The 14th National DEFSA Conference was hosted by Tshwane University of Technology and Inscape Education Group at Freedom Park Pretoria from 27 to 29 September 2017. The theme of the conference #Decolonise! Design educators reflecting on the call for the decolonisation of education, challenged design academics and postgraduate students to scrutinise their educational practice in relation to calls for the decolonisation of higher education.
The initial call for abstracts published on the DEFSA web site and circulated to member institutions resulted in the submission of 64 abstracts of which 40 were accepted. Over the two days of the conference 38 presenters representing 11 institutions presented papers. The final day of the conference was dedicated to a workshop addressing practice-based research. Over the three days 95 delegates and presenters attended the conference and workshop.
Publication of proceedings
All abstracts and papers for the conference and subsequent publication were selected using a double-blind peer review process. The double-blind review process ensured that both authors and reviewers remained anonymous during the process. Prior to the conference the submitted papers were peer reviewed by a group of academics drawn from 16 institutions representing the disciplines of Architecture, Communication Design, Education, Fashion Design, Fine Art, Graphic Design, Jewellery Design, Interior Design, Photography and Visual Studies. A list of the peer reviewers is included in the Conference Proceedings. Authors received feedback in the form of peer review reports and corrections to papers could be implemented for the Conference Proceedings. Ultimately 26 papers have been published in the 14th National DEFSA Conference Proceedings.
Editors Herman Botes and Susan Giloi
As reflected in the presentations at the DEFSA conference and the papers selected for these proceedings, #Decolonisation offered a fertile theme, concept and related theories for authors to debate and engage with. The calls to decolonise higher education that have emerged over the past few years across the world and especially in South Africa provided academics with a critical point from which to reflect on design education as it has been, and to look forward to what design education might become. Authors provided positive interpretations of how the decolonisation concept could be applied to their own design education practices, as well as institutional practices, in order to strengthen the practice and make it more open to students from diverse backgrounds and experiences.
Through the lens of Decolonisation authors considered curriculum design, pedagogy and assessment as well as the broader role and objectives of higher education structures and systems. For instance, is it enough to educate graduates who are employable in a highly commercial industry, or should graduates have more holistic skills that will equip them to make a positive impact on a world plagued by complex problems. In scrutinising their own educational practice authors clearly illustrate that education is never neutral and that current education systems skew access (both physical and epistemic), accentuate the gap between school and university level design studies, and emphasise employability in a highly commercial industry rather than addressing local needs for entrepreneurship and innovative problem solving. The impact of the colonial past on access and equity as well as the entrenched power dynamics within institutions and faculties are part of the looking back at were design education comes from. Many authors used the Decolonisation of education as an opportunity to offer alternate objectives for design education that align more strongly with community, empathy, social responsibility, emancipation, collaboration and intentional design. With this shift in focus for design education, comes the potential for design students to learn to become ethical, empathetic, critical and moral co-designers rather than mere operators of technology driven by a profit motive. Authors clearly see part of their responsibility in introducing a decolonised curriculum, as an approach that would equip graduates to transform the existing professional design practice to incorporate socially and environmentally responsible objectives.
One theme that was emphasised by the keynote speaker, Pro Dei, and echoed in a number of papers, was the consideration of a variety of forms of knowledge, accommodating multiple perspectives, histories, origins and cultures as opposed to a purely Eurocentric understanding of knowledge. Equally significant was the acknowledgement that it is not sufficient to superficially address these form of knowledge, but educators and students need to build an understanding of African indigenous knowledge systems, the history, origins, traditions, practices and principles that have formed and informed these systems.
Ultimately the DEFSA conference and papers included in the proceedings create a platform for discussions and suggestions that enrich design education and individual practices.