Michael Pierre Johnson

Making design explicit in the discourse of change

(Completed 2015)

Engagement with increasingly complex disciplinary situations means that design is becoming a more integrated activity involving collaboration among many different professions. For designers, this emerging notion of design has resulted in an expansive array of approaches, co-design tools, activities, data gathering techniques and visualisations. The meaning of these design things in practice can’t be taken for granted as ‘matters of fact’, which Latour raises as a key challenge for design: ‘where are the visualisation tools that allow the contradictory and controversial nature of matters of concern to be represented?’

This methodological investigation focuses on the role of design things in organisational discourse, critiquing an emerging rhetoric for design that has driven the rise of design-led innovation in disciplines such as User-Centred Design, Design Management and Participatory Design. The author’s approach has been to develop a visual method of mapping translated from actor-network theory (ANT), which was applied as a frame for representing the performative agency of design things across three case studies of design-led innovation: designers and entrepreneurs funded by Design in Action to develop a new business tackling type 2 diabetes; a design intervention with an SME textiles manufacturer in Scotland aimed to develop a creative culture of innovation; and experience-focused design labs aimed to innovate digital, product and service solutions in the context of health.

The resultant method of actor-network mapping was used to facilitate reflexive, participatory dialogue between designers and the actors they collaborate with to bring the matters of concern affecting the organisation of such work into focus as an object of design. The suggestion is that any notions of strategic value, of engendering meaningful change, of making things better by design, through design work, should be grounded in the reflexive interpretations of matters of concern that emerge.

Primary Supervisor: Professor Irene McAra-McWilliam, Dr. Lynn-Sayers McHattie.

Contact: [email protected]


Design in Action


Image Credit: Michael Pierre Johnson.