The Power of a Hopeful if

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‘The Power of a Hopeful if’ was the title of professor Thomas Binder’s final keynote presentation at the Nordic Design Research Conference (Nordes), June 2017. The theme of the conference was POWER and DESIGN. The 7th Nordes conference comes at a time when earlier social, political and economic conditions, expectations and frameworks are under pressure, and indeed change, globally. Relations between design and power are today perhaps more present that before and them are seemingly strongly polarised.


The Power of a Hopeful if  (abstract) 

Design is today both challenged and recruited by societies in transformation. The designer is called upon as an agent of change for example when ’design thinking’ is championed as a language of innovation that can encompass controversy without harnessing traditional lines of conflict. Some respond positively to this call by engaging design methods to complex societal problems. Others are reluctant to give up the privileges of traditional design to define the aesthetics of the everyday. Whatever the position taken by the professional designer, design has shifted status over the recent decades from being a set of well-known genres of aesthetic expression guided by established programs to becoming an open field of inquiry in which weak and volatile programs have to be pursued through open modes of experimentation.

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In this presentation, the legacy of conventional design is called into question by revisiting some of the programmatic turns that has marked the history of contemporary design. It is argued that design is genuinely propositional but also that what to propose and how to propose has always been more guided by a programmatic attitude than by a particular kind of craftsmanship. This said, it is however also suggested that design is defined by methodologies rather than by a certain set of values or beliefs.


Drawing on parallels to recent developments within the field of anthropology it is argued that contemporary design is constituted by the collaborative encounter with others and that the outcome of this encounter is the production of a hopeful ‘if’ in which the stabilities of the well known are transformed into contingent potentialities.

Download the full presentation here: Slide presentation: The Power of a Hopeful if


Nordes conference 2017

The theme of DESIGN + POWER allows us to take up what are difficult and dynamic relationships of design in the face of current societal challenges, needs of the design professions and wider political and economic forces. We are able to do so, and need to do so, precisely because design and design research are co-creative, productive and forward looking in character and actions. We have built a substantial body of related research but we need to work actively to ensure its survival and adaptation. Different interpretations of power are invited that may address its unfolding, for example, in terms of positionality, norm-criticality, feminisms, decolonism, materiality, temporality, responsibility, justice, equality, ethics, politics, governance, institutions, participation and engagement.

What then are design practitioners, educators, researchers, policy makers and activists, among others, to make of these changes and how are they to engage in effecting informed, ethical, participative and meaningful change?

Download papers from the conference herelink to conference program and papers

You can find publications from earlier Nordes conferences at the archive.

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