Research Initiatives - Social, Economies and Making

Research & the School of Design

Building on 80 years of history, as design centre in Asia, the School of Design strives to deliver research through a multidisciplinary approach to help engage with key questions relevant to 8 main discourses within wider fields of interest. Through its position, the School aims to open fields of inquiry that allow for the wider understanding of ‘design thinking’ in relation to scientific impact and social valance.

To this effect, research in the School of Design generates conceptual and technical resources that shape Hong Kong’s social and material futures. Research is currently organised under three initiatives of interest; Design Making (設計製造學), Design Economies (設計經濟學) and Design Social (設計社會). These themes synthesise faculty interests, whilst simultaneously serving as strategic instruments for allocating research funds, selecting PhD students, and guiding research conducted by the faculty.

Whereas the Design Making focus builds on the School's legacy, organised under design labs, Design Economies and Design Social set out future and prospective interests.

Research follows a lifecycle model in which initiatives may become labs, at first, before being dissolved at their end of their productive period.

Initiative 1: Design Social

Key Words

Social + Participatory Design
Cross-disciplinary + Collaboration
Co-design + Co-creation
Social Innovation + Social Enterprise
Social Design + Sustainable Development

Co-ordinator

Peter Hasdell [peter.hasdell@polyu.edu.hk]

The emergence of social media and the networked society, as exemplified by The Internet of Things, generates huge potentials that reposition design as a means to synthesize emerging social complexities into new constellations that can foster social innovation, new social forms and social design. Design in this context becomes reconfigured as the dynamic interconnections of people, practices, artifacts and their interactions and can be positioned as a relational rather than objectified form of design. Process driven rather than outcome based, design’s potential, in its recombination with both knowledge generation and knowledge transfer processes, (understood in terms of ‘information’), is in providing pathways for innovation in the development of new processes, systems, networked and relational outcomes. Changes in social systems therefore evolve the ways design develops towards these forms of knowledge, collaborative processes and cross-disciplinary practices (Sanders & Stappers 2008). As design disciplines and design schools seek ways to respond to broader social changes, there is a need for new a research praxis to engage design processes in social contexts to contextualise, codify and define this emerging praxis.

Similarly Participatory Design, and the related fields of co-design and co-creation, employ methodologies that involve users and stakeholders within the design process as an iterative process of design development. Used in diverse ways in spatial and other design fields, variations such as participatory planning are a relatively normal part of urban planning where social or collective actions have a determining influence on public spaces and amenities. Often misconstrued as purely design approach, Participatory Design is a “rigorous research methodology” (Spinuzzi 2005) involving a complex system of knowledge generation and co-design processes where the interactions of people, practices, artifacts, interaction and knowledge, steers a course between participants’ tacit knowledge and designers / researchers’ abstract, analytical or technical knowledge.

A tendency in Participatory Design shifts emphasis from the user as a ‘carrier of needs and problems’ to an active ‘non-design expert’ with local knowledge, skills, organisational capabilities and entrepreneurship. The designer-researchers roles become facilitators of specific design knowledge transfer processes. In this reformulation, design is understood as a contextual practice engaging the social working “in an economy of reciprocity” (Janzer & Weinstein 2014), generating design-research processes aimed at social innovation in which social enterprise and knowledge transfer, that can become strategic directives and motivation to instigate and drive social changes through design. This leads to extended definitions of Participatory Design as a “constellation of design initiatives aiming at the construction of socio-material assemblies where social innovation can take place.” (Manzini & Rizzo 2011). Design in this context is a relational process connecting the social process and its associated domain of knowledge; a complex mesh of tangible and intangible factors, social forms and networks, information, contexts and people. Framing design processes and praxis that are adaptable for inter-disciplinary collaboration (horizontal); and for user and designer collaboration (vertical), and able to engage a wide range of different sectors, groups, stakeholders in dynamic communities of practice that can lead to the development of new forms of research praxis.

The Design Ecologies is an open cross-disciplinary research initiative facilitating both a communities of practice approach and extending the school’s capacity to catalyse, generate synergies, seek greater impacts and develop higher profile research foci and projects. This research is by nature cross-disciplinary involving a variety of stakeholders, users and facilitators both within and external to SD, allowing design knowledge to be cross fertilised with other knowledge domains, expertise and capabilities.

