Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why a design dinner in Oxford in 2012?

On Thursday evening, around twenty people will gather for a dinner in Oxford. Curated by Phil Clare and Caroline Bucklow of the Knowledge Exchange and Impact Team in Research Services at the University of Oxford, and me (an associate fellow at Said Business School), this dinner aims to stage a new conversation about design within and around Oxford and its global and local networks.

In contrast with other design dinners, often associated with events such as the Salone furniture fair in Milan, this one is perhaps less glamorous, although we do include some internationally-renowned practitioners and academics among the guests. In contrast to many other Oxford dinners, we’ll be talking about a field of expertise and practice that perhaps curiously is not well-represented in the university, which has schools of engineering, computer science, business and fine art, but not industrial design, product design, communications design or architecture.

Guests include leading people from the design world, including from small, emerging studios, people working in established innovative consultancies and others from large corporations with an interest in design, as well as academics from different faculties and resources across Oxford University, as well as guests from Oxford Brookes University across the city. Although I haven’t checked – there are 800 years of archives to look through – this may be the first such dinner in the Oxford ecology. We think it’s timely for these reasons.

Firstly, the profession and practice of design are taking up a new place on the world stage. Borrowing a term from art history, we might see as designers working within an ‘expanded field’. There are numerous examples of designers and architects such as Josiah Wedgwood or Victor Papanek addressing the issues of their day. But what is striking about the last decade is how designers trained in design schools now see their role as contributing to global challenges such as educational standards, climate change, public service design, or humanitarian disasters. Examples are Project H, openideo.org and Participle.

Secondly, several academic fields have been exploring what a design-based approach can bring to research and teaching. For example in research, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Design Council are scoping out a research programme in the design of services. Within management education, there are now several universities around the world (including Oxford) teaching “design thinking” – the application of designerly approaches and methods to solving “wicked” problems and stimulating innovation.

Thirdly, within business, developments such as the cloud, 3d printing, mobile broadband, and a focus on delivering services, experiences and interactions, has lead to designers and design-based approaches being brought in not just to make things look pretty, but develop and explore concepts from day 1. Examples here are Berg London, Samsung and Intel.

Fourthly, the London 2012 Olympics and other cultural events have highlighted the role of the symbolic in day-to-day life. Creating and staging collective experiences requires the design and production of places, artefacts and signs, and paying attention to the design of the social interactions in which meanings are created. These are all activities that are central to designerly practices.

The aims of our dinner are however more modest. We won’t necessarily discuss these issues. But we do hope that participants will enjoy having conversations about their work and hearing from others, within an institution that has a great deal of history but also is a site of critical thinking and innovation. We believe this will provoke new relationships and lines of enquiry that might lead to new projects.  The design of a dining experience seems a good way to start that.

1 comment:

Ritchey's Kitchen said...

Re: Wicked Problems, you might like to know about this recent publication:

“Wicked Problems – Social Messes: Decision support Modelling with Morphological Analysis”. Springer, 2011.

You can see a description at:



Tom Ritchey