EAD11: The Value of Design Research

LOGO-GRAND-HD_0In late April - while Tom was busy at the Infinite and Various conference in Bradford - three fifths of the Design Routes team (Martyn, Jeyon and I) descended on Paris for the 11th European Academy of Design conference, with the theme ‘The Value of Design Research’.

I gave a paper relating to the project as part of the Design Research & Crafts track, entitled ‘Design for “domestication”: the decommercialisation of traditional crafts’. Here’s the abstract of the paper - you can read the full thing here.


This paper explores the contribution of design to the ‘domestication’ of traditional crafts: the reframing and support of such practices as amateur activities. Informed by twelve examples, six design strategies for the domestication of traditional crafts are identified and discussed.

This issue emerges from a research project investigating the role of design in developing and revitalising culturally significant designs, products and associated practices. Within this paper, we focus on strategies that seek to revitalise traditional crafts by supporting domestic activity. This topic is introduced through a discussion of commercialisation, a more common approach to revitalisation.

Domestication diagram for webTwo contemporary social trends support domestication: the strong interest – particularly in post-industrial countries – in provenance, local distinctiveness and authenticity; and the growth of maker culture and its ethos of amateur creativity.

We gather twelve examples of various formats – such as books, kits, online communities, videos, workshops and holidays – which support amateur activity. The examples are analysed via a matrix, which considers their characteristics in terms of two variables: the way in which knowledge is exchanged, and the degree of experimentation facilitated by the activity. By categorising the examples, we identify six domestication strategies, each of which involves a different combination of design activities. Finally, we discuss domestication in terms of skill and innovation, arguing that amateur practice has much to offer in both respects.


Of course, the best thing about a conference is meeting other researchers and hearing from people undertaking work in a similar area. Here are four papers which I found particularly relevant to the Design Routes research. Unfortunately the full papers aren’t on the conference website yet - though they should make it there eventually!

Craftsmanship merchandise for cultural heritage - Marco Bozzola, Claudia De Giorgi & Claudio Germak, Politecnico di Torino, Italy

Design per i beni culturali territorialiMarco spoke about a design research project he’d been involved with which brought together 30 local craft workshops with 150 design students in Turin and Piedmont, to try to create locally rooted products for sale in museum shops. He was kind enough to give me a lovely book showcasing the outcomes of the project, along with essays discussing the ideas behind it.

Many of these design initiatives involve the revitalisation of designs - particularly motifs and patterns - transposed into entirely new materials and product types. For example, one project used the Savoy knot (described as a distinctive design element from the local royal residences), applied within jewellery design and made using rapid prototyping.

Eliciting and activating the added value of design research on/for craft innovation - Eleonora Lupo, Politecnico di Milano, Italy

Eleonora gave a fantastic presentation about a research project, Contemporary Authentic, and discussed themes which relate strongly to the Design Routes research. As the project website explains: ‘The Project “Con­tem­po­rary Authen­tic Milano”, devel­oped by the research group Design for Cul­tural Her­itage of Politec­nico di Milano, aims at exper­i­ment­ing and devel­op­ing a pos­si­ble design dri­ven inno­v­a­tive sys­tem for exploit­ing the typ­i­cal craft and per­for­ma­tive knowl­edge of endan­gered mas­ters still active in Milano.’

Eleonora referred to the ‘activation’ of ‘culturally intensive’ products (which we might describe as the ‘revitalisation’ of ‘culturally significant’ products) and shared some fascinating perspectives about the ways in which design might contribute to this activation. As part of her presentation, she showed some very interesting-looking diagrams which provided ways of thinking about the relationship between the ‘authentic’ and the ‘innovative’ in any given initiative. I look forward to reviewing these in detail when I can get my hands on the full paper!

Adding value to a company by trilogy of research, craft, design - Dilek Hocaoglu, Dogus University, Turkey

iznikDilek talked about the tradition of tile-making in Nicaea and its recent revitalisation. As she explained, the Ottoman city had been famous for tile-making in the 15th and 16th centuries, but trade declined dramatically in the 17th century.

Rather amazingly, the technical expertise of this historical craft was rediscovered through painstaking research by the Iznik Training and Education Foundation, founded in 1993.

Today there are over 100 workshops producing the distinctive quartz tiles in both traditional and contemporary designs, which are being used around the world - and even in entirely new product areas, such as eyewear.

For our research, this is a fantastic example of a culturally significant practice - that is, a traditional manufacturing process - being successfully revitalised.

Images courtesy of Iznik Tiles & Ceramics

Decolonizing graphic design - Maria Rogal, University of Florida, USA

Maria spoke about her experiences of taking design students to work with Maya people in Mexico since 2006, developing graphic designs to help them promote their products to regional and international markets. Although the products in question seemed to all be food and drink, which lie outside our scope for Design Routes, the process of collaboration that Maria discussed is very relevant to our research.

She described the need for the students to take time to learn about the communities they were working with, to suspend their judgement, and - as she said - ‘to realise that we understood nothing’. As Maria explains in her paper abstract, this context creates a new model for graphic design: ‘it is important for design students to understand the people they work with as colleagues and co-designers, and not as clients’.

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