)

According to Peter Slann's foreword, "no apology is made for the diversity of the material contained in this book" which  brought together a collection of academics and practitioners in, for example, engineering, education, town planning, architecture, systems engineering, psychology and fine art. This is just a selection of the speakers - the audience was presumably more diverse still? Design, Research and Society indeed.

The prospect of a stage with Ken Norris explaining the process of designing his land speed record breaking car, Bluebird C.N.7, alongside Christopher Alexander, about to set off to India to design a village using his prototype pattern book, alongside Howard Hodgkin explaining his view on art as the production of images that nobody wants and that serve no material function, is a prospect that is surely worth holding onto and even, 50 or so years on, surely worth capturing the spirit, perhaps in a different shaped bottle, to be savoured and replicated at DRS2016 and beyond.

Follow tweets from this and other conferences @DRS50th

 

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Revisiting conferences past

The DRS2016 conference in Brighton marks 50 years since the Design Research Society was first set-up. There wasn't an inaugural conference in that year and the early history of design research tends to point toward the Conference on design methods that took place in September 1962 at Imperial College London as being "the place where it all began". A further major conference on The Design Method took place in Birmingham in 1965 but it was the Design Methods in Architecture symposium in Portsmouth in 1967 that seems to be the first design conference held after the Society had formed.

Imperial College, 1962; Aston University, 1965; Portsmouth School of Architecture, 1967

Imperial College, 1962; Aston University, 1965; Portsmouth School of Architecture, 1967

These early conferences, and the ones that followed in subsequent years, represent a particular form of energy where momentum was gathering behind this nascent academic discipline and community of scholars and practitioners who were coming together to make it happen. The stuttering growth of the DRS community is well documented in the early DRS newsletters, the covers of which are available elsewhere on this site. The growth of the discipline can be traced through the papers that were presented at these early conferences and the names of those who were presenting them. A detailed review of this content is being undertaken by Alejandro Poblete who will be presenting some of her findings at DRS2016.

On this DRS2016 website I will be presenting the findings of my own research which is a slightly more irreverent revisiting of the early conferences. Part travelogue and part historical reconstruction I will be using twitter as a way of commenting on some of the papers presented, the debates they provoked, the individuals involved and the places where they took place. I will also be using these pages to present any of the more ephemeral material related to the conferences, should any arise.

The early DRS conferences are clearly of their time but the issues that they addressed and the way in which participants addressed them are perhaps more timeless. Pages will be posted here that relate to each conference visited and a twitter feed will be published  @DRS50th using the primary hashtag #50yearsofDRS and referring to @DRS2016uk.

This project has been funded by a DRS 50th anniversary bursary award.

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