Dr Gerard Moran
Dean, Faculty of Art & Design
De Montfort University,
Leicester, LE1 9BH, UK.
Tel: +44 (0)116. 257 7570 Fax: +44 (0)116. 257 7574
Firstly I want to extend a warm welcome from the Faculty of Art & Design of De Montfort University to everyone who is visiting. And to DMU Staff and Students who are participating in today’s event - Designing Design (Research) 3 – ‘The Inter-disciplinary Design Quandary’. It is especially pleasing to welcome students from a range of Universities to today’s event.
In particular, we’re welcoming the Design Research Society, with whom the University has had a long and valued association. It’s good to see that that is continuing. I know that Alec Robertson has put a lot of energy into arranging today’s event, supported by Kate Banham, Tracey Newth and the student helpers, Lorna Hamilton Brown and Agneta Rautio, and I hope that everyone here enjoys and is stimulated by the event they have organised together with the Design Research Society.
The Faculty of Art & Design at De Montfort University is fully committed to playing its part in the furtherance and development of higher education and research into Art, Design, Architecture and History of Art & Design – even if it might have gone a little quiet at certain times in its recent past. Like many other Faculties, Schools and A&D Institutions, this Faculty has devoted much attention to strengthening and intensifying its research activity in recent years. And like many institutions we were very proud of and encouraged by our performance in the Research Assessment Exercise of 2001. Not only did the Faculty achieve scores of 4 in Unit 64, Art & Design; Unit 47, Asian Studies and Unit 33, Built Environment (jointly with another Faculty on sustainable development), we did so with a significantly higher volume submission in each Unit of Assessment. This is not to say that bigger necessarily means better, but it is an indication, nevertheless, that research in art and design is not a minority activity reserved for a chosen few, but it embedded in and inseparable from the business of teaching undergraduates and postgraduates in our subjects.
We are still awaiting the Subject Overview Reports from the Panels set up in the Research Assessment Exercise which should give us a five year snapshot or healthcheck statement on research in Art & Design across the whole sector, but it might be interesting to speculate on what they might tell us. . . .
Firstly, it is possible that the sector’s own review of Art & Design research might reveal that definitions of, and boundaries around and between the disciplines, are far from clear and absolute. We achieved a 3b in Unit 60, History of Art & Design in which there were thirty-nine institutions making a submission – yet there were seventy-five submissions to Art & Design. We know that of those seventy-five institutions the vast majority is likely to be active in research in History, Theory and Context of Art & Design. A reasonable assumption might be that, with the ever changing definition of what art and design history is, many institutions chose to see it as inseparable from art and design itself and submitted it to the UoA in Art & Design. It might even be reasonable to assume that some design research teams include historians and theoreticians within their groupings. It will be interesting to see if this suggestion is borne out by the day’s events.
Secondly, one of the amazing features of the sector’s overall improvement in research in Art & Design is that it has been achieved against difficult odds. There is no Research Council for the subject – I am sure I don’t need to tell you that and it is well known that the true infrastructure costs of design research far outstrip the Government funding and grants available globally to the sector. So, it is possible that RAE 2001 might disclose other trends in cross-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary research in Design. Perhaps some design research projects have found it necessary to re-categorise their activity in order to follow the source of funding more generously available in domains like Engineering, the Physical Sciences, Ergonomics or the technology of the Built Environment. If this is indeed the case, it adds a special relevance to the types of discussions and debates you will be having during the course of today about how design research needs to be cross-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary and multidisciplinary in its flavour.
Thirdly, it is possible that since the 1996 RAE we will have witnessed an increasing volume of research about design and a corresponding drift away from research in art and design, again for economic reasons. The Art and Humanities Research Board has identified the theme of ‘Designing for the 21st Century’ in its recent bid to the Government Annual Spending Round as something that it wants to fund. This is of course encouraging, but we do know that the AHRB – or Council as it might yet become – does see research through a certain filter, shall we say, and to unlock that source of support it might be necessary to forge strategic alliances with other disciplines in the Humanities and other organisations outside the areas of Design Research. It is most interesting to see that one of today’s speakers is addressing the question of socially-orientated design. It has a topicality – as well as an intrinsic merit.
It’s interesting to note that the indicative question given in the papers for today’s event asked
"Is the lone designer – artist more creative than an inter-disciplinary team?"
Again, I would congratulate the DRS on their prescience in highlighting this issue. Small multi-disciplinary teams, working concurrently on development projects, are a feature of contemporary industrial practice. Research groups in design have an inherent advantage over the lone researcher, in my view, not just because they provide a focus in which ideas can shine and ring and reverberate around the group, but also because they allow complementary strengths to be developed across the group of researchers. Certainly, one feature of this Faculty’s Research Strategy is to move away from the lone-scholar model and to encourage the development of teams – and it will be interesting to hear the views of others on this theme today.
Can I just observe that it is tremendous to see so many speakers and participants from industry. The Design Council’s work in promoting the contribution that Design can make to Business has been exemplary. I’m thinking partly of the Design in Business Week 2001 and in particular of the East Midlands event I attended at the National Space Centre where businesses themselves were on the platform promoting and celebrating the contribution that design education had made to success and profitability.
But the contribution that design education can make to business customers goes well beyond undergraduate level projects, or student placements, or even Teaching Company Schemes – true competitive edge will be gained by those businesses that acknowledge and invest time in the contribution that design researchers can and do make to the industrial, commercial and business sectors.
And, to finish, today’s event has been made available to final year undergraduates in the Faculty of Art & Design at DMU – and very welcome you all are, too.
Currently you are studying at a University which blends its commitment to extending the opportunity to study to more students from diverse groups, with a Research profile that puts it at the top of the league of the former Polytechnics involved in research. This Faculty aims to put its star researchers in front of its most junior undergraduates as teachers to stimulate your interests and to raise your aspirations to be researchers, too. One thing that pleasantly surprised me when the information was gathered together from Design, Fine Art, Art History and Architecture for our submission to the Government’s quinquennial review of our research, was that this Faculty has the highest rate of completions in PhD study in these subjects in the whole of the UK. . . So, don’t necessarily think that a first, undergraduate degree is the end of your education.
I hope that final year students and taught postgraduate students will not only find much of interest in today’s discussions but also that some of you will be sufficiently inspired to enquire about research study as a result of what your hear.