DRS 2014: Design’s Big Debates gave me an opportunity to experience the nightless nights and sunny days of a Midsummer in Umeå, Sweden. The main purpose of the Design Research Society’s 7th Biennial Conference, hosted by Umeå Institute of Design, was to foster a shared design discourse by focusing on key big issues in the design discipline.

As an alternative to traditional paper presentations, the conference encouraged participants to take part in ‘debates and conversations‘. The ambition was to provide innovative venues for project-based research not always captured or conveyed by the scholarly paper.

As part of this new format, I presented a conversation titled “Participatory Impact Assessment For Social Design” alongside Adina Hempel (Urban Designer and Architect) and Kate Lyon (Senior Research Associate). Our DRS ‘conversation’ brought together our shared expertise in architecture, graphic design, and program evaluation to stimulate a discussion on the role of impact assessment for social design. It opened a discussion about how social designers can work with program evaluators to better understand the success of design solutions for social change, during and after dissemination.

DRS 2014 Designs Big Debates

DRS always does an outstanding job welcoming delegates from around the world to the host city. For instance, as part of the Umeå conference events, we were introduced to Sami culture and traditional Swedish ways of living during a tour (and dinner) at the Gammlia Västerbotten’s Regional Museum.

The final event of the conference took us to Guitars the Museum, home to one of the world’s finest vintage guitar collections. Great food, great music – what more could we ask for?

After the conference, Adina and I celebrated Midsummer Eve at Skansen by enjoying dancing around the maypole, traditional food, and lovely weather.