Design Sciences Experience

Design As A Way Of Knowing

A New Form of Designs To Transform "Physical" Into "Digital

The path toward design as a craft is already well explored. Traditional craft-based design had no need for formal evidence: the proof of their efforts was visible to all who viewed it. Design schools across the world have developed studio classes, workshops, and ways of mentoring that produce brilliant results. The designs were guided by the finely-honed intuitions of the designer and could be appreciated by any discerning viewer. This approach worked as long as the designs were of relatively simple things such as automobile, watches, home appliances, and furniture.

The introduction of computers, communication networks, powerful sensors and display, even our most common everyday “physical” devices became more complex. A new form of design is needed to cope with “digital” issues. Intuition was no longer sufficient: the design had to be informed by technical knowledge of the technology and an appreciation of the limits and capabilities of the ordinary people who were expected to master “physical-digital” devices. Because the underlying operation is invisible to people. It falls upon the designer to make the “physical-digital” device understandable and usable. Traditional design training was not up to the task.

The future of the craft of a craft has many new areas to be explored and developed. There will be new forms of manufacturing, new materials, new types of companies and communities. All sorts of new opportunities for design will appear, some exotic forms of interaction, some new forms of experience, and some a rethinking of existing activities and services.

Human-centered design is perhaps the most important of these new developments. It is a process, one that requires a deep understanding of people. It starts with observations and then a rigorous attempt to use those observations to determine the true underlying issues and needs, a process that might be called “Problem Defining” (as opposed to problem solving). Then, these needs and issues are addressed through an iterative, evidence-based procedure of observation, ideation, prototyping, and testing, with each cycle of the iteration going deeper and deeper into the solution space. The result is a form of incremental innovation, optimizing the solution through a hill-climbing process.

The Fork In The Road

The move from craft-based to evidence-based design, from simple objects to complex sociotechnical systems, and from craftspeople to design thinkers suggest that we are now faced with a fork in the road with two different possible futures for design:

  • A craft and practice;
  • A mode of thinking.

It is as if we are traveling along a road when we come to a fork with two possible routes forward. One, the traditional role of design as a craft, creates beauty and pleasure in our lives, using the ever-increasing powers of technology to create wonderful experiences. The other, that of design sciences, becomes a method of thought and discovery, approaching the major issues of the world with new eyes, addressing the fundamental root causes, not the symptoms, but always with primary focus and attention to the people: human-centered design. No more should the focus be on economic productivity, on monetary measures. Instead, the new design philosophy with its focus upon people puts the long-term health and happiness of people as the major item of concern, which also means addressing the major issues of our time: health, famine, environment, inequity, and education.

Which fork will design take? What is the proper path for design? Yogi Berra, the great American baseball player provides the answer. His advice to this dilemma is simple: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

Future of Knowing

Note that the traditional style of education now practiced in colleges and universities across the world is undergoing revision. Education is transforming from an intensive, full-time, multi-year experience into a set of capabilities of “niche” individual programs and workshops that can be taken any time during a person’s lifetime. Formal “brand” names, grades and degrees are no longer necessary. Some courses and workshops will have certificates, but these are not always needed. People will take them to learn.

As the future of design unfolds, as both forks in the road are explored, it may not be necessary to choose one or the other. Many of today’s most design thinkers started off as professionally trained craftspeople. Some may prefer the craft, some may prefer the design-sciences route. And many will go back and forth, sometimes taking on one role, sometimes taking the other, but also developing a role that merges both approaches.

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