Prof. Dr. Dagmar Steffen is an expert in product language and design semantics with international recognition at the Competence Centre Design & Management.
Her approach to design is rooted in a critical view on the wider cultural, societal, economic and ecological contexts in which design operates. She is convinced that our artificial environment becomes readable and accessible for us humans through the language of design. Her research is focused on design semantics in various fields, such as products, textiles or interface design. She uses semantics, hermeneutics and qualitative research methods for scrutinising issues of innovation, regional culture, or the re-coding of artefacts’ functions and meaning by stakeholders (non-intentional-design, cultural hacking). The objective is to make the innovation potential of design effective and to apply and implement design knowledge and human-centred methods in inter- and transdisciplinary research projects.
Drawing on her doctoral studies, she continues to examine the interplay of theory and practice – in design education as well as in use-inspired basic research, and in experimental design. In her view, it is precisely in research that the potential of theoretical concepts to enable efficient access to and understanding of a complex practice becomes apparent; and at the same time, practice pushes further development of theory.
Dr. Steffen is a founding member of the Gesellschaft für Designgeschichte (GfDg, Germany 2008) and of the Netzwerk Designgeschichte (Switzerland 2020). Since 2010, she serves as committee member of the Design and Semantics of Form and Movement Conference (DeSFoM) for which she co-organised the 2010 event at the Lucerne School of Art and Design. She is also a member of the editorial board of the international Artifact, Journal of Design Practice since 2017.
She is the editor of "What things do people need?" (Welche Dinge braucht der Mensch?), which accompanied the 1995 German Werkbund exhibition by the same name and shows her long-standing interest and commitment to sustainable lifestyles. Her 2000 book Design als Produktsprache, Der Offenbacher Ansatz in Theorie und Praxis is still widely used as a textbook on product semantics in design education.
Dr. Steffen joined the Lucerne School of Art & Design (LUASA) in 2008 as a design researcher at the Competence Centre Design & Management and as a lecturer and mentor in the BA programme Product Design and the Master Design programme. Her teaching at the Lucerne School of Art & Design covers product semantics, material culture, history and theories of design as well as the basics of scientific writing; she also leads an interdisciplinary project module (IDA) and has been mentoring BA and MA work since 2009. Furthermore, she is the contact person for LUASA's Smart-up support program for innovation, entrepreneurship and self-employment for the department of Art & Design.
Her educational background covers studies in product design at the University of Art and Design Offenbach (Germany) and at the Edinburgh College of Art (Scotland), followed by many years freelance work as a design journalist, author and exhibition curator. She has been teaching at several design academies and universities in Germany while carrying out research through visits and exchanges, including at the Aalto School of Art, Design and Architecture in Helsinki.
Dr. Steffen holds a PhD in Product Design from the Institute of Design Science at the University of Wuppertal (Germany).