Krippendorff Delivers Keynote at Design Conference

Klaus Krippendorff, Gregory Bateson Professor for Cybernetics, Language, and Culture, gave the keynote address at a December 1-3, 2011, conference on “Practice-based Research in Art and Design” at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany.

The title of his address: “Designing Design-forsch-ung; not Re-search” played with the underlying meanings of the English “research,” meaning searching again and again for patterns available data from the past, and its translation into German: “Forschung,” meaning taking charge of a development, assuming risks in going forward into territory that others have not travelled. The talk explored the features of design discourse and the difficulty of doing research on something that does not yet exist but needs to be justified to its stakeholders.   The official abstract:  

Designing Design-forsch-ung; not Re-search   The above title is meant to make its readers aware of the unequal etymologies of these two terms, mindlessly used interchangeably, albeit in different languages. I contend that they lead to different ways of approaching the subject matter of this conference. To me this is just one example of how language use can direct human conception and action. I propose a bridge across the unhealthy divide between theory and practice, and approach Designforschung/research from the perspective of the discourse that supports design practices. Theoreticians think they do not need to use their hands, and practitioners fear their head could get in the way of their hands. I suggest acknowledging that designers talk among themselves and need to others of what they do provides the needed bridge.

My aim is to invoke a shift in thinking and talking of design and the inquiries that keep it viable. Comparing design with the equally practical discipline of medicine allows me to tease out why medicine has developed into a powerful institution, held in highest esteem publically, while designers are still struggling to define themselves – as seen in this conference.

Regarding that definition, I am taking the position that design needs to be human-centered, distinct from engineering and other natural science driven discourses (including medicine). Fundamentally, design creates meaningful interfaces between humans and technology. Design intervenes in material culture, and moving the concept of meaning and interactions into the center of design concerns, keeps that culture viable. Human-centeredness opens a whole range of exciting questions to explore, enables designers to become indisputable experts in a subject matter that no other discipline can claim for itself, and provides defensible methods for evaluating and justifying its cultural accomplishments to stakeholders. The latter could become as compelling as those of the already established disciplines.