DESIGN-LED REPAIR: Expression of Interest for a special issue (Design and Culture)

Repair.Design Project News, research in process

Designers, repairers, interdisciplinary practitioners and academics are invited to submit contributions relevant to the theme Design-Led Repair


Repair is increasingly recognised as part of design but this connection needs to be underscored by conditions of urgency. The climatic disasters we are currently facing and the ones to come require repair to be at the forefront as a first responder. Product longevity and durability, despite being recognised by design as properties to establish, have not deterred the rampant pace of consumerism. By exploring the agency of repair versus other practices of a circular economy (such as recycling and remanufacturing), this special issue aims to explore the role of design in repair but also how repair is changing the practice and ethos of design. It also aspires to address the significance of aesthetics in relation to the transformation of any product type, by any particular method, into something usable again.

In this context, a design-led repair approach might be driven by the symbolism of waste and what it provokes (Muniesa 2014) in terms of economic, technological, ecological, social, and materials innovation; the responsibility of designers and users to identify in waste the ecological consequences of everyday life; existing cultures of repair involving culturally diverse social, and creative practices of reuse and repair; and mindfully designing what will become waste as well as redirecting or ‘designing out’ waste. In spite of repair’s prevalent interpretation through an Eurocentric and technocentric lens, this approach acknowledges its strong connection to resilience as experienced by First Nations, migrant and eco-communities, and situated, intergenerational knowledges.

The proposed special issue seeks to expand the existing knowledge on design-led repair beyond the manufacturing and legislative milieu to reveal the yet to be identified spaces/communities of repair as lived experience. For this reason, it invites written, practical, and visual investigations of design-led repair as a practice that encompasses the aforementioned values and responds to the pressing need for design to repair its relationship with natural and social environments. Contributions could be: a case study of transformative repair; research into a community initiative redirecting repair practices locally or repairing communities via creative means and strategies; a critical analysis of design-led repair as a practice that redesigns everyday life and vice versa; an exploration of the aesthetic importance of repair; and a theoretical exploration of repair as an intersection between specialist training and lived experience/human practice.

We are interested in contributions that address the following questions:

How do we capture and show repair value? How is repair a practice of value creation or co-creation? How do we demonstrate and share repair value?

How do we bring to the fore the significance of repair aesthetics? And how is this significance connected to the symbolic economy that drives designs and shortens product lifespans?

How can we rediscover repair as a human-scale practice? How can we unveil and amplify already existing repair and/or maintenance practices?

What would design-led repair look like?

What type of waste would we like/not like to design or design with?

How can we un-pacify waste?

What can design-led repair be acknowledged outside a Eurocentric/technocentric scope?

How could culturally diverse repair cultures lead design-led repair?

Contributions for this issue could take one of the following forms:

Design research papers, speculative design papers, visual essays, interviews/conversations,

reflections on/reviews of projects/case studies, a statement of practice.

Expression Of Interest (EOI):

Contributors are invited to express their interest by 8/10/2021 by emailing;

The EOI should include a 250-word abstract, the contributor(s)’ email address, title, affiliation and location. It should also include visual evidence (for visual essays), and a brief statement indicating the connection to the special issue questions. The EOI will be reviewed by the editorial team as the intention for a full draft submission. Guidelines for a full submission will be provided after the completion of the EOI process.

Important deadlines/dates:

  • EOI due: 8/10/2021
  • Contributors notified: 30/10/2021 
  • Full draft for peer review due (late drafts will not be accepted): 1/2/2022
  • Notification of acceptance: March-April 2022
  • Deadline for revised articles: April-May 2022
  • Final articles including permissions and images due: May 2022

Report Published

Repair.Design Project News, repairability, research in process
Photographs by Jessica Lea Dunn

We seek to invigorate the idea that repair is a design practice, and one of crucial significance in the context of impending climate breakdown. 

This document reports on the first phase of our research, carried out between July and December 2019. We join a growing network of Australian design scholars attending to repair through innovative projects.

Composting Repair

Collective mind map: Design for disrepair; invisible repair; repair as a capitalist scar; high functioning sometimes means broken (prison systems); landscapes; Country; maintenance and freedom

In November, Alexandra Crosby was lead composter in a repair session of the Composting Feminisms reading group. Together, they read these texts, and made connections between design studies, feminism and the environmental humanities.

The relationships between textile repair, discard studies and fashion become a key focus of this session because of they ways our values manifest in the clothing, storage, and consumption choices we make every day.

The Maintainers, Washington DC, Oct 6-9

field trips, research in process

By Ali Crosby

The Maintainers is a global research network interested in the concepts of maintenance, infrastructure, repair, and the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human-built world. This October I attended the third of their series of conferences. I gave a paper about Frontyard as a collective maintenance project in a city with smart city agendas on the horizon. On the panel was Pamela Robinson, Kevin Rogan, and Carole Voulgaris.

First a few notes on the event itself, which was structured around four tracks (information, transport, software and a general track), and also included an unconference track and workshops such as the mending as protest. While there were lots of scholars there (from STS, history, engineering, information and computer sciences) it was not only an academic conference. Rather, people were talking through practice, about projects they maintain in government institutions, not-for-profits, companies and universities. The goals to bring practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, and activists together was clear.


