Potential pasts
Possible futures

Maria Göransdotter

Transitional design histories (PhD Project)

What could histories of design be like, if they were to take a starting point in today's practices of designing?  Could other kinds of design histories make visible some of the past and current ideas that shape not only how design is perceived, but how it is done? And further: Could such historical inquiries allow us to broaden the perspectives on the past in order to not only make sense of the present, but to critically question core concepts, methods and frameworks in design in order to open up for other possible ways of doing design? 

In my dissertation, defended in September 2020, I argue that for history to matter more to design, we need design histories that take a starting point in matters of concern in today's design practices. Such histories could draw attention to how the historicity of designing impacts the situations that established and emerging design practices seek to engage with. Design has, over time, been thought, articulated, framed and practiced is ways that by now are embedded in the methods and concepts used in designing today. As such, the historicity of designing then will afford and support certain ways of designing, and not others. These kinds of design histories are proposed to be transitional, in the sense of supporting shifting the positions from which designing can be viewed, and questioned. As design and designing changes, the histories of design are also transitional -- and provisional -- in that they  are meant to be fluid and changing, rather than stabilising and fixed in providing stories of what design 'is' or 'has been'. 

Three core concepts in the tradition of Scandinavian user-centered design are taken as the starting points for examples of design histories approached from perspectives of designing, e through studies of texts and archival material relating to Swedish    20th century domestic reform discourse.  The concepts of 'participation', 'users' and 'methods' as applied in Scandinavian user-centered and participatory design practices here serve as lenses for proposing design histories that bring to the fore some pf the underlying and often invisible assumptions and norms which can limit or restrict the kinds of designing made possible within these practices. At the same time, applying these perspectives in a Scandinavian context also sheds light on a hitherto fairly invisible history: how the conditions for the emergence of participatory design came about in Scandinavia.  I investigate ideas and methods that today are an integral part of a 'Scandinavian user centered design', and discuss how these still carry with them norms, values and practices linked to the specific historical contexts that these once emerged in. 

My supervisors were Johan Redström, UID, and Kjetil Fallan, University of Oslo.

Areas of interest

Design history, design theory, design studies, user-centered design, participatory design, material culture, semiotics, aesthetics.


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