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Professor Guy Julier has trust in being lost

Design should be done with publics, says Professor Julier who also wants to learn more about the growing world of self-organization – and skating.

Professor Guy Julier, what do you research and why?

The core of my research is about developing methods and ways of working that truly engage different publics in the design process.

Historically, design has always had the problem with how the public understands and sees it. Designers have done their work assuming they know what the most appropriate outcome should be and then tried to sell it to people who might see it in a completely different way. In recent years, there has been a greater sense of a need to not just design for the public but with publics. Stakeholders, design users, citizens – they all have much more active roles in processing design. It is not just about helping the design process but actually being involved in defining what the design might be in the first place.

How did you become a researcher?

I think I have always been a researcher; I've always been curious about the material world and the social world, and have wanted to understand how they come together.

I did my first degree in art history and a masters in design history. From that point of view I was always curious about how past processes of change took place. Strangely, I think, the timeline of my research has caught me up and overtaken me. The last 20 years I have been researching contemporary things – and now I am looking into the future.

Before coming to Aalto, I worked for 7 years between the University of Brighton and the Victoria and Albert Museum, developing new thinking around design and curating in the museum. A lot of what I was doing was picking up contemporary events and building discussions about them within the museum. As part of this I organized monthly panel discussions, responding to questions like the impact of Brexit on design. I also led research projects for the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, helping them to develop their thinking in order to support more research on public sector innovation and design for societal benefit.

What have been the highlights of your career?

One of them must be the publication of my last book, which is called Economies of Design. It was a project I dreamt up 25 years ago, so getting it done was really satisfactory.

Quite recently I was Visiting Professor in the University of Southern Denmark where I taught on their new degree program in Design Culture. I also worked with the Kolding muncipality there, helping to put design at the centre of its enterprise, welfare and education activities. I have also been lecturing and conducting workshops in Latin America.  Such opportunities to work internationally have definitely been highlights in my career.

What is the most important quality for a researcher?

Curiosity, of course, and within that a trust in being lost and not worrying too much about it. For me it is also really important to recognize the value of other people’s research and the rewards of collaboration.

What do you expect from the future?

I am very interested in learning more about the community and activist groups in Helsinki – the growing world of self-organization and how this adds to the city.

More broadly – and maybe as a reflection of my own age – I want to research how the future of old age will look like and what kind of role design might play in that:  politically, socially and environmentally. I think ageing is going to be very different in 25 years than it is now.

And now that I am here in Finland, I would really like to learn to skate.

Guy Julier and Aalto University’s other newly tenured professors will speak about their research at an event to be held 25 April in Dipoli, Espoo. You are very welcome to come and listen to them and ask more about their research!

The event begins at 14.15. Check the program and details here.

Photo: Mikko Raskinen

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