AGIDEAS Research Conference 2013

One of the (rare) perks of doing a PhD is getting free passes to research related events or conferences. Swinburne sponsored and hosted the AGIDEAS research conference this year held at ACMI in Melbourne. Lucky for us students, they had a few passes to give away.

I didn’t intend to blog about the day so i did not take notes/images of the talks and apologise for the somewhat vague recollections. But on reflection of the event, i realised there were a few debates and key ideas that surfaced which i felt interesting to share.

To be perfectly honest, a lot of the research echoed many insights already established in the design field. Now im not implying that the research was in any way unoriginal, but, even though it was an original contribution to the particular discourse outside of design (say, business or psychology that has not published much research focused on design practice), the conclusions were almost identical to what designers have been publishing for decades. It made me wonder how much literature should be read external to ones research field, if a topic is fundamental to a field outside of ones own. This is particularly problematic for new industries recently discovering ‘design thinking’.

The theme for the event was titled Design for Business. Many speakers diverged a little off topic and majority of the talks focused on branding and marketing. However, there were three dominant discussions/debates that ran through the day:

1. Emotion

There were a few speakers that spoke for and against branding and designing for emotion. Prof. Jenni Romaniuk argued that she did not believe branding should involve or evoke emotion in consumers as people have a hard time as it is relating to one another let alone have an emotional connection to a brand. She spoke quite adamantly about her disinterest in design for emotion arguing it adds a level of stress in an already confusing marketplace. Emily Wright presented an interesting paper on packaging design that discussed trying out the new or tried and true. She was sympathetic to emotional design and her research implied that evoking nostalgia through package design can influence buying behaviour. Dr Dan Formosa discussed the use of personas in design and somewhat contradicted himself by first stating he did not like the idea of constructing one persona to depict an entire demographic, yet, he preferred basing personas on ‘real’ friends and individuals he has encountered. I (and i think i speak for most designers) favor designing with or for emotion as design is fundamentally human-centered and empathetic to the user/consumer.

2. Design Thinking

This probably seems like a ‘well duh’ topic to mention but i was actually fairly surprised that academics were still (seriously) referencing design thinking despite all of the marketing bull-kak and backlash it has received over the last year and a half. Usually academics run from anything that sniffs like a fad, so for multiple presenters to acknowledge design thinking as a serious and legitimate phenomenon assures that it is growing out of the fad phase. In fact there was a presentation titled: “Design thinking to grow the market: Developing products that address industry and consumer need,” by Dr Elaine Saunders, David Jenkinson and Jessica Taft.

3. Marketing Vs Design (particularly sustainable design)

Woooweee was this a hot topic. It seems the feud between marketers and designers has not lost its fire. Dr Robert Crocker presented an interesting lecture on ethicalization and greenwashing, focusing on sustainability and indirectly blaming consumerism and marketing for fuelling unsustainable desires. Upon finishing, Prof. Jenni Romaniuk challenged Dr.Crockers blame ideas on marketing, vehemently arguing that marketers just answer to the needs of consumers which they dictate and demand. Things got heated pretty quickly, with Dr. Crocker sharply replying that he completely disagreed with Jenni’s proposal and found marketing to be a fundamentally unsustainable practice. A few more jabs were thrown from both speakers before our MC, Dr.Gjoko Muratovski, quickly stepped in to break the fight with a joke: [that] “sideline tickets will be on sale after the conference,” and suggested both academics continue their debate over wine (because that would make everything more civil!). Suffice to say, the audience were on the edge of their seats  and many labeled it the highlight of the conference.

Overall, the day was an interesting account on current research surrounding branding in design and how branding and marketing can influence and affect business and consumer behaviour. Would love to know if anyone else attended the event and could share their thoughts on the day- or even just on these topics.

3 thoughts on “AGIDEAS Research Conference 2013

  1. Hi Stefanie,

    I’m just starting to research trends related to “design thinking” in business. I’m trying to get a quick read on the degree to which businesses are investing in developing or hiring design thinking capabilities, and whether this is growing. I note your comment about “ll of the marketing bull-kak and backlash it has received over the last year and a half” and wonder whether you can point me to any sources that could summarize the state of play as of the autumn of 2013? Is design thinking little more than a business buzzword–one that’s losing its buzz–or is there momentum building behind it? I would appreciate any pointers you can share.


    David Schatsky

    • stefdr says:

      Hi David,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. There is definitely a massive trend in business for design thinking, so much so that there are new business degrees that integrate design thinking and design degrees that incorporate business teaching. Despite the ‘backlash’ that occured (primarily throughout 2012) when design thinking was reaching its peak, the negative reactions did not slow progress or interest in design thinking. Most notably since then, experts who were once critical and skeptical of design thinking have now turned to support it (most famous example is Don Norman).

      I feel that the buzz has died down but what is left is a secure foundation with which companies and even governments are continually learning, using and growing. I don’t think there is an article that summarises the current status of design thinking (as of autumn-but i try to do my best updating the situation here) however, there is still academic research, interest from business and new government initiatives that all utilise design thinking to date.

      I have tried to quash the ‘buzzword’ image associated with design thinking, as i have tried to explain through posts on this blog that design thinking is and has long been a part of industry practise and has a long history behind it. I believe the business and design community now understand this, with the many articles and discussions posted about design thinking over the last two years. I can definitely share some recent articles to you via email that provide recent examples of the trend/attitudes and applications of design thinking.

      Hope this has helped!

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