Boundaries? What Boundaries?

P. Atkinson, ‘Boundaries? What Boundaries?
The Crisis of Design in a Post-Professional Era’
Design Journal 13(2):2010:137-155


There is a developing awareness of the interconnected nature of design, its connections with other disciplines, and the convergence of different design disciplines as boundaries are increasingly contested and transgressed. Yet, to my mind, the most significant boundary currently not only being crossed but being dismantled is the boundary between professional and amateur, or more pertinently, between ‘designer’ and ‘user’. Recent design methodology has stressed the importance of taking a user-centred approach, but has not envisioned a position where designer and user are essentially one and the same. This change in perspective has the potential to transform design education, design practice and the consumption of design.

As design practice became more specialised and the technology involved became more esoteric, amateur creative involvement in many disciplines became unattainable. Yet, emerging technologies today in fact offer the potential to reduce dependence on professional design, and afford access to advanced production techniques.

Describing a recent exhibition in which visitors to the gallery had the opportunity to not only create designs for products on screen, but have them actually manufactured and displayed as a part of the show, this paper describes the choices made by designers and craft makers developing such systems, and explores the tensions between professional and amateur creative activity. An exploration is also made of the issues raised for design education and the potential impact of systems that remove distinctions not only between different design disciplines but also between designer and user.

(photo by:

This article was first given as a paper at the EAD 09 conference in Aberdeen, before being selected for expansion into a full article for the Design Journal. It also formed the basis of a keynote speech at a public forum in Amsterdam called (Un)Limited Design. More Details and a video of the forum presentations are available at the website


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