The Reconfiguring Artefacts Framework

This project investigates the idea of ‘reconfiguring artefacts’. We use ‘configuration’ as a as a term meaning ‘design’. If the world is made up – configured – in a certain way, we engage in a re-configuring way with the world, trying to change it.

The title ‘reconfiguring artefacts’ has two meanings. First, we explore, through the work with artefacts, how we reconfigure the world according to our ideas. Second, we assume that the artefacts we work with in design, design us back. In this sense, ‘reconfiguring artefacts’ has a double, bi-directional meaning. We configure the world through artefacts, and through artefacts we are reconfigured back.

The idea that what we make, makes us back, is not new (Fry, 2009). In design, the reflective and dialogical nature of working with materials is underpinned by the seminal work of Donald Schön and “the reflective practitioner” where he describes the moves that designer make in shaping materials, and how the materials “talk back” (Schön, 1883, p. 79).

We use ‘material-idea artefacts’ (Neubauer and Bohemia, in review), as units of analysis for the Reconfiguring Artefacts design research project. Material-idea artefacts traces ideas and material conditions, as they configure worlds – constituted by material things in relation to each other. The concept pays particular attention to imaginaries, which are hybrid material-idea artefacts, woven into the ideas and material conditions of our world-making practices. Imaginaries are dedicated change agents deployed by designers in the design process in order to change world configurations (ibid). The imaginaries framework speaks of ideas as (ephemeral) understandings and concepts that guide our doing and saying. These are complemented with material conditions as the materialized and ‘real’ conditions of the world. Imaginaries are hybrids between the two; they are relational artefacts such as drawings, plans, maps, narratives. Imaginaries are artefacts that describe the imagination in the design process, of what is possible and what the future could be like.

Imaginaries, once made, participate in the design process and help negotiate particular futures to come true. They are agents of change, deployed in design to reconfigure the conditions of the world.

Imaginaries also renew themselves, as the conditions of design are reconfigured alongside the topic of design. Configuring artefacts is therefore a design research framework that learns about itself as it is used. It renews itself in the design work. At the same time as the framework is used as a guiding structure for the design research project, it is also developed further in the course of this project.

In this research project, our research question is: How do we design? How do ideas materialize? How does this materialization process in turn configure us and the conditions of design?

The framework helps us shed light on the material and ideational functions of design, and the role that imaginaries play, in realizing particular futures. The framework also helps us to see our own configurations and how our own condition changes in changing the future.

We use several vehicles to explore the larger research question.

  1. What design (re-configuration) process do we use? How does it design (re-configure) us back?
  2. How do we use imaginaries in design collaboration to realise our ideas?
    • What physical materials do we use and how?
    • What digital materials do we use and how?
    • Space and architecture. What physical infrastructures do we use and how?
    • Place and time. What virtual infrastructures do we use and how?

We explore the question of how we design – how we materially change the world – in this practice-based design research project, through several projects containing each one concrete question. We produce documentation, drawings, maps, texts, reflections, photos, screenshots, videos, and we produce designs of our tools and processes, and templates that may be reused and carried forward.

By using configuring artefacts, we aim to make the materialisation and realisation of ideas visible. We hope design becomes through this visibility traceable (accountable), accessible, learnable and adaptable (designable).

References

Fry, T. (2009). Design futuring: Sustainability, ethics and new practice. London: Bloomsbury.

Neubauer, R. and Bohemia, E. (in review). Design Imaginaries: Tracing Ideas in the Design Process.

Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.