This may engender research proposals that focus on the following sectors and fields: Urbanism, Health, Social Enterprise, Hospitality, Cultural Research, Design Education, Environment and community outreach, Social Organisation, Service Design, and, Psychological Well-Being in Design.

Supporting Members:

Peter Hasdell
Dr. Gerhard Bruyns
Prof. Laurent Gutierrez
Prof. Tim Jachna
Prof. Ilpo Koskinen
Benny Leong
Dr. Sandy Ng
Prof. Michael Siu
Prof. Ming Xi Tang
Dr. Hanna Wirman

Projects, ongoing research and research papers on Design Social can be found here.

Initiative 2: Design Economies

Key Words Design Business, Innovation, Applied Research, SD Research Community, Industry Collaboration, Research Agenda, Consumer-centric Focus, Research-to-Practice, Practice-to-Research  
Co-ordinator Dr. Joern Buehring [joern.buehring@polyu.edu.hk

This initiative forms part of a broader ambition to create a stronger connection between SD’s research community and its engagement with industry. By promoting multi-disciplinary, collaborative, and applied research activities, the motivation is to create a greater impact in design business and innovation - of specific interest to academic, social, and business communities. 

Why is design business and innovation as a focused approach to research so important? Companies that value design innovate more often, and those who do - innovate more successfully. Moreover, firms that integrate design more strategically within their organisations, experience greater demand for their product, service, experience propositions.

Innovation requires a fast and empathetic approach to research in order to see and act on the nuances that empower better and sustainable futures. To achieve high-impact design solutions, however, researchers, experts, designers and business stakeholders have to work together through e.g. demand definition, fieldwork, analysis, and interpretation. While inquiring about consumer needs, wants, desires and expectations – only together they learn to discover meaning and potential – leading to opportunity visualisation and innovation.

Taking a consumer-centric approach to design business innovation, a research community approach is proposed: Here, like-motivated faculty members engage around a comprehensive and cohesive research agenda by identifying the current gaps in the SD Research and Engagement Innovation System. To be successful, the approach taken needs to ensure that the Design Business and Innovation community conducts research with purpose, relevance and foresight in real-world settings. Specifically, the mission is to:

  • Agree on gaps and priority research areas [applied / basic]
  • To embed research activities in a holistic structure [knowledge, learning, doing, validating]
  • To match up cooperations that allow access to ‘real-world’ settings [via curriculum, tailored projects, and collaboration initiatives] 
  • To establish and communicate a clear research profile / direction [internal / external]
  • To produce “research-to-practice” and “practice-to-research” demonstration outputs
  • To focus on accelerating innovation: e.g. application of knowledge to generate economic value through design-driven innovation [e.g. methods, processes, models, frameworks, tools]
  • To transfer knowledge into [economic] value generation by organizations
  • To collaborate with organizations [applied research] where the industry informs the agenda
  • To develop new learning platforms that are multi-disciplinary and team-based [e.g. UBS]

Supporting Members:
Dr. Jorn Buhring
Prof. Cees de Bont
Prof. Tim Jachna
Dr. Vincie Lee
Dr. Sylvia Liu

Projects, ongoing research and research papers on Design Economies can be found here

Initiative 3: Design Making

Key Words

Craft vs Making
Production Typologies
Co-making

Co-ordinator Dr. Clifford Choy [sze.tsan.choy@polyu.edu.hk]

"Making" can be defined as turning ideas into reality, which involves manipulation of materials into perceivable/tangible form through tools and processes. The context of making can be classified as amateur and professional. While professional making encompasses prototyping and model making and has been an integral part of design practice, amateur making is mostly discussed in an academic context as do-it-yourself (DIY). Atkinson (2006) describes DIY as “self-driven, self-directed amateur design and production activity carried out more closely to the end user of the goods created”, while other describe DIYers as “craft consumer” (Campbell, 2005), “producing-consumer” (Brown, 2008) and "amateur designers and makers" (Jackson, 2010). In fact, “making” implies different consumption behaviour which impacts on product design (e.g. DIY products for a low-income family to enhance the quality of life (Dos Santos, 2010)) as well as professional practice (e.g. interactions between professional and amateur homebuilders (Brown, 2008)). 

