There has been significant European interest in design research and education over many years, with particularly strong research traditions especially in the ‘design science/theory of technical systems’ movement in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Czech Republic in the second half of the 20th century and in the “design methods” movement that started in the UK in the 1960s. This interest led to the first International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED) being held in Rome in 1981, and in the early eighties to the Workshop Design Konstruktion (WDK) organization being established under the inspiration of Vladimir Hubka of Swiss Federal Technical University (ETH) in Zürich, supported by Mogens Andreasen of the Technical University of Denmark and Umberto Pighini of the University of Rome. WDK and ICED were instrumental in contributing to a flourishing in design research in the last two decades of the 20th century, with conferences held in different European locations every 2 years (with one foray across the Atlantic to Boston in 1987), culminating in more than 600 people meeting in Munich in August 1999 and with active programmes of design research in many European countries.

In 2001, there was a desire to establish a more formal organisation for the oversight of the ICED conferences, to allow collaboration with bodies such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and this led to the founding of the Design Society, as a charity in the United Kingdom but with a global membership, and with a mission to contribute to a broad understanding of all aspects of design, established in a friendly, open, and relatively informal Society. The Society has since grown to about 350 members from some 40 countries, led by a five-person Board of Management (including Panos Papalambros, editor of this Journal) and advised by a 27-person international Advisory Board (with representatives from 15 countries including six members from the USA, chaired by ASME member Warren Seering of MIT).

The Society has continued to hold ICED conferences every two years but in 2005 decided to organise alternate conferences outside of Europe, holding the 2005 event in Melbourne, Australia and the 2009 event in Stanford, California. In 2013, the venue will be Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea. In addition to widening its geographical coverage, the Society has broadened its objects of study. While it retains its core interest in engineering design, the Society has provided a forum for those interested in aspects of design ranging from human behaviour to creativity and design and emotion. It has done this through its conference activities but especially through a number of Special Interest Groups (SIGs) established to deepen understanding of particular issues in design through workshops, networking, and both formal and informal information exchanges. The focused nature of the SIGs allows concentrated discussions in an informal atmosphere—for example, some 50 persons have recently met in the 5th Design Theory workshop in Paris, France in an atmosphere of debate and lively discussion. The Society now has 14 SIGs in topics also including ecodesign, design education, computational design synthesis, managing structural complexity, and so on. SIGs are open for members and nonmembers of the Design Society. The Society is very responsive to propositions for new topics for SIGs from the membership, providing there is international interest in a topic. In addition to holding workshops at the ICED conferences and at the Design conferences held in Dubrovnik, Croatia and endorsed by the Society, some of the SIGs have their own conferences or workshops that publish through the Society—for example, the 14th Engineering and Product Design Education conference is being held in Antwerp in September 2012 and the 2nd International Conference on Design Creativity in Glasgow in the same month. The papers from all of the Society’s conferences and many of its workshops, together with papers from endorsed events, are available to members through the Society’s web site at http://www.designsociety.org and http://papers.designsociety.org (the latter is also searchable using Google Scholar). Currently, over 4400 papers are online, and the web site also provides news of design related activities (including ASME events) and information about the Special Interest Groups, Society events and so on.

In addition to providing a forum for design research, the Design Society is keen to work to improve the quality and rigour of such research, both through its own actions and in participation with other groups. The Society has introduced a consolidated set of topics used for the organisation of its conferences and of the Design conferences, has developed standard review procedures for its double-blind review process and is working to try to identify an agenda for future design research and to improve the impact of design research in industry. In partnership with the Institut Polytechnique de Grenoble, France, it sponsors the PUBLISHED workshops to assist researchers in preparing their work for publication, and it supports summer schools for Ph.D. candidates in design research, organised by a number of bodies, that aim to provide young researchers guidance in research methods and to help form a community of design researchers. These activities are illustrations of the Society’s desire to promote a young and vibrant community of design researchers, and it is very keen to learn of new ways it can help young researchers and promote an open and friendly community in design research. It would also like to learn how it can work with other groups with an interest in design research to further the societal understanding of the importance of design and to improve the rigour and impact of research in the field.

Chris McMahon is the current President of the Design Society. He worked initially as a production engineer, then as a design engineer before joining the University of Bristol in 1984. He is currently Professor of Engineering Design at the University of Bath and Director of its Innovative Design and Manufacturing Research Centre. His teaching and research interests are in the application of computers to engineering design; in particular, in assisting engineers in the organisation and management of design knowledge and information. This work has led to a number of published articles especially on design informatics in addition to a textbook on computer-aided design and manufacture. He is the Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; he is currently Associate Editor of the ASME Journal of Computing and Information Science in Engineering and member of the editorial boards of three leading design journals.