Collaborative notes were set up on day 1 for each track. These are available here: General Track:… Information Track: Software Track:… Transportation Track:

In terms of highlights relevant to our work on repair in Australia, the concept of stewardship and care was strong throughout the conference. This included recurring questions about responsibility and exploitation as well as an acknowledgement that maintenance covers a diverse range of practices , both preventative and reactive, which often are driven by a moral imperative. In a neoliberal context, volunteering to look after infrastructure, for example, lets corporations and governments off the hook.

The perceived tension between innovation and maintenance came up often, as participants were there to improve things, and also to look after what we’ve got. This is relevant to software (do you work on an imperfect open source project or start something different?), transport (are current public transport networks the best way to ensure mobility for all sectors of societies? I think of the variety of systems in Jakarta and the lack of real commitment to any of them), and information (archiving protocols need to be decolonised, and records need to be tended, which the work of Kirsten Thorpe has helped me understand).

And the other ‘take-away’ (that’s what they say here) is that maintenance and repair may be a global movement, we may share tools and approaches, but local applications vary. Global systems are the most difficult to maintain, so why would we do that to ourselves? The Maintainers, like no other collective project I have come across, is committed to the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human-built world. But this world is from a US perspective, which has its limitations, most noticeable as an outsider (e.g. Mel Gregg gave a great keynote, referring several times to the ‘strange’ sales culture that drives social relations and therefore work practices in California) . In the UK, activists (such as the wonderful Laura James) have worked on their own version of The Maintainers to create The Festival of Maintenance. I wrap up by asking, what are we going to do in Australia?

The Maintainers

Repair.Design Project News

We will be hanging out with The Maintainers in Washington, D.C. in October! This year’s theme is ‘Practice, Policy and Care’ and it is the third in a series of conferences that celebrates and unpacks the concepts of maintenance, infrastructure, repair, and the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human-built world.

Alexandra Crosby will be presenting on Tuesday, October 8 as part of a panel titled State of Good Repair: Does it Have a Future in the Smart City?

There are so many great panels and papers lined up including one on Impermanence and another on the Right To Repair and the Circular Economy

One we won’t be missing is No Gods, No Masters, and Instead Coalitional, Honest, Kind, Non-Abusive, Anti-Oppressive, Real-Deal, On the Ground, Radical Librarianship:

Treating our daily work as a platform for action, for creativity, for care, for radical purpose, for productive dissonance, and for resistance entrenched in history and informed by critical methodologies will allow us to reflect honestly on how we will meet the challenges of our present and future. Because ultimately, we want libraries to work: to work for the communities they are of, for the professionals that maintain them, and to work especially for those for whom they have never quite worked.  

Repair Cultures Workshop

Repair.Design Project News


As part of our scoping research, the team will be participating in a Repair Cultures Workshop facilitated by Tristan Schultz and Bec Barnett.

Tristan is founder and co-director of Relative Creative, an Indigenous owned and led design practice, informed by being on Yugembah Country at Jellurgal, and by Tristan’s Gamilaroi heritage.

Since Relative Creative is driven by being critically thinking and concern with ecological and social responsibilities, it is very much aligned with the goals of this research project.

As well as practicing design facilitation, strategic design, service design, policy and planning design, social design, participatory and co-design, Tristan is also a design academic and writer. In this paper, he traces a historical and conceptual terrain of cultures of repair from a decolonial and ontological design perspective. 

Schultz, T., 2017, January. Design’s Role in Transitioning to Futures of Cultures of Repair. In International Conference on Research into Design (pp. 225-234). Springer, Singapore.


Product Testing at CHOICE


Jesse and Ali visited the unique lab facility of CHOICE and met with CEO Alan Kirkland and Director of Reviews and Testing, Matthew Steen.

We talked about the relationship between the rights of consumers and the responsibilities of manufacturers and the role of design research within this relationship.

As the leading consumer advocacy group in Australia, CHOICE knows a thing or two about researching the design of products. From washing machines and steam mops, to coffee grinders, laptops, TVs and health insurance – there aren’t many things we use that haven’t been tested. But with the sheer quantity of new products on the market, and the thoroughness of testing required to assess products, CHOICE also faces the quantity vs quality dilemma. As such, for their ‘tear downs’ they choose the most popular appliances based on sales data.

Washing Machine Testing Lab and an adorable machine for testing sneakers.

Matthew gave us a tour of the testing labs and explained the CHOICE research methodology, which focuses on ‘products in use’ as much as on component parts. In the cooking lab, for example, the heat circulation of ovens are tested by baking multiple trays of scones. Genius! Are they evenly cooked? Did they rise properly? Since large appliances like ovens can’t be sold in Australia without being safety compliant, the job of CHOICE here is to test whether they live up to their promises.

Not all products tested can be assumed safe though. In the Toys and Baby Products Lab, we were shown a custom ‘dummy tester’ that measures whether a baby’s dummy is small enough to be swallowed.  Constant testing of products like this is important because there is no safety standard for all the millions of things people buy on ebay and through other vendors.

So what does all this have to do with repair? Choosing a product based on whether or not it can be repaired, and how long it will last (durability) is definitely a consumer right. But design for dissasembly is not a feature of most of the products CHOICE tests. Consider smart phones, for example, which we discuss in our article “Design and repair must work together to undo our legacy of waste” and CHOICE reviews here. There are huge challenges in assessing the ‘repairability’ of household products, which we will explore in this project and Alan and Matthew have begun to help us understand.