While DIY is associated with activities being done alone or in small groups in physical proximity, “making” is more appropriately described as “DIY with others” and “DIY with technologies”, thanks to increasing democratisation of knowledge and technologies in recent years. In the past two decades, the Internet has been providing a versatile and free platform for people to connect and share, making “DIY with others” increasingly easy. Nowadays, it is possible for an individual to make something on her own, share a tutorial online to others on how she made it, and another person from another part of the world learns and refines the process to adapt to her own use. We can also order materials/components online through eCommerce websites for us to assemble locally. Two notable areas of development which contribute to “DIY with technologies” are commons-based peer production (Bencher and Nissenbaum, 2006), and digital fabrication (Gershenfeld, 2012). In particular, open source software development (a form of commons-based peer production) leads to free or low-cost high-quality software (e.g. 3D modelling software) which helps individuals to design and make, while digital fabrication offers low-cost machineries for small-scale production or even desktop manufacturing. This facilitates individual who can make to design and innovate, possibly collaborating with people locally and around the world, and providing solutions to niche markets. With crowd-funding and crowd-sourcing and social media, this has been making big changes to how business operates and our innovation ecosystem. Indeed, Hagel, et al (2014) observe the increasing fragmentation of business and innovation, and that there will be an increasing amount of grassroots businesses being enabled and empowered by few large-scale platforms. 

Indeed, meanings of “making” to individual, communities and societies are evolving as technologies progress, and are affecting us in our well-being, education, consumption pattern, innovation ecosystem, sustainability, and technological and economic development. While “design thinking” (Dorst, 2011) focuses more on thinking and understanding aspects of design, we define “design making” as one which focuses more on the “making” aspects in design, including the understanding of the ever-evolving meaning of “making” towards individual, communities and societies.

Supporting Members:
Dr. Clifford Choy
Daniel Elkin
Benny Leong
Dr. Yan Tina Luximon

Projects, ongoing research and research papers on Design Making can be found here.

School of Design’s History of Research

Six Design Research narratives summarise the School of Design’s past research incentives. The School of Design have made a substantial contribution to society in three main research areas: Asian ergonomics and lifestyle (stories 1-2); universal design (stories 3-4); and creative art work (stories 5-6). Meant as reference, they provide details on the School’s work on, amongst others; 3D printing, Asian lifestyle research, ageing within the South East Asia and multimedia research and production as part of the School of Design legacy and design endeavours. 

(1) Embracing a new wave of industrialisation from 3D scanning to 3D printing

Few design research stories are more compiling than that of SizeChina, led by Professor Roger Ball in the School of Design of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, whose development of an ergonomic database of Chinese populations has gain worldwide recognition in a surprisingly short period of time, with numerous awards and prizes, including the prestigious award by the Industrial Design Society of America. The crucial factor for the success of the project was that its problems and contexts for research were identified by Dr. Ball, a designer by background. The research was driven by a creative design process in which designers’ instinct played a decisive role on identifying the nature of the research problem and the need for stylish and ergonomic differentiation based on concrete scientific data of qualitative nature in the products to be designed for users. The successfully integrated technology for 3D scanning of ergonomic data of Chinese populations was not the end of the story. Rather, it was the beginning to break a new ground for more exciting and ambitious attempts in new research and new designs that link will 3D scanning directly with 3D printing. This will change the process of design and making with greater possibility for creativity and innovation in design beyond Chinese populations.

(2) Life styles and sustainability leading the way for product, system and social innovation

The Asian life style research laboratory in the School of Design of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University led by Mr. Benny Leong has become an attractive centre for user centered research for leading giant high-tech players in China such as Huawei (Beijing and Shenzhen), and major domestic appliances company such as Philips and Cuckoo. Over the years, Asian life style laboratory has recorded a large number of stories of life of Chinese families across Chinese Mainland. These story cases gave clear paths of the evolving life styles of people, which in turn, provided guidance and principles on the creation of products, systems, accommodations, transports, and services for an innovative and sustainable future in China and Asia. Benny Leong, as a talented designer who once worked in Phillips, provided a designer’s perspective and high aesthetic standards in transforming the research data of life styles into product guidelines and evaluation criteria. The laboratory has also linked the School of Design to the Milan based International Association for Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability, and to leading design institutions in mainland China for a joint international effort on the research in design for sustainable life styles and environments.

