Design as Somatic Expertise: The Users Body and Well-Being in Design Today

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Harun Kaygan


University of Southern Denmark


DKK 4,033,000




Semper Ardens: Accelerate


Today, designed products - from smart phones to medical devices - track and attempt to transform users' habits, affective states and bodily processes. Design processes of products - from lighting to toys - concentrate their efforts in capitalizing on their users' gestures, skills and well-being. In the light of these developments, it can be argued that designers increasingly consider themselves as professionals concerned with the bodily well-being of their users within a societal context that is shaped by the neoliberal drives for marketisation and consumer responsibilisation as well as the technological changes that have facilitated their extensive application.


Since 1990s, design has taken the stage as a key actor for organisational and even societal transformation. And over the last two decades, references to users' bodily and holistic well-being and issues of care have multiplied in design scholarship. This is just as critical voices highlight the links between neoliberal imaginaries and design's contemporary role in society. This project aims to theorise the centrality of new conceptions of body to these links, and so describe the (bio-)political role and significance of design today.


The project will critically and systematically review the design practices, designed products and design literatures of the last two decades, with a focus on industrial design's extensive engagement with users' bodily well-being, including their overall health and mobility, habits, skills and affective states. The review will look at developments in design field such as third-wave HCI, UX design, frameworks such as "design for well-being," and "design for behaviour change," "emotional" and "body-centred" design methods, as well as underlying developments in ICTs that quantify, codify and monitor user behaviour. Two empirical case studies will complement the review: one research into product design for chronic illnesses, and another, action-based research into play and well-being.

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