The inaugural Research Through Design (RTD) conference was envisioned and chaired by Jayne Wallace and Joyce Yee and took place in September 2013 at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead as a new, experimental platform for disseminating practice-based design research. It responded to the observation that most conference opportunities are analogous with those of non-design centric disciplines, with the likelihood that key features and dynamics of design researchers’ work were being missed by these formats. Therefore, the first RTD conference resisted the temptation to adopt a traditional format for both paper submission and presentation in favour of an exhibition of design research artefacts accompanied by round-table discussions in ‘Rooms of Interest’.
The novel format of RTD situates the artefacts and processes of design at the heart of proceedings, for presenters and delegates to encounter them in performative, material terms. This was exposed through the RTD 2013 conference theme of Praxis and Poetics, and achieved through organising a curated design exhibition that formed a central component of the conference design. The exhibition was physically situated in a central location in the conference venue, and ran for the duration of the proceedings in conjunction with a program of presentations.
The second RTD Conference was held at Microsoft Research Cambridge in 2015, establishing the biennial series. The experimental format continued to evolve, Abigail Durrant and John Vines were the RTD 2015 General Chairs and they embraced the RTD ethos, continuing to establish the novel, synergistic format that supports the dissemination of practice based design research. The theme was 21 Century Makers and Materialities, exploring the professional identities of design researcher-practitioners and their sometimes hybrid and interdisciplinary nature. Responding to feedback from the inaugural conference, new elements were introduced for RTD 2015, including: a larger, more diverse Programme Committee and reviewer pool supported by an online submission system; opening up the forms of work submitted; a more open approach to formatting final proceedings, published online through Figshare; a “Making Space” session within the programme that included performances and tours around the exhibited work; “Provocations” to replace the traditional keynote; and documentation of the unfolding conference experience.
The third edition of the conference was chaired by Chris Speed and Ian Lambert, and was held at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, UK. The museum context provided an exciting venue for exploring new and emerging disciplines of making, and a unique opportunity for RTD conference exhibits to be juxtaposed with curated NMS artefacts and collections, challenging contemporary and future notions of value and expertise. Along with Chris and Ian, Jane Macdonald (University of Edinburgh) and Alison Taubman (NMS) were centrally involved in the conversation between the conference organisers and the museum staff to realise the event in this exciting venue.
A further development of the conference format included a Workshops track, and outputs from the experimental making that took place at each workshop was presented back to delegates during the event. The RTD 2017 proceedings were published through Figshare. Documentation from RTD 2017 will be available on the series website soon.