Fora for new design practices: The transformation of concepts of work and production


This project examines experimental forms of collaboration between actors in a sector of the creative economy, namely product design, and other economic actors like providers, consumers or retailers of goods and services. The intention is to discover whether these interactions represent newness in the form of social innovation, and if so, which material and ideational features characterize them as new. From this analysis it will then be possible to clarify the potential such collaboration represents for processes of societal transformation in systems of work and production on a wider scale.

The design sector is particularly interesting for understanding cultural sources of newness for several reasons. First, there is growing recognition that design is an inherent factor of all economic activity, independently of whether it is provided by professional or by amateur designers or not at all handled explicitly. Second, design-led innovation and user centred design are examples frequently cited in the worlds of politics and science as new forms of problem solving and knowledge generation growing out of the creative economy that could serve as a model for innovation in other areas.

The project takes a multiple case study approach based on interviews, the analysis of documents, and observation data. The selection of the units of analysis follows the “most dissimilar case design” that has been chosen for this exploratory research to provide a basis for generating hypotheses. Eight examples of “new” forms of collaboration in product design are being studied in a large and a small “creative city” in Germany (four in each location). Later, cases from the area of service design in Germany and Great Britain will be included to contrast the findings in manufacturing.

In order to identify “newness”, we start by looking at experiments, projects and longer lasting arrangements in the design sector that have gained the reputation of being new for example in the form of expert ratings, prizes or media reports. The next step involves making the emergence of newness empirically tangible by analysing the description of the new seen through the eyes of the participants in the collaborating ventures. The third step will be to reconstruct the attribution processes that lead to the designation of newness. Lastly, the relevance of the cultural features of space as sources of newness will be identified, whereby we envisage that they may either enable or impede its emergence. Space here is conceptualized as multilayered: in this research it comprises the forum as site of design practices, the city as the place where this site is situated and the domain as the sector of design.