(3) From a local expert to the Champion of Universal Design of Helen Hamlyn Center

Professor Michael Siu served many local design organisations and engaged himself in design activities applying his knowledge and expertise to the problems in public space and public furniture in Hong Kong. He was considered as a local hero, who embraced the challenges and tackled the design issues benefiting the community. He once served as the Chairman of Hong Kong Toilet Association. Many of his designs have now been implemented by local organisations and authorities, which have produced design patents and won awards, based on his research findings and design projects. Through his academic involvement in the School of Design of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, he generalised practical design knowledge into the principles of universal design which can be applied to similar problems in other regions. As a result, he was awarded the Champion of Universal Design, by the Royal College of Art in the UK, which is one of the world’s top design schools in research on universal design. He is the first Asian researcher awarded with this title. This is a typical story of how academic research can be integrated with practical design requiring strong local characters and knowledge, resulting in internationally recognised achievements for the contributions to a field of design with convincing academic and scholarly qualities.

(4) Creating excellence in the research of active aging where both local and international design needs converge

Active aging is a design research topic where both international relevance and local urgency converge. Dr Jackie Kwok has been working in this area throughout her career in the last 20 years. Her passion and focus on the elderly living culture in HK, mainland China, and the region have gained her wide recognition beyond local or regional standing. Her research was guided by rigorous methodologies and approaches with international standard. In the meantime, her advantage of local experience of working with large numbers of elderly and institutions created unique and valuable case studies and findings that can also influence international design research communities in this challenging aging problem facing the world. Among many of her publication of books on design for the elderly, is a recent book on “Humanistic Gerontology: New Direction of the Ageing Society”. In this book she aimed at achieving a unified standard for scholarly research output on the topic of aging. It provided fresh stories of Hong Kong elderly people in their struggles to cope with aging problems, for the researchers in the same field in the Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China for their pursuit of better design solutions to the problems. Her story is that of a highly focused research, which tackled the universal problem of active aging with historic and philosophical design thinking.

(5) Creating a virtual design world of creative minds, young hearts and explorative spirits in multimedia research and production

Hung Keung is a local icon in creative media for young design students. His endless list of creative work, ranging from video, film, digital installation, computer simulation, is firmly based on the research on the integration of technology, art and design, influenced by the highly dynamic life styles and urban culture of Hong Kong. His virtual world is full of characters of stunning visual impacts, often resulting from explorations in storytelling and technical experimentations. His work is shown in many ranging from Hong Kong to Portland USA, and from Shanghai to Jordan. The highly creative impact produced by his artwork has been achieved with a good research on the state of the art technologies and on the contents that differentiate his innovative touch on visualisation and interactions with others. His work always contained strong and unique local characters, but he also impressed the global research community on media arts by his strong commitment to challenging the limitations of the technologies. In recent years, his contributions to the art world in Hong Kong and beyond have been highly recognised by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, and Hong Kong Home Affairs Council. In 2010, he was the recipient of the best artist award in Hong Kong.

(6) Design leadership through creative culture industries in western China

The School of Design played a leadership role in the collaboration between The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Xian Jiaotong University on the joint Research Centre on Creative Culture Industries for Western China. The rich cultural resources and heritages in western China provided inspirations for the local design professionals and design students including PhD students in their attempts to create high level brands with strong cultural identities. Professor Ming Xi Tang led the team in the production of a documentary “The Masters of Faces” in March 2014 with overwhelming acclaims and responses from the mass in western China. An exhibition on “Heaven and People in One, Generation by Generation – Shaanxi Culture and Design Innovation” was held in May 2014 in the Innovation Tower. This exhibition involved 11 handicrafts masters and artists of national standing in western China. It attracted the participation and collaboration of a major international association of Ars Mathematica in France, a pioneer in the world on research in digital sculpture and 3D printing. This adventure is to be continued in Rome, Italy in December 2014, with an invitation from International Conference on Generative Art, which promotes the integration of art and computing in an evolutionary approach to generating new products and systems for future.

