Call for Submissions

In recent years, many design thinkers and practitioners began questioning the commonplace view of design as an activity focused on problem solving or on more efficient solutions for a “better” world. Speculation, unpleasantness, misbehaviour, friction or disruption seem to describe the productive, innovative and creative forces of design better than the classic concepts of beauty, usefulness, or function. With our research project we want to contribute to this new definition of design from the perspective of knowledge production.

In 1938 the French science historian Gaston Bachelard came up with a ground-breaking observation, that the problem of scientific knowledge must be posed in terms of obstacles. We want to take up on this idea and explore the value of the obstacological approach in design. Our hypothesis is that we not only know but also design against previous knowledge. Good design often (implicitly) uses obstacles to its advantage. The question is how.

We are trained to think against obstacles. Normally, we consider obstacles as purely negative impediments on the way to pre-envisioned goals. With our question “How to think with obstacles?” we want to break this scheme and tackle the often non-explicit productive side of obstacles. As many idioms suggest, obstacles are polycausal and can have also indirect positive effects. When we, for example, say per aspera ad astra (“through thorns to the stars”), why shouldn’t we think also of a gardener who plants thorny roses in a way that helps us to reach the stars? Also numerous concrete examples from everyday life suggest that we, indeed, can think with obstacles. Just think of slowing down the traffic in a city through speed bumps, introduction of digital copy protection, constantly ever-changing product placement in stores, invention of new personal workout methods or corporate reporting duties. They all represent artificial, strategically designed obstacles, helping us to reach something by preventing something else.

Is this the only thinkable scheme of a strategic obstacle design? How can we describe the relationship between the negative impediment and the pre-envisioned goal? What other terms than causality and contingency would help us to understand better the productive nature of obstacles? Can we speak of a general obstacle logic? Or is the knowledge of obstacles always rooted in a local context? Are there different obstacological cultures? How can we think with obstacles?

In order to identify and to describe different models, modes and patterns of obstacle design but also to engage a fundamental dialogue between the disciplines we ask experts from different professional backgrounds (open but not restricted to sciences, education, design, engineering, arts, philosophy, sports, marketing or management) for submissions.

Please send us something you would call an obstacle: a concrete object, a thought experiment, a personal experience or a theory which (in use) demonstrates a specific way how to think with obstacles. The submissions should consist of a title, a picture (photo, drawing, video, sound, 3D model, …) illustrating the obstacle and a description.

The submissions will be presented on our website ( We also plan to organize a workshop in Buenos Aires in spring 2018 to discuss the obstacological approach in design in a broader context. (CfP is coming soon.)

Since we would like to include your submissions also in a printed book we kindly ask you to meet following format requirements. The text should have a length between 50 and 1000 words. Please include also a short bio (max. 50 words) of you. You can send it to us either as a plain text or in a Word document via email. The images should be in .jpg format. If the size of the images exceeds 10 MB, please send us a link to the file on your preferred cloud storage service (e.g. dropbox or wetransfer). Please don’t forget to include the formal description of the images especially the title and the name of the copyright owner.

Deadline: 31.10.2017

Send the submissions to: