Research and Culture 

Between the 6th and10th of May, 2019, Dr.Mafalda Moreira and Dr. Michael Pierre Johnson from the Innovation School travelled to Portugal with two Product Design students to visit the University of Aveiro, Portugal.

To close the week, Pedro Almeida curated the Anti-Amnesia forum, which set out as an opportunity to further debate on ‘design research as an agent for narrative and material regeneration and reinvention of vanishing manufacturing cultures and techniques’, led by the Unexpected Media Lab (LUME), based at the Research Institute of Design Media and Culture (ID+), University of Porto.

The first presentation was by Prof. Heitor Alverlos on the work of the Unexpected MediaLab (LUME), based at the Research Institute for Design Media and Culture (ID+),University of Porto, which explores how contemporary and traditional media can be more playful and experimental in the narrative and material regeneration and reinvention of social-historical cultures of manufacture, the urban environment and historical craft.

Michael then shared the findings and insights from his research on ‘Craft and Place:understanding the role of ‘place’ for craft makers in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland’. This work was delivered between Jan-Nov 2018 as part of aCreative Economy Engagement Fellowship supported by the Scottish GraduateSchool of Arts and Humanities and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, conducted in partnership with Creative Scotland. This particularly focused on his approach to design innovation research using a visual model to represent and engage with the value, needs and concerns of craft makers in relation to the places they base themselves.

Prof.Nuno Dias, Programme Leader of UG Product Design, University of Aveiro, presented about how the university was currently engaging with Aldeias do Xisto– a consortium for rural development which covers 27 villages in the Centre-East of Portugal – through its students and staff, towards building up an alternative educational model for design. He described their process of immersing in the local territory to know its people and explore its landscape, cultural manifestations and traditional crafts, as a means to understand harmonious relationships between nature and human activity, mediated through materials and technologies.

Finally, Mafalda presented on her research about the emergence of an Amplified Mindset of Design by commenting on the presentations that came before and exploring how they could be conceptually framed. The framework was argued to offer a terminology to better equip designers who advocate for an integral approach, especially suited to dealing with complex and changing contexts.

At the end of the presentations a rich discussion ensued on how such emerging complexities behind design practices can be problematic when retaining attachment to key terms such as ‘design’ and ‘innovation’, which seem to obscure as much as communicate. This also extended into the role of design in political discourse and processes, where once design was mainly at the services of political interests, it is now gaining traction as a collaborator or leader in policy making or public engagement practices. The challenge that emerged was how design could contribute towards providing space for critical evaluation on key political issues through inclusive and representative design approaches; a discussion worth continuing.

Around the serious work of design, the GSA contingent were also hosted to enjoy the sights, sounds, smells and flavours the north west coast of Portugal had to offer, and we were not disappointed. The beautiful city of Porto, perched astride the Douro River in spectacular fashion, is a real gem of a city. Pedro shared is favourite surfing spots among a glorious stretch of white sandy beaches hugging the Atlantic ocean, as well as some favourite local eateries where seafood, rich flavours and homely hospitality ensured we would remember this visit for more than the furthering of design perspectives.

Possibly the highlight of the whole visit was visiting Pedro’s design office, perched within his father’s old office building, right in the centre of Porto. The building operated as a custom’s office for many decades until only very recently, and it was like stepping back in time to see both mid-century and older, heavy wooden furniture that was clearly so cared for and serving their purposes well. Indeed, it also felt like a fitting base for Pedro’s practice as agraphic designer/researcher, with his passionate respect for the rich historiesof brands and manufacturers, capsulated in his extensive collection of locally produced training shoes.

Overall, we must thank our wonderful hosts at Aveiro and Porto for a visit that provided on every front. We hope to build on our clear shared and complimentary interests to develop further collaborations and discussions on the role, notionally of design, but Higher Education Institutes in the engagement and cultivation of social, cultural and historical value in regional development.

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