This article takes up the concept of performativity prevalent in the humanities and applies it to the design of installation arts in mixed reality mode. Based on the design, development and public access to two specific works, the concept is related to a form of research by design. We argue that the concept of performativity may be further usefully employed in investigations (design and research, artistic and public) into digital arts where complex intersections between concepts, technologies, dramaturgy, media and participant actions are in flux and together constitute the emergence and experience of a work. Theories of performativity are related to these two works in an argument that further suggests there is room in research by design to also include ‘performative design’. The article is the result of a wide-ranging interdisciplinary collaboration and aims to convey some sense of that in its reporting style, content and analysis.