AHRC Design Leadership Fellowship Final Report

This report documents the work undertaken as part of my Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Design Leadership Fellowship between January 2017 and December 2019. Over the course of 36 months, I have conducted a series of events and activities aimed at enhancing the design research community across the UK. This work has included organising and holding a variety of workshops developed to support the next generation of design researchers in the UK, writing a first AHRC funding application, UKRI FLF workshops for design researchers, two international Does Design Care…? workshops, a number of invited lectures and conference presentations, and two Design Research for Change showcase exhibitions at the London Design Fair. Moreover, early in my Leadership Fellowship, I conducted a survey of the UK’s design research community eliciting responses from over 300 participants from a wide range of career stages and design disciplines.

My vision, for the AHRC Design Leadership Fellowship, and in line with the AHRC Design initiative “Design for Change”, was to achieve real and long-lasting transformation and impact; to enact alternative, positive, and help achieve real developments within the culture of design research that will equip it for the challenges of the future. This has required more than traditional quantitative and qualitative research. It has required evidence to become informed and intuition to inspire us in imagining and creating new and better possibilities. My aim is to achieve change that will make real differences to the lives of individuals, groups, communities and society as a whole. Working collaboratively with researchers in other disciplinary areas, I will take the lead in identifying opportunities for collaboration, trends in research, and organising events on behalf of the AHRC and work to shape preferred realities and positive future visions around key challenges (e.g. sustainability, health and wellbeing, security, care, education, employment) where design thought and action is key. For example, this may involve the co-design and co-development of novel products that will lift people out of poverty. It might include the design of innovative services in care that will improve the health and wellbeing of families across the country. It may comprise the design and development of new policies that will reduce further harm to our planet.

My vision will be inclusive in its scope and encourage projects that adopt and utilize a mélange of different types of design research including experimental, practice-based, and hybrid approaches and methods. This will show the various cultures of design research that coexist and celebrate this pluralism in what is rapidly becoming a very healthy and mature field of research. The fellowship role will allow me to encourage and enhance projects under the “Design Research for Change” banner to utilize research approaches and methods that fit their purpose. “Design Research for Change” will borrow methods and approaches that fit from the physical sciences, the social sciences, and the arts and humanities if and when the situation arises. Adopting a pluralistic approach will allow for a flexible and open-minded exploration across the breadth of design and other disciplines and will support bringing these cross-disciplinary methodologies and communities together to strengthen the Design research base. By building purposeful relationships design researchers (working with other disciplines, professionals and citizens) will enhance their own and others’ abilities to challenge existing economic, social, environmental, and political models. This will help us to understand and strengthen the inter-relations between design research and design practice (i.e. design consultancies / agencies and design teaching), and end-users. Creating, for instance, more sustainable product design, services, and processes, whilst rethinking how policy might work better. Collaboration alone, however, will not be enough. We require shifts in our cultures of co-design, co-innovation, and co-production, collectively deciding and socially organizing the future world that we will all be proud to share. My belief is that design is the best tool that we have for making sense of the complex, multi-faceted world we all inhabit. Design in the way that it can holistically explore, critique, and define what needs to be done, synthesize and propose future scenarios, and present, visualize, and communicate those ideas to others can be at the forefront of shaping preferred realities and future experiences. The objective being to develop mechanisms for enhanced co-design, co-innovation, and co-production, collectively deciding and shaping preferred situations.

To achieve my vision of enhanced cultures of co-design, co-innovation, and co-production, collectively deciding and shaping preferred situations, I will act as an ambassador for the Design research area. I will be a design champion on behalf of the AHRC and the Design community and work tirelessly in partnership with the AHRC in undertaking the leadership fellow role. My aim is that the 3-year programme will result in a transformational shift in the focus, quality and impact of design research, and the fellowship will leave a legacy of evidence and examples, and a bolder, stronger interdisciplinary design community with a new generation of early career researchers engaging with a “Design for Change” agenda. The tasks and activities will run in parallel and include:

To increase the quantity and quality of Design-led research proposals.

To strengthen the research capacity of the next generation of Design researchers.

To act as an ambassador for Design research across all sectors of UK society.

To use Design research as a tool for delivering social change.