2003 Gothenburg

1st Nordcode Seminar & Workshop 
Seminar title: 
Semantic & aesthetic functions in design
Mars 10-11 2003
Gothenburg, Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg
Summary of the first Nordcode Seminar

The purpose of the first Nordcode seminar in Gothenburg was twofold:
(1) to initiate the work with building a forum for discussion and collaboration on design research, and (2) to discuss the focus area, activities and organization of such a forum.

The meeting provided the opportunity for participants to meet during two days in various constellations, including small workshop groups on focused issues and common discussions in plenum. Various viewpoints surfaced in the discussions, and this is an attempt to make a synopsis of those ideas.

Defining the network
The participants agreed that there is indeed a need for a Nordic forum for discussion and collaboration on design research issues. The network fills a void by creating an arena and context for design researchers in Scandinavia. However, the opinion was to not exclude non-Nordic researchers, should they be interested in participating.

The network should be open for everyone who wants to attend. Our “exclusion instrument” in order to keep the network efficient and attractive for everyone involved, should be the definition of our research focus and activity area. It was agreed that it is important to maintain a “fruitful” mixture of people from different areas in order to keep the network living.

Focus of the network
The general proposed focus of the network, including the communicative aspects of artifacts, visual qualities of physical products and objects, and design processes related to these areas, was widely agreed upon. However, there was a discussion about the suggested focus, “visual qualities” of products, which was considered unnecessarily narrow a scope; “all senses” should be considered. Alternative topics such as aesthetics, haptics, user perception, and 3D/design aesthetics were suggested. “Communicative” aspects should be seen as having dynamic, changing characteristics, and should include aesthetics, semiotics, and sustainability.

In the discussion, it was suggested that the term “aesthetics” should be included in the title of the network. Including the term “design aesthetics” in the Nordcode acronym was one suggestion. However, voices were raised about the danger of discussing aesthetics on a too philosophical level. This may be avoided by basing the network on a scientific approach to design research, to support the creation of knowledge within the “science of aesthetics” field.

The ambitions of the network
Nordcode should provide a “platform” for networking. Find out about and attract the interests of other ongoing research within the field. The network should aim forward by creating alternative ways of research interaction and presentation, in order to avoid Nordcode of becoming yet another of the established, traditional conference streams (such as ICED, NordDesign, ICSID, etc). Nordcode should be a more focused and informal arena than traditionally found – we should do “something different”. New ideas and approaches to research should be explored and collaboration between Nordcode members should be stimulated, and we should provide an arena for trying new ideas in a relaxed research environment in order to increase the “level of insight” in the field.

The network should emphasize its strong Scandinavian roots, which should be seen as an asset in a world-wide perspective. Researchers of different backgrounds and from various fields are welcome and encouraged to join, in order to enrich the discussions by providing alternative viewpoints.

What do we want to gain from the network?
The opinions were quite similar concerning what participants expect to contribute to and gain from the network. First of all, sharing of knowledge, experiences, ideas, and viewpoints was considered an essential task of the network. The opportunity to link people from different areas, such as researchers, designers, artists, and companies, sharing a common focus, was also considered important.

It was also emphasized that the network should provide ample of room for dialogue, a personal and informal meeting forum for both focused and general discussions about certain topics of interest. The opportunity to inspire each other in our work, and to lift and encourage inexperienced researchers, should definitely be welcomed!

Ideas were also expressed about the need for the network to provide a basis for discussion and sharing research methodology. It was felt that the rare opportunity must be exploited for junior researchers (PhD students, research students) to discuss ongoing work with senior researchers. “Opponent seminars”, where certain papers or themes are discussed in smaller groups could be one mode of utilizing senior researchers. Research discussions as part of the meetings of the network would provide an opportunity for feedback on work from different approaches.

Activities of the network
Activities should encourage and emphasize sharing and collaborating on ongoing research work. For example, “traditional” conference presentation formats should ideally be avoided in favour for working meetings, in order to support and encourage discussions on ongoing research work, such as conference or journal articles, and research projects or studies, instead of merely reporting on finished work. Ideas surfaced about preparing papers on pre-specified topics to be discussed and explored.

