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Mobilities Design Group

Mobilities Design Group (MDG)

Mobilities Design Group (MDG) explores a new and emerging field of study, professional practice and research: Mobilities Design. Through a creative, open-minded and experimental research attitude it targets the material and design-oriented dimensions of multiple real-life and situational mobilities from the local to the global.

Download MDG Mission Statement 

BACKGROUND

Contemporary society is marked and defined by the ways in which mobile goods, bodies, vehicles, objects, and data are organized, moved and staged. These developments and their relations to social, cultural, economic, technological and architectural realms have been vigorously researched at the trans-disciplinary Centre for Mobilities and Urban Studies (C-MUS) at Aalborg University. Under the auspices of the ‘mobilities turn’ the local and global mobilities transformations have been researched (with great success). As an outcome of this research a new and emerging field of study, professional practice and research has been identified. This field will be termed ‘Mobilities Design’ and has been explored by key researchers within C-MUS for some years. Time has now come to articulate ‘Mobilities Design’ as a dedicated research field in and of its own. Therefore the ‘Mobilities Design Group’ (MDG) is now founded under C-MUS.

 

RATIONALE AND AREAS OF RESEARCH ACTIVITY

There is a need for research targeting the material, physical and design-oriented dimensions of the multiple mobilities from the local to the global. Despite its crossdisciplinary identity the ‘mobilities turn’ has not capitalized from the potential in exploring issues of material design and physical form. The exchange value with design is twofold; first this means getting closer to the ‘material’ which is needed if mobilities research can claim to have understood contemporary mobilities, second it means that the creative, explorative and experimental approaches of the design world becomes within reach to mobilities research offering new potentials for innovative research. Design research, on the other hand, might enter into a fruitful relationship with mobilities research, offering a ‘mobile’ lens on design objects and issues, including, but arguably not limited to, methodological insights, concepts of space and place, and relations between fixities and flows.

MDG works across disciplines mirroring the variations of C-MUS (e.g. cultural analysis, communication studies, sociology, architecture, traffic planning, urban design, traffic engineering, digital technology, interaction design etc.). Moreover the MDG works across various methodologies but will have as the key focal point real-life, material and situational mobilities.

‘Mobilities do not “just happen.” Mobilities are carefully and meticulously designed, planned and staged (from above). However, they are equally importantly acted out, performed and lived as people are “staging themselves” (from below). Staging mobilities is a dynamic process between “being staged” (for example, being stopped at traffic lights) and the “mobile staging” of interacting individuals (negotiating a passage on the pavement).’
(Ole B. Jensen (2013) Staging Mobilities, p. 4) 

The issue of how specific and concrete situations of mobilities may be experienced, organized, designed and orchestrated gives the research a particular affiliation not only to theories of the ‘mobilities turn’ but also to more pragmatic and experimental strands of research. Exploring ‘real effects’ and material conditions to the mobilities of the contemporary society demands a focus on in-situ experimentation with designs, artifacts, and technologies often within urban spaces or buildings. Having said so it is important to underline that there are no dogmas and established theories or methods that MDG members must adhere to. Exploring ‘mobilities design’ means not only setting design at the center of investigations, it also means to apply a creative, open-minded and explorative attitude to research. MDG creates strong links to the educational programs under C-MUS (e.g. architecture and design, planning, medialogy, and the coming Master in Mobilities and Urban Studies) and will therefore contribute to furthering research-based teaching. Moreover, the experimental focus of MDG will reverse this situation so that design and experiments carried out within the curricula may inspire and stimulate ‘mobilities design’ research. It is very important not to close the discussion of the delimitation and identification of ‘mobilities design’ as the field is only in its very early stages. Emerging articulation of the field is the key to having an open-minded and creative discussion. Having said so, there are a few key pointers to help delimit and define the area. One would be to seek inspiration and affiliation with the theories, thoughts and methods coming out of the ‘mobilities turn’. Moreover the focus on material design means that there will mostly be a focus on the physical settings for mobile practices. This does not rule out for example digital technologies and services, nor systems designs if these have affected the mobilities studied. The work within mobilities design need not be only situational in its focus, but we do believe that ‘setting the situation first’ or foregrounding the ‘mobilities in situ’ has the potential to avoid detached academic speculation. Needless to say, critical theory, realism, constructivism, phenomenology, action research, interactionism, assemblage theory, ANT, STS, non-representational thinking and many other streams of thought can be accommodated within this research. The key is however a keen interest in setting material and physical conditions in the guise of ‘design first’. The work done within MDG is not privileging a particular epistemology or ontology, neither a particular methodology nor a specific scale.(Foregrounding the situation does not mean to be ‘local only’. Actually, the notion of ‘scale’ as a fixed entity will be problematic within the thinking of Mobilities Design Group as such naïve fixations evades the insights into how any mobile situation is nested into scales often reaching from the body to the globe.) Problematizing the taken-for-grantedness of scale as fixed, and of mobility as simple acts of movement from A to B is thus a common denominator for the work within the group. 

There is no fixed definition of the design concept that all group members must subscribe to. Having said so, we may still offer a point of departure for the ongoing dialogue and identification of ‘mobilities design’ by taking point of departure in the following statement by urban design scholar Kevin Lynch:

‘Design is the playful creation and strict evaluation of the possible forms of something, including how it is to be made. That something need not be a physical object, nor is design expressed only in drawings. Although attempts have been made to reduce design to completely explicit systems of search and synthesis, it remains an art, a peculiar mix of rationality and irrationality. Design deals with qualities, with complex connections, and also with ambiguities’
(Kevin Lynch (1980) Good City Form, p. 290)

This is most certainly not the only reasonable definition of design, but is serves the purpose of being articulated in explicit relation to material urban spaces and yet with an open mind to the non-material dimensions. Furthermore, this small quote illustrates that there are creative and art-related dimensions to design as well as rational and functional issues. The complexity and the cross-disciplinary dimension to design is essential that will serve as a guiding line for discussions and explorations more than as a fixed dogma needs to be correlated and intertwined with the notion of mobilities. As the work is nested within C-MUS a definition of mobilities is less an issue of a lexicon definition than a reference to the research already undertaken in the center as well as the key work undertaken by scholars such as John Urry, Mimi Sheller and Tim Cresswell. At the moment of establishment MDG is primarily working to gather interested C-MUS researchers and articulate in more detail the identity of ‘mobilities design’. As such, MDG works to topicalize the design of mobilities, to open, discuss and encircle a research (and professional) agenda for mobilities design. Then, the aim is also to reach out to external contacts within businesses (e.g. engineering consults, architectural companies, technology manufacturers etc.) as well as to other research communities, public authorities and civil society. The aim will furthermore be to create enough momentum to write research grant applications both to private funds as well as to the Research Councils.

Other C-MUS Research

Contact MDG key members