Monday, June 17, 2013

New Book: Meanings of Designed Spaces

A great new book edited by Tiiu Valkla-Poldma has just been released. This is a great collection of designers from a broad variety of backgrounds in design drawn together by Poldma's unique approach to designed space.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

schema for design education

 Reviewing Don Norman’s most recent blog on design thinking on Core 77’s site, I was drawn to an earlier post by Norman on the need for design education to change. I agree that design education needs to change but for other reasons than posted in Norman’s piece. I don’t think design should be scientized or that designers need to become design scientists. I believe that good science is important to the work of designers and that designers need to work with competent scientists, and know how to recognize good science when they see it. It is ideal to have good scientists focused on researching design related issues. For example, sociologists and anthropologists can contribute descriptions and explanations of human behavior to the processes of design inquiry and action, thus assuring better outcomes in the end.

Design is not just a form of science anymore than it is just a form of art. It is disciplined and rational but it has its own fundamental postulates which include, but are not limited to, those underlying science. Design education therefore needs to be changed to reflect these fundamentals. Design education takes place in informal as well as formal settings. Norman’s challenge in his post focuses on the shortcomings of formal design education. I believe he sees so much bad science from design students and practitioners because of undergraduate and graduate academic program designs. These educational designs—intended for the education of scientists or science based professionals—are unfortunately adopted by evolving design programs.

Following Norman’s advice to make designers better by making them better scientists would not improve design education nor design practice. As Russell Ackoff said in reference to the need to change the systems movement, “the righter you do the wrong thing, the wronger you get” , which is apropos to redesigning design education.

An example of a design education schema—reflecting the hierarchy of significance associated with design learning outcomes—shows that learning outcomes based on scientific inquiry are positioned at the first order of learning outcomes, while practice based education tops out at the third order of learning outcomes(too often skipping the second level).

hierarchy of significance of design learning outcomes

Improving design education in response to this hierarchy of learning outcomes would require that design students be assisted in learning how to create design schema—the fourth order—and to engage in a life-long learning quest to understand the nature of ‘purpose’ in design—the fifth order—and ‘direction’ in design—the sixth order. The priority in changing design education should be to focus on developing competencies used in schema development and use. Without that competency in place the fifth and sixth orders would remain out of reach as learning outcomes in design education.

This is just one schema reflecting the unique nature of design and thus the unique challenge of design education. There are many others waiting to be developed and applied.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A design inquiry schema

A brief encounter with a group of professionals interested in exploring ‘design research’ caused me to revisit a schema I have been developing recently which tries to show the relationship between scientific inquiry—i.e. ‘research’—and design inquiry—i.e. inquiry for action.

Fig. 1 Design inquiry for action

'Design' inquiry is inclusive of ‘research’ inquiry, but also incorporates ‘assessment' inquiry and ‘search' inquiry. These three subsets of design inquiry are designed to facilitate wise action when integrated systemically. The three forms of inquiry support dramatically different means of learning and dramatically different learning outcomes separately. Both ‘assessment’ and ‘search’ are as demanding and disciplined as ‘research’ in their own unique ways.

Design inquiry is learning what you need to know in order to do what needs to be done in order to secure desired outcomes. It is not only learning about the nature of the world, but also learning about what is thought to be ideal and what ought to be made a new addition to the real world. Design inquiry creates new knowledge and new forms of knowledge in support of this. For example, transforming scientific data and information into aspects of design knowledge results in wiser action—i.e. design action—than would otherwise be possible.

From a design stance, ‘research’ plays a distinct but delimited role in the totality of what inquiry for action requires. Design in this case is taken to be not narrowly limited to the process of making stuff that is functional, novel and sustainable, and injecting it into the real world. This is a limiting view of design that is not connected to the larger issue of human intension. This is not merely a matter of design being unsustainable in an ecological sense, but of not being of service to human potentiality, responsibility and accountability.

In academic settings, design inquiry—learning what sort of change is desirable—is typically given scant if any attention. Inquiry for description and explanation of already existing things—‘research’—is given full attention, resources and status. This is significant for the nascent design tradition because as traditional craft or professional oriented design schools have become more a part of the cafeteria spread of programs and curriculum at universities it has been determined that it is necessary to scientize design—giving rise to the singularity of ‘design research’. Thus any form of design related inquiry whether it is ‘scientific research’ or not, is labeled as ‘research’ in order to maintain a place at the resource and status table of academia and in the hearts and minds of those who depend on academia as an asset.

Of course good design depends on good ‘scientific research’, but the nature of something called ‘design research’ is up for grabs. A leading design scholar—Klause Krippendorf —takes the position that the term ‘design research’ is an oxymoron. Others take an opposite view, that design inquiry can only be saved from its unsound behavior if it transforms itself into a reasonable facsimile of some form of science—i.e. becomes scientized.  ‘Research’ plays an important supporting role in design projects and design scholarship, but it is important to discern between good science and lesser forms of scientized inquiry.

Design inquiry, of which ‘scientific research’ is a subset, is meant to support a process of learning that leads to effective action, which in turn leads to desired change. There needs to be a form of design scholarship that is wide enough and deep enough to support designers and design cohorts in getting better at doing this. The question is who will support and where will this kind of design scholarship be supported. Businesses, governments and other institutions already understand the world is too volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous to not need the support of good design competence building activities—i.e. systemic design scholarship and praxis.