Design Legacy

As an extension to the School of Design’s history, the following 8 design laboratories summarise the various research incentives to date.  

Asian Lifestyle Design Lab
Asian Ergonomics Design Lab
Interaction Design Lab
Information Design Lab
Public Design Lab
Urban Environments Lab
Digital Entertainment Lab
Creativity and Design Education Lab

Asian Lifestyle Design Lab 亞洲生活形態設計研究室

What are the lifestyle trends that drive Asian economies and design?

Asian Lifestyle Design Lab provides research service to and generates critical knowledge for designers and industries creating innovative, sustainable products and services for the Asian lifestyle. It also engages in fundamental and historical research, develops appropriate methodologies for fieldwork and analysis, and seeks collaborations with industrial and academic partners.

The Lab undertakes both broad and focused people-centric and user-centred research that explores those trends that have relevance to design-driven businesses serving Asian contexts, and it investigates the social, cultural, historical and environmental drivers of lifestyle change. It works in collaboration with several industrial and academic partners.

The lab conducts ethnographic studies of everyday experience in urban China. Its current emphases are middle-class consumption, sustainable lifestyle, sustainable micro-production, related design research tools, and Chinese traditions of design thinking/ making.

The lab is also involved with the establishment of supportive networks such as LSDER-China.

Research papers and publications:

Location: V713, 7/F, JCIT
Contact: Benny Leong (852) 2766 5458, sdbenny@polyu.edu.hk, Brian Lee (852) 3400 8270, brian.yh.lee@polyu.edu.hk

Asian Ergonomics Design Lab 亞洲人體工學設計研究室

How does Asian ergonomics differ from Caucasian ergonomic systems? Do your products fit an Asian population? Do your products work properly in an Asian cultural context?

The Asian Ergonomics Design Lab focusses on Asian ergonomics and anthropometrics through a series of research projects.

Recent projects have focused on office chairs and the anthropometrics of female Chinese and Hong Kong Chinese office and factory workers, SizeChina, and more recently, studies of soft tissues around the head. The SizeChina.com project has created the first-ever digital database of Asian head and face shapes for use by manufacturers and designers internationally.

The Asian Ergonomics Design Lab works on consultancy projects for industries that want to create the perfect fitting and products for the explosive Asian markets. The lab encourages visitors to come by to visit its facilities and discuss their requirements.

Research Postgraduate Students: Kimberly Anne Sheen, Qingchuan LI, Parth Bharat Shah

Research papers and publications: 

Rooms: V711-V712, 7/F, JCIT
Contact: Dr. Yan Tina Luximon (852)2766 5493, sdtina@polyu.edu.hk

Interaction Design Lab 交互設計研究室

How does new manufacturing techniques be used for interaction?

Interaction Design Lab is an applied research and consultancy facility at the School of Design. Established in April 2004, the Lab is endowed with the mission to promote the viability of interaction design in design and in Hong Kong industries at large.

Its aim is to develop new knowledge in interaction design and to explore new interaction design paradigms that help in designing more intuitive and enjoyable user experience. The emphasis is on user-centred design research, but the lab’s methods are solidly constructive, ending up in functioning demonstrations.

Location: V611-V614, 6/F, JCIT 
Contact: Dr. Kenny Chow: (852)2766 5454, interaction.design@polyu.edu.hk

Information Design Lab 信息設計研究室

How to make wayfinding easier through graphic design?

Information Design Lab is a research and consultancy unit dedicated to investigating what makes the design of information accessible and understandable. The work of the lab primarily focuses on the processes that underlie how humans recognise, make sense of, process, remember and learn various types information in everyday life.

The lab sees information design as a distinct and valuable field of scholarship, study and practice. Its aim is to investigate what makes information usable and effective and to generate theories, models, processes and methodologies for information design.

