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Co-design not a silver bullet


Collaboration between academia and stakeholders must be ongoing and integrated if it is to be successful and not just a one-hit wonder, claims Luca Simeone, who has studied co-design at three academic research labs. He will defend his PhD thesis at Malmö University on December 16.

A hybrid bike that has all the new technology, just like a Formula One racing car, an environmentally sustainable hybrid bike, or a hybrid bike that fits in with an urban lifestyle. MIT Senseable City Lab has developed a hybrid bike that was then translated in different ways for different purposes. An example that illustrates Luca Simeone's research.

Luca SimeoneLuca Simeone, at Malmö University. "Design plays an important role in communication, but it is also a way of presenting products, meanings or values in different contexts. Research and Design labs are aware of this and work with translation to a much greater extent than I had expected."

Studied and compared three academic research labs

Luca Simeone has studied the relationship between design activity and entrepreneurial ambition at three academic labs: MIT Senseable City Lab, metaLAB (at) Harvard, and Medea at Malmö University. His PhD Thesis is interdisciplinary and covers four subject areas: Design Studies, Interaction Design, Design Management and Translation Studies.

"I wanted to understand how Co-design works and examine the entrepreneurial aspects – how academics collaborate and interact with different stakeholders, such as industry, NGOs and government institutions. I also looked at the interplay between stakeholders to see if design could stimulate the collaborative processes."

Tension occurs when academia moves closer to industry

Another question that preoccupied Luca Simeone was related to the kinds of tensions that arise when academia move closer to industry, with their diverse interests, agendas and power positions, and the rhetorical interactions that are used.

"Collaborative research spaces are motivated by a range of economic and social factors, including the need for academia to secure alternative sources of funding and the political ambition to incorporate knowledge production into the existing value circuits of the market economy."

Each lab was different

Luca Simeone found that every lab was different. Some labs aimed to create products that were to be commercialised or publicly showcased. Other design moves were aimed at preserving complexity and redundancy and they retained a high degree of openness to external contributions.

"Some labs didn't work with industry. But as it is difficult to fund their work fully, the labs need external economic resources to operate."

"Design labs want to explore possibilities. But collaboration and Co-design with industry sometimes push you towards commercialising and bringing objects to market."

Need for adademia to keep distance from industry

"But there should be some distance to industry," Luca Simeone stated.

"Labs within academia should occupy a critical position. Collaboration and Co-design is a grey and controversial area."

Another finding was that collaboration can prove difficult. Luca Simeone's findings also suggest that the idea of design being a silver bullet is unfounded.

"Design can help and support the process, but you really need to understand the complex rhetorical interrelations of the various stakeholders involved. Understanding and aligning the different needs and wants of these stakeholders can be a long conversational process." 

Text: Charlotte Orban

Last updated by Pia Pettersson Blank