Call for Papers - Cubic number #6 PhD Design and the Design PhD: In | Through | About


Higher education and research development are facing a moment of significant transformation. As universities and colleges worldwide grapple with the effects, affects and implications of COVID-19 on patterns and models of learning (the means, methods and content of knowledge production), academic environments have had to accommodate unprecedented changes that were mere speculations only months ago. This has ignited a global surge of competitiveness to advance and discover. With researchers racing to find vaccines and cures, public health professionals and business communities seek innovative responses to both the altering and halting of civic and cultural life.

The ‘advent of cyber-physical systems’, that involve new ways in which technologies become embedded and embodied in our societies, have been rapidly mobilised and tested, to help overcome current challenges. The fourth industrial revolution, contemplated only five months ago as an ‘emergent’ condition, has largely been realised through a range of responses to the many ‘new normals’ academic communities have had to confront. Transformation of individual lived experiences and the associated vocabulary of ‘lock-down’, ‘test and trace’ and what ‘social-distancing’ really means for diversity and for personal freedoms, set against the growing imperative to collaborate, develop and communicate ‘new knowledge and insights’ beyond borders and across the globe.

In April 2019, the academic publisher Springer Nature unveiled what it claimed was “the first research book generated using machine learning” (the Verge 10.4.19) [1]. This marked a significant moment, signalling both ‘a new era in scientific publishing’ by ‘automating academic drudgery.’ A recent report by the McKinsey Group on Covid-19 business impact, highlighted an innovation surge, which is likely to extend across many sectors, beyond only healthcare alone [2]. Clearly, while the knowledge economy is being profoundly reshaped, it is likely still the case that more people have access to information networks though mobile phones, than to basic sanitation (United Nations News 2013).

The covid-19 pandemic has starkly revealed many inequalities and sharpened research imperatives the world over. The role of research and the skills, knowledge and competencies of future generations will be vital in the coming decades and the role and purpose of higher education remains under intense scrutiny to deliver appropriately skills and educated graduates. Increasingly, academic institutions globally require a PhD as a minimum qualification. The doctorate has become the ‘new normal,’ the ‘benchmark’ qualification against which all others are awarded. The criteria [3] that define a PhD include demonstration of: (a) a systematic understanding of a field of study and mastery of the skills and methods associated with that field, (b) the ability to conceive, design, implement and adapt a substantial process of research with scholarly integrity, (c) contribute through original research that extends the frontier or knowledge by developing a substantial body of work, some of which merits national or international refereed publication, (d) critical analysis, evaluation and synthesis of new and complex ideas, (e) the ability to communicate with their peers, the larger scholarly community and with society in general about their areas of expertise, (f) the ability to promote, within academic and professional contexts, technological, social or cultural advancement in a knowledge-based society, and [g] the more universally accepted but not prescribed requirement of rigorous examination to attest to the veracity of the body of work’s findings.

However, this problematises the PhD qualification on several levels. Despite these guidelines a PhD qualification in itself does not provide assurance of the ability to educate, to communicate knowledge to others effectively, to deploy, or, to apply their research in the world or for the ‘public good’. And, although classified as the highest degree awarded in tertiary education, it remains the least regulated. Admission protocols, fluctuating quality of supervision, variable accreditation, differences in examination standards and processes, based on both institutional and disciplinary requirements produce radically different outcomes in terms of quality and expectations.

These differences are exacerbated in the persistent and continual debate as to what constitutes a ‘Design PhD’ (doctoral studies in design). The emergence and expansion of ‘PhD research by design’, ‘PhD research through design’ or the ‘practice-based PhD’, all reflect attempts to navigate institutional academic regulations, perceived to be unfit to interrogate ‘new knowledge’ or ‘insights’ in design.
Cubic number 6 aims to examine the role and transformative nature of research through the lenses of the Design PhD/‘PhD Design’ as well as the ‘design of the PhD’, as the ‘threshold’ qualification for developing new generations of responsive, interdisciplinary, agile academics, with the skills and confidence to continually adapt to the ‘next’ and the ‘future’ normal as they emerge. Contributions are open to scholars and students to theorise, position, cultivate criticism and reposition the development of broader and experimental research relevant to design and to the doctoral context. This may open other questions to the research models and various bodies of work that currently define outputs within design research.

Three forms of contribution are possible: (a) academically positioned papers up to 5,000 words, (b) high resolution pictorials (accompanied by a 1,500 word descriptor, plus abstract and (c) video contributions of no longer than 5 minutes in length (accompanied by 5 still and 1,000 word descriptor, plus abstract). Authors are to follow submission criteria for each contribution type as described on the website. Final submissions have to be made by midnight 1 October, 2020, to

[1] Springer Nature Group, 2019. “Springer Nature publishes its first machine-generated book”.