Upstream: Prospects Through Design

Prof. Dr. Regine Halter, HyperWerk Institute for Postindustrial Design, Academy of Arts and Design, Basel, Prof. Catherine Walthard, HyperWerk Institute for Postindustrial Design, Academy of Arts and Design, Basel,

We contribute to the topic Collaboration in a Global Context. We will provide aspects of collaboration science and design focusing on reflections on theoretical concerns and methodological advances as well as on conceptual developments. When you start an international team project and brief your team members about "the project" all members usually agree rather quickly on what needs to be done and in which way things should proceed. But sometimes sooner or later you will have to realize that there are some deep differences in understanding. You have not reckoned with the wildly diverse cultural backgrounds of your team members from Indonesia, Belarus, and Trinidad, Tobago. You have relied on your homegrown cultural stereotypes and are most surprised when these are disappointed and one or more team members start behaving erratically. Interestingly enough, these one or two team members feel the same way about you. They too are surprised that after apparent agreement in the beginning, you started to behave so erratically. Both parties experience something that is strange and alien to them. Such an incident might have to do only with different ideas about communication and online work. But if we are talking about design work the misunderstandings will become even greater since design issues are very closely and indeed conretely related to the respective cultures and lifeworlds of all team members. So, if you want to be a swarm you better identify and discuss your cultural differences. And then – this is our thesis – it will be possible to transform these differences from obstacles into positive factors. Moreover we think that the more "foreignness" you are able to accept as irreducibly foreign in your team the more intelligent your swarm will be. Against this background HyperWerk is concerned with the question from which preconception our understanding of design originates and whether this understanding, in times of globalization, can still be valid at all. Design, as a creation of western industrial societies at the beginning of modernism, was guided by the dogma of “the good form”. “The good form” was the essence of any design achievement, claimed to be universally valid, and was thus unconcerned with cultural differences – which, in this design concept, did not exist at all. Even today, with industrialization having produced many ‘good forms’ and having long since abolished the dogma of the one and only good form, the self-conceptions of design cultures in their respective individual contexts still remain largely unreflected and unchallenged. It is as though all over the world, the act of designing originated from the same motives, had the same cultural context and followed the same requirements regarding use and application. 1

Once our students will have finished their studies, however, their professional lives will unfold in international collaborations – COINs –, even more so than has already been the case with previous generations of HyperWerk students. Therefore, it’s high time to study the related requirements while you are still at school. This amounts to more than just getting international or local experience with or in other cultures, or seeing an international project through. The main objective is to develop criteria that will foster cultural diversity rather than fuel the design uniformism of the global players. This is what we do in our HyperWerk project "Upstream. Prospects through Design." We will be concerned with questions such as: What do we mean by cultural differences? Where do we experience foreignness? How does it occur in our everyday lives? How can we establish new international networks? What are the values and principles through which they operate? How can encounters with that which is foreign – which everyone has experienced in some form or another – become more than exotic outliers in an educational biography? How can experience acquired during a stay abroad in a foreign culture, or during work within a community of foreigners in your own country, be documented and evaluated? How should such experience be introduced into design education? If the future belongs to cultural diversity – how are we to build new stories functioning across national and cultural borders? How can we thus design new and transnational networks? The project results will be made available to other academies of art and design and to their students. Thus, our achievements can serve as a basis for changing design education to live up to the present. After our lecture and perhaps a more general discussion we will be happy to join with a smaller group of interested persons from the audience who are interested in further discussion of these matters.

Proposed length of paper: 10 pages