Research at the Department of Design

Research at the Department of Design

Hovedbilde forskning

Student watching 3D printer
Photo: Geir Mogen/NTNU



Most research activities at Department of Design can be covered by one or more of the following research fields: Sustainability, techonology, collaboration and form. Combining insights from various disciplines makes that our research is often explorative.

Research at the Department of Design


The design for sustainability group addresses (changes in) relations between people, nature, technologies, and material environments. Its research activity contributes to main streams of research that include:
•    Design and changes in behaviours and practices
•    Socio-cultural sustainability and social design and innovation 
•    Design for sustainability transitions
The group generates knowledge by drawing on theories and methods from design and other fields, including co-creative, practice-based, and experimental approaches. It does that for topics and application areas such as energy and materials, food and food waste, circular economy, design for sustainability implementation, emotions, narratives, ethical issues, citizen engagement, futures, and (urban) nature.
The group consists of researchers with different backgrounds, ranging from design to the humanities and social sciences. It engages in inter- and transdisciplinary research, and collaborates actively with other NTNU faculties, national and international research institutions, as well as with industry, the public sector, NGOs, and civil society, in Norway and abroad. Its track record includes NFR- and EU-funded projects, as well as projects funded by Diku and Norad. The group is responsible for dedicated design for sustainability courses at the bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD level, and supervises a range of specialization and master’s projects connected to ongoing research every year. 

Samspill / Interplay

Samspill is a Norwegian term which is related to the English words interaction and interplay. The word interplay can be used in many contexts, and within music the goal of musical interplay is to train our ability to listen to the other musicians in order to strengthen the musical communication and play better together. In an increasingly service-based economy, designers progressively have to work in complex projects with a large numbers of actors and overlapping processes to reach big goals. Good interplay thus becomes a goal for human relations also in design processes; whether in professional, pedagogical or personal situations. In good interplay things are also created on the fly and in the moment, and the role of the designer in complex situations can be compared with the kind of interaction that happens in music. Interplay is based on tacit, experience-based knowledge, but also on explicit and conscious theories and methods. Interplay is very present in co-design, where many can play lead during the process, and where the designers can work on translating the voices of the participants into design interventions. In addition, we as designers need to have a good interplay with our physical surroundings, the nature and environment our efforts are part of. The concept of interplay challenges the designers not only to design iteratively step by step, but also to analytically and intuitively use their skills, competences and knowledge while simultaneously being aware of, and sensitive to, the contributions and roles of other people and stakeholders.        

The focus on interplay is present within co-design, service design, design anthropology, system oriented design, human centered design, universal design, storytelling and other fields taught by us. In parallel, we are concerned with developing new approaches to design to tackle complexity and wicked problems. We are consequently also concerned with experimentation, new forms of prototyping and new and cross-disciplinary methods in our teaching. The notion of interplay urges us to be open towards other disciplines outside our own, but at the same time conscious and active in defining our own role and goal as designers. 

Within the Samspill group we argue for “a relational turn” within the design discipline in our current times of tool-dependent design: 

Common for [relational approaches] is that they look for new alternatives to conceptualize, by working increasingly open-ended, mobile, networked, context-specific and actor-centred.[…] In a relational way of thinking, a well-designed service in the welfare state facilitates and aims at situations in which meetings between people and services contribute to people functioning in the best possible way given their context and situation; their immediate environment, in their everyday life and in interaction with a community (Cottam, 2011). It acknowledges that people’s life situations are dynamic and interdependent.  A relational approach in design brings an understanding of the designers as “agents as located in manifold social relations”, challenging the duality of the designer as manager or facilitator of the design (process).

Our position within society
The Samspill group is to a large degree preoccupied with topics that can be sorted under the label “social sustainability”. We hold an active and ongoing conversation about sustainability issues internally and externally. We strive to reduce our environmental footprint in all our activities, in our meetings and in our teaching and research efforts, and we deliberate about the dilemmas and potential conflicts between our professional needs and our impact on the environment. We are a strategic group with employees both in Trondheim and Gjøvik and we work actively to think and act collectively across the two campuses.

Technology and Interaction Design

Traditionally, Interaction Design has been oriented towards web design, app design and general software development. In recent years industry has become more aware of the value of Interaction Design as an important approach to reduce the risk of human error in complex operations such as in control rooms, on ships’ bridges and in health and welfare systems.

Design education research

At ID, a strong tradition exists of reflecting and documenting our educational activities through publications targeted at dedicated conferences and journals. Our dedication to excellent education makes that we have experience with trying out new ways of organizing courses, such as vertical studio teaching or different ways of cooperation with industry, which also provide a welcome topic for reflection, as do our study trips and our research on charting professional perspectives for our alumni. 

Applied aesthetics in design

The department’s role and responsibility is to provide knowledge about what happens when people and technology meet. This implies an exploration of applied aesthetics that requires quite different approaches from those common in traditional (engineering) research - because the discipline is based on the balanced combination of theoretical, logical knowledge with a practical and intuitive exploration of aesthetic expression - which we also find in the fields of music and art.