Design as Object, Design as Method: Making Critical Communication Future(s)

Date & Time: 9am-4pm, Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Venue: On-site

Organizers: Samantha Shorey (Communication, University of Washington); Laura Forlano (Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology); Gina Neff (Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford); Mike Ananny (Communication, University of Southern California); Molly Wright Steenson (School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University)

Cost of Registration and Attendance: $100 USD

Deadline for Submissions: January 31, 2018

Notification of Acceptance: February 15, 2018


Design, making and intervening in the world have captured the attention of communication scholars in recent years. From explaining algorithmic bias on social media to the creation of online storytelling platforms, contemporary questions of communication require an understanding of the affordances, biases and constraints of communication devices, interfaces and systems—as well as an understanding the work of designers that create these technologies. Furthermore, there is also growing interest in using design as an inventive method in order inquire about the world and build theory through the making of media, things and prototypes. Finally, communication scholars are also being drawn from different academic disciplines and professional practices, collaborating with a wider range of fields, and forming new identities themselves as they move into new areas that engage with the field of design.

This pre-conference explores the conceptual, methodological and pedagogical possibilities of design research in the field of communication. What are the material and social arrangements that produce the artifacts that exist in nearly every aspect of our everyday life? How might we understand these artifacts better if we engage with them using design research methods? How might design help communication researchers better address the materiality of information? This inaugural meeting will bring together scholars from a variety of communication subfields to begin outlining the core contributions of design research and identify conceptual bridges between the fields of design and communication. We aim to engage scholars working in a variety of formats who take design as an object of study, those who integrate design as a method of embodied knowledge making, and those who are forming new scholarly and professional identities through collaboration and participation in design research and practice. We expect to draw from communication scholarship about a range of topics including: visual communication (e.g. graphic design), technology studies (e.g. software coding), rhetoric of material culture (e.g. architecture), media studies, infrastructure studies, and social histories of technology. We pay special attention to the ways in which design and designers play an important role in the making of communication technologies, as well as considering their values, ethics, justice and equity. We welcome the inclusion of projects that go beyond traditional academic texts and explore the use of multimedia, video, interfaces and prototypes.


This preconference will begin with work-in-progress presentations, followed by a workshop in the afternoon. Through these activities we seek to explore shared understandings, identify opportunities, and reimagine the disciplinary boundaries between communication and design fields. Our goals are to 1) create a network of scholars who consider design and the work of designers within communication research 2) To leverage design research methods for better explaining contemporary communication theory and practice 3) to develop a glossary of “design keywords” in order to create language at the intersection of these fields.


Participation in the pre-conference discussion is currently limited to accepted presenters. If you would like to present your ideas, scholarship, creations or provocations, please send your submission to by January 31st with the subject line “ICA Design Pre-Conference.” Please include your name, affiliation and email address on the cover page of your submission.

We welcome the following types of submissions and formats: