Negotiating Material Design Knowledge: Making through design research



Design Education Research


  • material design, design knowledge


My doctoral research critically explored design education in South African higher education through employing post-qualitative methodology. The research was approached from new materialist, posthuman theoretical perspectives. This implied that I set out to practise design research/education aimed at productive transformation in the institution that I work. I critically negotiated a range of individual experiences of being engaged in design/research/teaching in the Visual Communication Design curriculum at Stellenbosch University.

It was found that challenging traditional representational practice through playful experimentation allowed individuals time and space to tune into, recognise and respond to moments of productive future change within their situated present. In this paper, I critically reflect on what – in traditional terms – can be regarded as the formal output of the aforementioned research process, i.e. the academic thesis. As the research process evolved, the ways in which data was collected, worked with/through, and represented were challenged. This became an embodied part of the material form of the thesis in a range of ways, e.g. through the informational structure of the document’s content, the narrative structure of the text, the typographic and layout structure of the document, as well as its physical form and format. Bringing the specific example of this thesis in relation to theory concerned with materiality and making (Gürsoy 2016; Ingold 2010), I make an argument for using representational media and skills non-representationally (Thrift 2008) to nurture design’s creative capacity to transform the world for the better rather than strengthen its predictable, instrumental abilities. As such, this case provides an example of how design knowledge can be negotiated materially through design research, an integral aspect of design theory within the context of advanced capitalism in contemporary twenty-first-century society.

Keywords: Design, making, materiality, representation, design knowledge, design research


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