Humanities Design Lab: Understanding and Shaping Cross-fertilization Experiences

By Elena Formia and Manuela Celi.

Published by The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: May 7, 2014 $US5.00

The Humanities Design Lab at the Politecnico di Milano was born with the idea of studying the overlapping between design sciences and humanistic knowledge. Identifying and analyzing past and on-going experiences it explores trans-disciplinary practices to grasp different approaches, develop concrete exchange forms or propose new kinds of mutual cooperation. The work of the HD Lab was inspired by the growing role that humanities research is playing internationally. However, it is also strongly distinguished by the Italian polytechnic tradition that considers “humanities in practice” as a valuable contribution to an open-ended design system. A preliminary grounding research considered several on-going theoretical and practical case-studies and mapped institutions, centers, universities and other international bodies committed to shaping possible models of cooperation between design and the disciplines that study human complexity. From this observation a dual interpretation emerged: the relationship between design and humanities is a two-way route and can be represented by a polar pattern. On one hand, a comparison of knowledge and epistemological models becomes a driver of a trans-disciplinary approach and, on the other, the analytical and generative tools act as activators of new processes that can both promote new paths of cooperation and open research. Moreover this relationship can be either humanities-driven or design-driven. This paper will present the general framework through three levels of discussion: the cultural background that led to the foundation of the laboratory; the results of the grounding research; the exemplification of the HD Lab’s approach through its first year of activities.

Keywords: Design Driven, Humanities Driven, Cross-fertilization

The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies, Volume 11, Issue 3, May 2014, pp.15-28. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: May 7, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 646.136KB)).

Elena Formia

Researcher, Humanities Design Lab, Dipartimento di Design, Politecnico di Milano, Milano, Italy

She is an architect and earned her Ph.D. in History of Architecture and Urban Design. From 2008 to 2012, she held a Post-Doctorate Fellowship at Politecnico di Torino (Italy) in the Architectural and Industrial Design Department. Since 2012, she has been nominated to be responsible for groundbreaking research for the Humanities Design Lab, Politecnico di Milano (Italy) in the Design Department (title “Design and Humanities: cross-fertilization experiences”). Since 2005, she has been part of the editorial board of the monthly architectural magazine Il Giornale dell’Architettura, which is published in Torino by Umberto Allemandi & C., as an industrial design editor. Her research deals with the history of design in twentieth century and its impact on contemporary professional culture. She is the author of the book Storie e cronache del design (Allemandi, 2012) and editor of the book Innovation in Design Education (Allemandi, 2011).

Prof. Manuela Celi

Assistant Professor, Dipartimento di Design, Politecnico di Milano, Milano, Italy

She holds a PhD in Industrial Design, and she is currently Assistant Professor in the Design Department at Politecnico di Milano. From 1999 to 2009, she cooperated with the School of Design at Politecnico di Milano on designing educational programs, coordinating orienteering projects and tutoring activities for foreign students or students on stage. Since 2006, she has been teaching Industrial Design at the undergraduate level in the courses Furniture Design and Product Design. Her research interests are focused in the forms of knowledge related to design and their use and translation in skills within the learning systems. She is in charge for the secretariat of the Advanced Design research group, and she has deepened her studies in this area, being interested in the methodological approaches, process design and participatory design. Her doctoral dissertation dealt with design knowledge and how its forms of learning converge on the activities of meta-design with the purpose to provide an approach to design knowledge, to learn how to learn, to develop metacognitive skills, and to acquire autonomy in coding and decoding information. Her most recent research interests are advance design and design processes to foster innovation as long-term strategy.