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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.


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