After spending a week in Taiwan for The International Conference on Design History and Design Studies (ICDHS), I am smitten with the city of Taipei. Not only did we have an opportunity to attend some fantastic talks and presentations at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, but the city itself is brimming over with innovative projects and initiatives. One of the highlights of the conference was the opportunity to visit the International Design House Exhibitions (World Design Capital Taipei 2016) as part of the pre-conference activities.

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ICDHS is an international research community that focuses on design history and design studies, exploring how design stands in relationship to a human’s life–and future–in four distinct aspects: Design History, Design Policy, Research of Design Practice, and Theories/Issues related to Design.

The aim of the 10th International Conference was to explore different possibilities of engagement that advance ‘global’, ‘world’ and ‘transnational’ design histories and studies. With Taiwan’s rich layers of colonial history and international politics, Taipei made an excellent backdrop for contemplating and debating the issues of Design History.

As part of the conference program, the organizing committee received 230 abstract proposals, in which 70 papers were published as papers. All proposals were reviewed by at least two members of the reviewing committee that was composed of 84 researchers from 62 institutions in 20 different countries, appointed by the strand chairs and conference co-covenors.

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The keynote presentation by Professor Shu-mei Shih was a fascinating look into Taiwan’s history with regard to ‘strategies of disappearance’ enacted through settler colonialism. She argued that, as researchers, the objects of our attention (and our time) have explicit meaning for the power structures enacted within research. Furthermore, the similarities–and differences–of designed objects are never value-free.

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As part of the conference lineup, there was also a fantastic series of panels and presentations on activism, democracy and design interventions. Among the presentations was Simoné Malacchini Soto presenting her paper on woodcut print illustrations in the Chilean broadsheet Lira Popular. The prints are both stunning and reveal the politics at the time, depicting the poor migrant community and their everyday activities. The images, even today, are cultural signifiers for Chile.

During the same session, Nicole Cristi Rojas shared an account of political posters of resistance to the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile. This look into the power of the visual as part of a resistance movement in Chile was both beautifully presented and well articulated.

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Adina Hempel and I were honored to share our paper “Measuring Impact: Program Evaluation and Design for Social Change” as part of the research thread dedicated to activism, democracy and design interventions. Our presentation provided an introduction to program evaluation and stimulated a discussion concerning the growing need for impact assessment in social design practice. But even further, we genuinely appreciate the receptive and welcoming audience.

Our study was framed as both a theoretical and practical space to blend interdisciplinarity with social responsibility. The implications for design’s evolution, when it shifts to a measurable field of practice, was also discussed. Our findings suggest the integration of practical evaluation concepts into design practice can help designers to delineate how community resources, environmental components, and contextual variables interact to produce the intended outcomes of a social design intervention.

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Thank you to the organizing committee behind the ICDHS 2016 Conference and the wonderful students of Taiwan Tech for an engaging conference. I am already looking forward to returning to Taipei in the near future and exploring more of this wonderful city!