Past and current projects have focused on bilingual typography in Hong Kong, ‘wayshowing’ and spatial representation, tourism, and medical information.

Location: V512, 5/F, JCIT
Contact: Brian Kwok (852) 2766 5441, sdbriank@polyu.edu.hk

Public Design Lab 公共設計研究室

How to design public spaces and furniture in Hong Kong with a specific interest in the ageing population and disabled users.

Public Design Lab was established in May 2007 with a mission to promote public design in order to serve new and changing urban needs. Its focus is on public furniture and facilities, and its aim of to promote and develop public design as a design subdiscipline.

The lab builds on the assumption that public spaces should be accessible to all, including disabled and deprives people. It also promotes inclusive design to policy-makers, consults public organisations and the government, and promotes interdisciplinarity in public design.

Research Staff: Chun Hong CHEUNG, Yihua HUANG, Kun LIU, Paul Chi Hang LO, Yi Lin Elaine WONG, Jia Xin XIAO

Research Postgraduate Students: Albee CHEN, Giovanni Jesue CONTRERAS GARCIA, Yihua HUANG, Alex King, Angelina LO, Paul Chi Hang LO, Satyakam SHARMA, Oluwole SOYINKA, Kaman TSANG, Weijia (VJ) WANG, Jia Xin XIAO, Penny Mingjie ZHU

Location: V616, 6/F, JCIT 
Contact: Prof. Michael Siu (852)2766 5455, m.siu@polyu.edu.hk

Urban Environments Lab 城市環境研究室

How to best advocate design in city planning?

Urban Environments studies and advocates design in city planning. The lab builds on the legacy of the School’s Space Lab by developing ways of observing, understanding, analysing and shaping trends and issues that cities go through.

Urban Environments Lab focus on Asian cities from a human-centered, sociologically based point of view for which PolyU Design is well-known. It sees urban environment as an ensemble of objects through which they people construct their communities and identities and through them, urban life. 
The methodology of the lab ranges from public art to the creation of urban and interior typologies all the way to designs for hospitality and large-scale retail.

Research Staff: Prof. Tim Jachna, Prof. Laurent Gutierrez, Peter Hasdell, Dr. Gerhard Bruyns

Research Postgraduate Students: Markus WERNLI, JIANG Ying, Helene LIU, Tony IP

Location: V1020, 10/F, JCIT
Contact: Prof. Tim Jachna (852) 2766 4453, sdtim@polyu.edu.hk, Laurent Gutierrez (852) 2766 5502, sdlgut@polyu.edu.hk

Digital Entertainment Lab 數碼娛樂研究室

How to scientifically design media and entertainment for consciousness?

Digital Entertainment Lab aims to bring people together to create new experiences in digital entertainment. The Lab delves into artificial intelligence and consumer robotics. It is trying to understand the mind-body relationship to produce experiences that people want.

The Lab has its origins in the Multimedia Innovation Centre, a leading-edge think tank and research center focused on digital entertainment that was established in 1999. As an associate professor and program leader of Master of Science in Multimedia and Entertainment Technology, Dr Gino Yu looks at the application of media technologies to cultivate creativity and consciousness as a design resource.

Research Postgraduate Students: Andrew Wang, Mubarak Marafa, Sathya Naidu

Research papers and publications:  

Location: V920, 9/F, JCIT
Contact: Dr. Gino Yu (852) 2766 5070, mcgino@polyu.edu.hk

Creativity and Design Education Lab 創意及設計教育研究室

How can Creativity and Design Education practices be transferred?

Creativity and Design Education Lab considers creativity from multiple angles. Apart from examining the role of design education, the Lab looks at improving creativity in the workplace. Its aim is to design environments that increase intrinsic motivation. Its mission is to help the creative industries of Hong Kong to increase their potential for economic growth.

The Lab will systematically build its research from inquiry-based learning, case-based studies by building on the studio-based approach typical to design. The lab works closely with the master’s program in design education.

Research Postgraduate Students: Chan Yuet Kai

Research papers and publications:

Location: V912, 9/F, JCIT
Contact: Dr. Henry Ma (852) 2766 4739, henry.ma@polyu.edu.hk

Miscellaneous