DESIGN RESEARCH NETWORKS

Ezio Manzini

The on-going transition asks for diffuse design capabilities. And therefore for an original knowledge: design knowledge capable to feed the broad co-design processes that will have to drive the needed socio-technical changes. Where and how is this design knowledge produced? Where and how will it be produced in future, given that the demand for it will inevitably grow in the transition towards sustainability? The traditional answer falls on the existence of (and need to develop) public and private research centers. However, in my view, this answer is incomplete, and more importantly it leads us to think that the design research we are talking about can be limited to a few research professionals. In a connected world this is no longer so. In a connected world designing networks also tend to become design research networks: research networks that produce “constructive enquiry” at their nodes.

These design research networks are the results of a social as well as technical transformation that is underway. To recognize it we must consider the emerging scenario where open source and peer-to-peer approaches make new organizational frameworks possible. In this scenario, as well as universities and research centers we can also find design agencies of all sizes that produce and publicize their results on the net: a flow of information and reflection that is laying the foundations of a new design culture and a new set of design tools.

On the other hand, this free flow of information could be made more effective through better use of the potential of the Internet (and the peer-to-peer and open source approaches that it has made so popular). In fact, in this peer-to-peer and open source spirit, different design teams may develop projects and research on the basis of their own resources and opportunities and, at the same time, act as a node within a larger network of similar teams. For instance, global challenges can be launched using digital platforms and adopting a peer-to-peer approach to spark off a design research activity: an open design research program thanks to which complex, socially relevant topics could be tackled, and explicit, discussable, transferrable and accumulable knowledge would be produced (such as: scenarios, solutions, tools and methods offered as contributions to larger co-design processes). Networks like these could operate in a very flexible way, as distributed systems, in which several interconnected design teams function as a large agency (while remaining sensitive to particular local cultural, social, and economic conditions). Given this particular system architecture, they could offer the unique possibility of integrating local and global points of view, and promoting open design programs where a variety of projects converge, tackling complex problems and generating scenarios and solutions.

Of course, what DESIS Network is doing, and is willing to do in the next future, goes exactly in this direction: to offer a platform to facilitate the free choice of different design teams (the DESIS Labs) to align on-going activities, create arenas for discussing their projects, compare tools and results, and provide a place where new joint initiatives can be started (see the Anna Meroni’s article on DESIS Open Issues and Thematic Clusters).