New Agencies and Alignments in RTD
Design is rapidly being widened and disrupted by data technologies such as the Internet of Things, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. This has a profound effect on Research through Design (RTD) too.
As technology begins to enable the things we make to make things too, and with increased autonomy, designers will need a finer understanding of the recursive relationship between the ‘people who make things,’ the ‘things that make other things,’ and the ‘things that make people’. Algorithmically enabled and connected, things can generate identity (or hamper it) by curating content, produce care (or discrimination) by performing assistance, and generate value (or not) by arranging smart contracts.
This new relationship collapses the traditional division between participation (at design time), interaction (at use time), and the (planned) creation and distribution of products and services that design has inherited from previous practices of skilful crafting and industrial design manufacturing – shifting the locus of design to uncharted territories. So how can designers participate in this expanded, emergent world of design? And with whom, or what, will they be doing their part?
For example, how can teams of diverse human experts and artificial agencies be aligned in a RTD project, doing the things that include design? Who (or what) has to participate, when and how – in what role? How can artificial perspectives be brought into the design process thoughtfully and responsibly? How to critique (not just vet) the assumptions and design decisions that get encoded in an algorithm, and the interactions the algorithm is enabled to learn from? How to develop capacity for ethical responses to be shared between distributed entities, humans and nonhumans?
Policy and Governance for RTD
Over the past decade design has grown into a scientific discipline, which is not only worthy as an object of study, but is also offering a unique contribution to the ways new knowledge can be produced. Research through Design (RtD) falls in that latter offer, with the core contribution of opening ‘a not-yet-existing future’ by making and [using] prototypes and other artefacts.
These new ways of doing research involve embracing complexity and ambiguity, reframing the object of study during a project, and often working with a broad set of stakeholders in different roles. This offers a number of challenges to the way research projects are organized, planned, and funded.
For example, what are the criteria by which a RtD proposal should be judged? How can practitioners (e.g., design agencies) be involved during the project, if they are not in the role of researchers, and yet provide essential value to the design actions? What forms of deliverables and dissemination should be expected? How can a project be re-arranged when a re-framing requires new parties to take part in the collaboration? How do these needs fit the current disciplinary spectrum of funding institutions?