On Tuesday, March 26, approximately 50 people gathered in the Ford Presidential Library on the University of Michigan Campus to learn more about the topic of discursive design with Stamps professors Bruce and Stephanie Tharp.
In a public discussion moderated by Dr. Matthew Malpass of Central Saint Martins (University of the Arts London), the event marked the release of the Tharps' book, Discursive Design: Critical, Speculative, and Alternative Things (2019, MIT Press) and was co-sponsored by the Design Science Interdisciplinary Graduate Program at the University of Michigan.
As the Tharps see it, the past two decades have ushered in a dramatic evolution in the field of design, moving away from a more limited 20th century view of design as a practice for utility and aesthetics – and toward a far more expansive view. Like conceptual fine art, discursive design (the creation of designed objects), can be a way to inspire reflection, provoke questions, and offer new perspectives to public discourse.
"Making sure that the public is aware of design working in this way is a significant hurdle," said Bruce Tharp. "When we look at a product we expect it to be aesthetic and functional, not discursive. We see discursive practice as being a more appropriate way to use objects that embody or engender a discourse around substantive topics. We're looking at really stepping up the game of designers in this process, and we just want to do better discursive work at the same time that the public is increasing their understanding of it."
According to Malpass, the Tharps offer a distinctive view of discursive design. "Bruce and Stephanie Tharp introduce and negotiate a range of work conceived and actioned to leverage design's discursive agency." said Malpass, "Their book should be key reading for anyone working to understand the boundaries of orthodox design practice."