The inaugural Research Through Design (RTD) conference was chaired by Jayne Wallace and Joyce Yee and took place in September 2013 at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. RTD was envisioned as a new, experimental platform for disseminating practice-based design research. It responded to the observation that most conference opportunities are analogous with those of non-design centric disciplines, with the likelihood that key features and dynamics of design researchers’ work were being missed by these formats. Therefore, the first RTD conference resisted the temptation to adopt a traditional format for both paper submission and presentation in favour of an exhibition of design research artefacts accompanied by round-table discussions in ‘Rooms of Interest’.
The novel format of RTD situates the artefacts and processes of design at the heart of proceedings, for presenters and delegates to encounter them in performative, material terms. This was exposed through the RTD 2013 conference theme of Praxis and Poetics, and achieved through organising a curated design exhibition that formed a central component of the conference design. The exhibition was physically situated in a central location in the conference venue, and ran for the duration of the proceedings in conjunction with a program of presentations.
The second RTD Conference was held at Microsoft Research Cambridge in 2015, establishing the biennial series. The experimental format continued to evolve, Abigail Durrant and John Vines were the RTD 2015 General Chairs and they embraced the RTD ethos, continuing to establish the novel, synergistic format that supports the dissemination of practice based design research. RTD 2015 had a unifying theme of ’21st Century Makers and Materialities’, exploring the professional identities of design researcher-practitioners and their sometimes hybrid and interdisciplinary nature. Responding to feedback from the inaugural conference, new elements were introduced for this edition, including: a larger, more diverse Programme Committee and reviewer pool supported by an online submission system; opening up the forms of work submitted; a more open approach to formatting final proceedings, published online through Figshare; a “Making Space” session within the programme that included performances and tours around the exhibited work; “Provocations” to replace the traditional keynote; and documentation of the unfolding conference experience.
The third edition of the conference was chaired by Chris Speed and Ian Lambert, and was held at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, UK. The museum context provided an exciting venue for exploring new and emerging disciplines of making, and a unique opportunity for RTD conference exhibits to be juxtaposed with curated NMS artefacts and collections, challenging contemporary and future notions of value and expertise. Along with Chris and Ian, Jane Macdonald (University of Edinburgh) and Alison Taubman (NMS) were centrally involved in the conversation between the conference organisers and the museum staff to realise the event in this exciting venue.
A further development of the conference format included a Workshops track, and outputs from the experimental making that took place at each workshop was presented back to delegates during the event. The RTD 2017 proceedings were published through Figshare.
The fourth edition of the RTD Conference series, RTD 2019, was held at the Science Centre, Delft, on 19th to 22nd March 2019. The RTD 2019 General Chairs were Elisa Giaccardi and Pieter Jan Stappers, and the organising team brought together a wealth of experience from three universities in the Netherlands, TU Delft, TU Eindhoven, University of Twente, and those who have pioneered research-through-design projects and conversations within international communities.
Hosting RTD in the Netherlands, the RTD 2019 chairs continued to open up the conference to new audiences and conversations, and to help it grow as an international forum for practice-based research that engages all disciplines of Design. RTD 2019 explored the contemporary socio-material, economic and technological shifts in research-through-design that call for new ways of making. Please see the RTD 2019 microsite for documentation.
The next edition
The next edition of RTD will take place in 2022. Calls for Participation are planned to go out early in 2021. The careful decision to postpone the conference to 2022 was made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Details of the hosts and organising team for the next edition will be announced in due course.