Activity-based meetings, face-to-face discussions on certain themes, and standing topics e.g. in clusters, “special interest groups”, tutoring, and practical workshops were suggested as working modes as alternatives to “passive” paper presentations. During seminars, long breaks could be combined with open discussion arenas, “open spaces”, such as provided by, e.g., poster presentations. Discussions should welcome researchers as well as non-researchers, e.g., industrialists, managers and designers, who share our interests. We should take the opportunity to involve professional actors for “reflection on practice” in relation to our work.

A common activity could be to plan for publications on different subjects, such as ongoing research in the network, certain themes, and for positioning our research. Publications could also be made more easily read for non-researchers, in order to reach a larger audience. We should also publish our work (working papers) on our web page.

Ideas surfaced about the need to discuss vocabulary, terms and definitions within our field. This could be an on-going activity of the network, with the aim of creating a common terminology of design aesthetics for internal and external use.

Last, but not least, we should definitely socialize and have fun!

Organizing and financing the network
We should keep bureaucracy and formal organization at a minimum. The proposed structure of a network with initially four nodes, one per country (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden) was agreed upon as a suitable arrangement. More Nordic countries (e.g. Iceland) may very well be added should they be interested in participating. One “node representative” per country will function as a national coordinator for maintaining national networks and activities. In the initial stages of the network, the node representatives and network initiators of Finland and Sweden, will constitute network managers, with a responsibility for common issues and international activities.

Participants felt that one or two network meetings per year is sufficient. Additional meetings in other constellations of network members, special interest groups, etc, are free to arrange. It was suggested that main network meetings should circulate between countries in order to spread arrangement efforts and costs between the nodes. In the long run, one main network meeting per year will probably be suitable, depending on the number of additional meetings and the development of the activities of the network in the future.

As a primary information channel, a Nordcode website will be established. The website will contain mainly “static” information about the network, its focus, activities, organization and background. It will also contain information about, e.g., network “members”, their affiliations, contact information, photograph, research areas, research questions, project descriptions, publications, and keywords describing activity area. The site may also contain a research publication reference list and a links page for conferences, research groups, universities, and other relevant sites. In the future, the website may function as a publication channel, which could be utilized and promoted as an information source for internal as well as external purposes.

The ambition is to be able to finance the majority of activities of the network through stipends and funds. Possible funds include, e.g., EU, EÖS, companies, governments, Norfa, Stint, and Bennett-Johnsson. Work will be initiated immediately to apply for external funding for the network.

Issues, needs and challenges in design research
The network should be open to exploring new research approaches and to research new issues within the field. Discussions about the needs, challenges and research issues gave some hints about such areas:



  • How to model and communicate the various aspects of the developing product during the design process, from “idea” to finished “product”? 
  • Considering both transformation (going from one representation to the other) and communication processes (product-human) in product design.
  • How to transform “vision” to “specification” in the design process?
  • What creates our experiences in the product?
  • Does there exist a suitable scientific base for our field, and if not, how do we contribute to building such a base? 
  • Joining the areas of usability and aesthetics
  • What characterizes a good product, process, and product designer?
  • What are the properties of communication in product design?
  • Can we talk about the “quality of experiences”?
  • Are there new values in communication we should discover and consider in product design?


Finally, a “hotlist” of issues of possible importance for the network was brainstormed. They are listed here in alphabetical order:

Design methods
Design strategy
Ethics, Social sustainable
Focus and frame of reference
How does tools and methods influence on the final result?
Human factors
Inclusive design
Manifestations physical-digital
Personal design process
Practical, concrete results as a part of a thesis
Qualitative research methods
Rapid prototyping
Research methods
Research strategy
Research through design
Roles (focus and frame of reference)
Sustainability, products and services
Transformation (vision-solution; abstract-concrete) (researchers and designers)
User understanding and understanding user
Value creation
Virtual reality and computer science (representations)