Past Design Experiences and Contemporary Design Practices


Conference Theme


Past Design Experiences and Contemporary Design Practices

In keeping with the enduring aims and objectives of the ICDHS the conference theme LESSONS TO LEARN? Past design experiences and contemporary design practices approaches design from two principal perspectives that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s: the research-informed yet still comparatively young academic discipline of design history and the design process-focused field of design studies. The former draws on an increasingly rich and complex body of knowledge, invigorated by other relevant disciplines such as cultural, social, economic, political and other forms of history as well as other disciplinary fields such as social anthropology, ethnography, human geography or semiotics. The latter, design studies, is focused on an informed, critical and analytical understanding of design processes, production, function, consumption and theory, supported by a growing body of knowledge, interpretation, research, publication and pedagogy.


Such a context engenders a range of fundamental questions. What are the latest developments in bringing new facts to the bodies of knowledge known as design history and design studies?  What are the experiences that should motivate and drive design theory and practice for today and tomorrow? Are there any new and undiscovered lessons to learn from design disciplines? If so, how should we learn? And which pathways and methods of research should be undertaken for building a more useful and accessible knowledge of design history, theory and design studies?


The ICDHS 12th conference will be held for the first time within a context of transitional conditions, morphing from one type of social organization to another, a process that is not yet fully complete. A number of challenges throughout this process have been, and still are being, addressed through design activities taken up by designers, design historians and theorists. With regard to history within the local context, there is a strong design awareness of the heritage of the culture of the self-management of socialist past.

Contemporary designers and historians are developing new scenarios for transitional realms, but the connections between past experiences and contemporary design concerns that address new social, economic and technological scenarios remain somewhat elusive. Does design experience of self-managed socialism influence contemporary practice? If so, in which ways and through which type of methods can this be realised? What lessons may be learned from design within a social system that has fallen into decay? And are such experiences to be evaluated from a new type of interpretational perspective?


The context for conference experiences drawn from a vanished past perhaps provides our community with opportunities for opening-up knowledge potential for wider global contexts shaken by environmental crisis, social unrest and the impact of technological changes. What if the realities we take for granted today cease to exist? What kind of design activity would become important then? Are we to learn from past design experiences in order to make way for new and viable creative methods of establishing material and symbolic culture? If so, how? What kind of approaches and what types of design projects will bring about sustainable development? What projects have the potential to inform us today about ways to avoid inheriting and repeating the mistakes of the past?


The potential for opening up a new discourse may be found through the recognition of the value of access to a very substantial data bank blended with a growing body of knowledge relating to design practices drawn from non-prime modernization contexts (Latin America, Asia, socialist and post-socialist European and non-European countries). In addition, it may be asked to what extent does the semantic field of design theory, mediated by the more comprehensive research methods of design history and design studies within different cultural contexts, offer a fresh agenda? Do such developments point to a new level of informative value exchange located in design-related research activities via analysis of examples located in the past as a route to establishing a more functional platform for design projects of today?


The globalization of design practices, design histories and design studies is a consideration that could, or perhaps should, be viewed through the evolution of some positive aspects of knowledge. Lessons to learn might be lessons to survive - even, perhaps, by design. If so, there are still many examples to analyse and research: best practice exemplars, case studies, single author biographies, concepts and visions, utopias, and theories drawn both from the contemporary world or a more remote past.

In a world of design rooted in multiple cultural and economic contexts the experiences brought to light by researchers perhaps should help us learn together, making design experiences an integral part of the drive to a better future world.


Fedja Vukić,

Conference convenor