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Why I like peer-review… August 18, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovation process, theory.
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Coming from the field of design (or rather design research) the concept of peer-reviewed conferences and publications is not well established in our field. Usually in design, there are three forms of going public:

1. DIY: you open your studio or any other (real or virtual) location and show your stuff. With facebook and lots of friends this should not be a problem at all, especially in a city like Berlin with such a big audience. I usually like these events because they feel a little bit like family gatherings, but the quality of the work remains suspenseful…

2. Renting a slot in a design fair: Design fairs have a long tradition and recently have been popping up all over the place from fashion weeks in every larger city to the big commercial fairs as the Salone del Mobile in Milano to the highly specialized fairs as DMY in Berlin. In a commercial context this approach makes sense – however the participation in such an event does not prove anything about the quality of the work.

3. Curated events and exhibitions: a team of curators decides – in a quite intransparent way – what gets shown and what not -either based on applications or not. Even though this is quite usual in arts, when it comes to design or design research I think that this (more or less) dictatorial approach is not suitable anymore: one needs to know how the selection process works! This is important, both for the audience and their understanding of the relevance of the selection and for the contributors and their understanding of the quality of their own work.


(images source)

In the scientific community the peer-review process has been established: peers, who are researchers in the same field, would – mostly anonymously  – review a paper before publication and write quite a detailed report about their opinion on the paper. Usually a paper is reviewed by three peers and then the programm commitee decides upon acceptance or refusal. The program comitee does not only select the reviewers, but also outlines the review criteria.

I have been both – reviewer and author – and even though this is quite a lot of work, it is great to be part of this process, not only because one knows that it keeps the quality in science high. It is exciting to be a reviewer and to try to understand the impact of a paper and to see what the other reviewers wrote. It is even more exciting to be an author and receive detailed feedback – even if you don’t get accepted as you learn a lot!

For the audience it is the best as they know that there has been a quite comprehensible decision making process and therefore they can be sure that the quality is high!

One note on the side: I was a little surprised when I first joined this process that the reviewers’ comments are not made public: I think they could be quite interesting for readers and could give the reviewers some fame – but as far as I know these comments remain secret. However, after reading these quotes from reviewers, I understand the culture a little better… 🙂

So, I hope that in design we will see more peer-reviewed publications, exhibitions or conference to keep the quality of our work high!

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