One morning, during Uroboros Festival 2021, we met in a non-conventional online space standing on a rejected paper from the ACM IDS Conference along with its authors, and initiated a digital stroll in which to collectively murmur. Design researchers Joseph Lindley, David Green, and Zach Manson built this space in gather.town and brought us together to share our perspectives on fluidity, data, time, and metanarratives. The design was based on the manuscript ‘Ways of Seeing Design Research’ — a reflection on state-of-the-art design research as a discipline.
The experiment was part of Design Research Works, a project by Dr. Joseph Lindley that focuses on promoting Design Research (DR). According to him, it concerns the “discipline transcending, art & science unifying, future revealing power of Design Research”. In the complex world that we have designed, we need new ways of understanding it. DR offers tools to investigate and is gradually becoming prevalent in the tech world and in academia. But it is also naive, its methods are still adolescent, and it is not always respected as a valid research method. The authors want to unlock the full potential of this discipline by creating a space for dialogue. Marshall McLuhan was right — the medium IS the message — and here, more pointedly, the medium is the collective murmuration.
In the paper that was presented, the authors consider multiple perspectives on how design and research should work together. The title relates to John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’, a book and BBC TV programme from the 1970s, which popularised visual culture studies and stressed the importance of knowing the context in which a design (or art form) is constructed to enable its understanding.
The format of a pictorial paper allowed them to use fewer words and more images, sketches, and diagrams. It tries, for example, to build a timeline of DR projects, and also talks about the time:travel paradox in Speculative Design, imagining what a search engine for DR projects would look like. DR is all about learning by making — actually getting your hands dirty with design. In this case, a lot of new observations have arisen through designing this search engine. Thus, new knowledge is generated through designing.
Although the paper was rejected by the conference that focused on design and computing, the ideas put forth in the paper are extremely relevant. Despite the recent interest in DR from various angles, it is still difficult for these ideas to enter the world of established human-centred design discourse.
This critical approach, which involves stepping away from established institutional formats, is what inspires. The murmuration space was open 24/7 throughout the festival. Inside the space itself, you could walk through the paper, read it, add your comments and suggestions, and speak with others. DR needs to find alternative platforms to further shape the discourse. A murmuration could well be one of these.