The Power of a Hopeful If

Professor Thomas Binder


Design is today both challenged and recruited by societies in transformation. The designer is called upon as an agent of change for example when ’design thinking’ is championed as a language of innovation that can encompass controversy without harnessing traditional lines of conflict. Some respond positively to this call by engaging design methods to complex societal problems. Others are reluctant to give up the privileges of traditional design to define the aesthetics of the everyday.

Whatever the position taken by the professional designer, design has shifted status over the recent decades from being a set of well-known genres of aesthetic expression guided by established programs to becoming an open field of inquiry in which weak and volatile programs have to be pursued through open modes of experimentation.

In this presentation, the legacy of conventional design is called into question by revisiting some of the programmatic turns that has marked the history of contemporary design. It is argued that design is genuinely propositional but also that what to propose and how to propose has always been more guided by a programmatic attitude than by a particular kind of craftsmanship. This said, it is however also suggested that design is defined by methodologies rather than by a certain set of values or beliefs. Drawing on parallels to recent developments within the field of anthropology it is argued that contemporary design is constituted by the collaborative encounter with others and that the outcome of this encounter is the production of a hopeful ‘if’ in which the stabilities of the well-known are transformed into contingent potentialities.

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