Keynote speakers will present a talk on day 1, then lead a workshop that responds to the workshop brief on day 2, which is open to all participants.

Each keynote’s talk and workshop abstract is outlined below (note that Tom and Angela will be leading a joint workshop which is described at the end).

Tom Halsør – Data needs poetry

What is that thing that sometimes makes information turn into meaning and even action?

What does data smell like? Why should you smell data?

There are many ways of working with data when visualizing them. Being conscious about the process of turning data into information can be one of your most powerful tools.

Getting as close as possible to the mind of your user can be immensely challenging, sometimes scary, sometimes fun, but vital. Adopting a user can make you discover more easily new perspectives on the challenge you are working on.

The talk is a string of stories, reflections and case studies on the subject of making complex matter engaging and meaningful.

Russell Kerr – Positioning Social Design: Community engagement and reflective design practice in rural communities

This presentation explores the emerging practice of social design, discussing contemporary examples of community engagement lead by designers, and imbedded in rural communities. The focus of the presentation is to explore ways of evaluating the phenomenon of social design and the roles designers might play when undertaking social design projects.

In this presentation social design is presented as an emerging design practice where social concerns are placed at the forefront of the designers mind; and where community engagement is a critical component of the social design process. The presentation questions the romantic notion of social design as portrayed in popular media and design organisations, via a discourse stating that ‘design can change the world’.

Of particular interest to emerging social designers, is our ability to understand and evaluate complex encounters that occur when competing interests manifest at the critical juncture of ‘social practice’ and visual design. The research presented, explores the designers desire to create, to respond to problems using their natural language, or design vocabulary. The presentation highlights what occurs when a designer’s language and pre-determined assumptions become the driving force in social design projects.

The presentation proposes alternative ways of approaching community engagement using story telling and reflective practice. In these instances, social practice receives a focused effort as the designers’ passion to create with visual and aesthetic outcomes are removed from the social design project at hand.

Angela Morelli – A story about telling stories

Five years ago Angela fell in love with the concept of virtual water. That concept took her on an amazing journey that led to major discoveries: our hidden demands on water, the power of information design and the importance of communicating science. Angela will share her professional journey through the fascination for water science explained by visual narratives.  She will tell about the struggle and joy, the conflicts and mediations, the wonder and uncertainty in discovering, understanding and visualizing the invisible data of our everyday water consumption.

With scientific knowledge such as water footprint, virtual water, climate change and sustainable consumption, the design of understanding and effective communication is vital in order to support action – but it is not sufficient. It is not sufficient because action and change result from a complex process in which not only cognition but also emotions play a major role.

Dr. Sarah Pink – Research, co-design and intervention through improvisation: learning about design from Slow activism

This talk is about research, co-design and intervention through improvisation. My provocation is that to understand how to inspire change we should consider how indirect activism can inform design. Both are ways of being active in the world that imagine and engage with the present-future interface and seek to intervene in its trajectory.

Since 2005, I have been doing ethnographic research with slow cities in the UK, Spain and Australia, collaborating with colleagues who have contributed to the development of ideas, as have the Design+Ethnography+Futures workshops at RMIT. Here, taking a design anthropology approach I analyse how the work of the Slow City movement can be understood as a co-design process where the movement’s urban sustainability framework becomes part of the improvisory activity of town leaders. This design does not create a closed prototype to direct change by altering what people do. Instead it initiates an open process, by which the improvisory capacity of ordinary people as co-designers is harnessed. The Slow City framework, is not a prescriptive design, it instead inspires town leaders to invest the spoken and the sensory and affective ways of experiencing the uniqueness and specialness of their towns into an identity validated by a global movement. The movement’s global success is related specifically to the flexibility of its framework, which makes it one of the few urban sustainability frameworks that is transferable across cultural and national contexts.

Workshop focus: What can this example tell us about how to design for a resilient Riverlands? And how might we translate this into a design process?

  • We will explore these questions through the following activities:
  • Exploring how participatory design ethnography methods would help us to understand how and where to create interventions towards a resilient Riverlands?
  • Developing how could we create ethnographies of Riverlands futures? And how we could imagine Riverlands as a site of the possible?
  • Establishing how might this emerge as a co-design process that engages the improvisory capacity of local people?

Dr. Oliver Vodeb – Design Research as Institutional Critique

Initiating change by design is at its core related to institutions. Theory and practice are almost never practiced outside the institutional context and in most cases design is practiced in the context of institutions (market, university…) that are in one way or the other directly related to the design profession.

In order to initiate change by design we need to create strategies for understanding and ways of learning that go beyond the institutional, cultural, and pragmatic boundaries of professions and fields of knowledge. In that sense we need institutional critique.

The question that I will discuss in my talk is how to think of design research as institutional critique?

The question is connected with inner institutional power relations, the academic and the broader culture in which design students, educators and professionals are situated.

Change is related to marginal, critical, countercultural positions in society. How can we connect institutional design knowledge production with such positions? This is a crucial point because the extradisciplinary approach that we will discuss, is based on bridging institutionalized disciplines with marginal critical social movements and initiatives.

Institutions in the age of cognitive capitalism are especially designed to capitalize on critique. However interventions into institutions such as Universities can benefit more radical social movements and initiatives as well. The forces of cultural and institutional appropriation are pushing in both directions. The critical, transformative pedagogy within an institution can have significant impact as long as it is an active part of outer-institutional participatory networks maintaining its extradisciplinary position.

I will discuss an example of extradisciplinary research in the case of the collaboration between Memefest and the Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy at the Queensland College of Art in November 2013. The talk will be a starting point for further action in Western Sydney in a workshop session.

Two main questions:

– Which institutions and which marginal, countercultural initiatives exist 
in Riverlands, Sydney that are relevant to us for “Initiating Change by 
–  Can we establish conditions for dialogue, as part of extradisciplinary 
research, between institutions, marginal, countercultural initiatives and the university for “Initiating Change by Design” in Riverlands, Sydney?

Methodology: (pre) workshop extradisciplinary research

Technology: the plan is to use the ojoVoz open source mobile phone software (for Android phones) that enables us to record photos and sounds that will be than published on a dedicated research online platform as part of a dialogic direct research action process.

More than practicing direct dialogue we will research (non) existing conditions for dialogue in Riverlands, Sydney. Our aim will be to contribute towards sustainable conditions for dialogue.

Tom Halsør & Angela Morelli – From Data to Action

This workshop will be a hands-on experience of turning data into knowledge through the process of gathering and smelling your data, identifying your message and creating a visual narrative in order to present it. You will experience the importance and power of adopting your users in order to lay the foundations for action and change. You will explore ways in which we can organize information and realize that each way you choose can create new understandings and different stories. ‘Stories are a vehicle for making facts and numbers come alive. Stories permit information to be imprinted into memory. They encourage the application of information and that is what gives it meaning’ (R.S. Wurman).