Understanding the project of relational design from the perspective of a design research practitioner.

November 25, 2008

Visit to Mushroom Rock at Laura Cape York

One of the many challenges facing the global community is that of finding work and research practices that allow appropriate action and critical interrogation of that action to enable and support change in a respectful and responsible process. Design research in a university context offers a hybrid scenario where design and design practice engage in a reflexive and interrogative enquiry about the processes and practices that are second nature or naturalised within professional practices. Through design engagement, a research framework can provide opportunities and provoke change that reverberate within the academy and the professions, and at the same time support change within communities that engage with design in a practice led research context. This speculation intends to integrate such design and community outcomes through the notion and explication of the project of relational design, adopting some of the findings in the collaborative work on transdisciplinary approaches catchment management processes and the case study Communicating Shared Traditional Knowledge- the partnership initiated in 2004 between the School of Design University of Technology Sydney (www.dab.uts.edu.au) and the Traditional Knowledge Revival Pathways (www.tkrp.com.au). This partnership with indigenous communities on Cape York, has provided significant insights through the shared work. The shared understandings when used to frame a designing process offer directions for change in the articulation of design, designing and the role of the designer.

Over three years, working in a variety of modes, the TKRP-UTS partnership has brought significant outcomes such as online and on-ground training in video recording, interviewing, editing and web and database data entry for the communities in remote locations. Support has been provided for infrastructure development in the area of web platform development, database development through on-ground user- testing and data storage solutions, and product and communication design development such as books, educational material, training manuals, videos, dvds and music. Collaborations have been wide and varied with a range of participants including UTS students – undergraduate and research; academic and production staff from DAB, HSS, IT; lawyers on intellectual property and legal issues, and a range of volunteers.

Simultaneously during this time I have been working on a speculative theoretical investigation which I have named relational design. This enquiry aims to foreground the relationships that a designer experiences within the designing process. The ambition of the project of relational design is to identify and clarify potential methods of investigation and analysis of engagement through design that recognise and support the integral role of human relationships and interactions in the practice of design ie the shaping of the experiential and material worlds.

To this stage the investigation through practice has led to the identification of certain areas that could offer fruitful outcomes in relation to understanding designers’ experiences ‘in relationship’. These are listening, dialogue, intersubjectivity, transdisciplinarity and ethical frames for engagement.

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