Design for meaningful innovation

Walker, Stuart (2016) Design for meaningful innovation. In: The Routledge Companion to Design Studies. Routledge, Abindgon, Oxford, pp. 395-408. ISBN 9781138780507

Full text not available from this repository.


Design research today is characterized by its focus on technological innovation, especially digital innovation, and on collaborations between university researchers and private or public sector organizations to address practical concerns. In tandem with this direction, funding bodies encourage and often stipulate cross-disciplinary partnerships and look favourably upon projects that contribute to ‘real world’ impact. These widespread practices, however, can be problematic. They tend to endorse, rather than disinterestedly critique, the dominant paradigm, which despite its many material and practical benefits, is highly destructive of the natural environment, deeply inequitable and socially divisive and, on an individual level, associated with a sense of meaninglessness. Also, such intimate involvement of funding bodies in the positioning of academic inquiry can seriously compromise vitally important elements of scholarship, not least critical distance and academic freedom. Despite the difficulties of doing so within this trenchantly instrumental climate, some take a different path, pursuing design studies that critique narrowly framed technological and economic interpretations of progress; business-focused academic research; and the prioritization of ‘impact’ over curiosity-based inquiry. It is a path that offers opportunities for design to address some of the more significant concerns of our age. Over time, such work may be capable of fostering changes in understanding and contributing to what we might term meaningful innovation. Because of their diverse and emergent areas of focus these areas of design research have a variety of labels including critical design, speculative design, and propositional design. To contextualize these countervailing directions, this chapter begins with a discussion of the role and nature of design practice in academia. An overview of the historical developments that set the agenda for design in the twentieth century, which still dominates the field in the twenty-first, allows us to better understand the contribution of these new directions in advancing the discipline. The works of several designers are discussed, including examples from the author’s own academic design practice. These illustrate the kinds of issues being addressed, the relationship between theory and practice, and the roles of creativity, subjectivity, rhetoric and polemic in design research.

Item Type:
Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings
Uncontrolled Keywords:
ID Code:
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
09 Feb 2017 13:22
Last Modified:
21 Sep 2023 03:51