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Serendipity in design research

Theme: Open Track


  • Prof. Paul Atkinson, Sheffield Hallam University, UK
  • Dr. Stephann Makri, City, University of London


  • Prof. Tevfik Balcioǧlu, Yaşar University, Turkey
  • Raul Pinto, University of Aveiro, Portugal


Breakthrough research discoveries have often been attributed to serendipity – from Fleming accidentally discovering penicillin in a petri dish to de Mistral designing Velcro after noticing that cockleburs stuck to his jacket.

Through chance meetings, experimentation, improvisation, ‘mistakes,’ or unexpected results, happy accidents can combine with sagacious insights to lead to novel research outcomes, method innovation, changes in research direction, or new areas of research.

The increasing professionalisation of design research has had many benefits, not least that its increased status enabled increased levels of funding. However, there has been a drive to tightly define projects and outputs at the start in order to meet funder’s criteria. This has the potential to lead to a risk-averse approach that may hinder opportunities for chance discoveries and encounters.

We invite contributions describing the role of serendipity in the research process, case studies of unintended (but useful) research outcomes, or experiences of chance meetings/occurrences that led research in exciting new directions.


  • Is it possible to design a space for serendipity in an increasingly controlled research environment? If so, how?
  • How can the opportunities for chance meetings and creative connections between researchers and/or designers be maximized?
  • In what ways can researchers and/or designers ensure they are most receptive to serendipity?
  • What benefits might derive from leaving some aspects of the research or design process to chance?
“I can’t explain why your name seems so familiar to me, or why it feels
like I’ve heard  your voice a thousand times before,
but I can explain this ~ your the type of chaos I’d bleed for.”
Nikki Rowe