Design Education Justification

These readings (listed below) are all asking the same thing:

What is design?

Some of the readings further extrapolate the question and ask:

What is design education?

Possibly a more accurate way to phrase this would be:

How are we educated in design?

As a group of students taking the very first tentative, awkward steps towards next spring when we defend our Thesis, these questions bear some relevance. There seem to be a lot of people spending a lot of time trying to define “design.” Sometimes they are defining it versus art, and sometimes versus society, and sometimes, versus itself. It makes me wonder why we need to define design at all. The “end-user” or target audience who will be actually looking at, experiencing, or using design really needs to understand the definition. They will not be able to use these objects more effectively if they understand why it is not art.

These definitions appear to exist only in an esoteric sense; so the choir being preached to knows what song to sing. From an academic perspective, I can see a need as educators shape curricula and departmental pedagogy, and try to dial in on what exactly their institutions’ stance on design is. Personally, when it comes to the academics, I am far more interested in how the process of a thesis works. How are we educated in design? becomes a very poignant question that I ask myself constantly. I have a huge number of subjects, ideas, thoughts, insights, processes, references, and questions that will apparently all gel into some kind of a topic that I will spend the next 18 months developing, questioning, refining and ultimately presenting and defending. And after that, I will likely spend the rest of my life continuing to explore this topic.

What I find most off-putting about these essays is the need they have to prove design research as a relevant pursuit. They often compare design research to scientific research, PhD dissertations, and so on. These authors are trying to convince the reader that design research has merit and should be paid attention to. Again, we are preaching to the choir; if I did not believe in the relevance of a design Thesis, I would not be attempting to get my MFA. To someone outside of design academics, these essays may be more interesting, to me, they are selling me on something I have already bought.

Where these essays get interesting is the idea of “practice-based research.” I am reading and responding to these at the end of week 2 of a 15 week Spring semester, and so far I have not really made anything yet. Part of why I am at the MFA program at VCU as opposed to other schools is this program has a strong interest the idea of thinking through making. Previously, I have made, and I have thought, but I really have not thought through making as much as I would like. Starting to create frameworks this semester to do exactly that is very intriguing. The ideas of being able to both ideate through making as well as ideate through thinking and researching will bring my work to the level of interest that has been missing previously.

Written in response to the following readings:
Designing Design, Kenya Hara
MANtransFORMS, Ettore Sottsass
The Idea of Design: A Design Issues Reader, Jorge Frascara
Design: A very Short Introduction, John Heskett
Bright Minds, Beautiful Ideas, (segment on) Madame Amic & Charles Eames
Research in Art and Design, Christopher Frayling
Building Bridges: A Research Agenda for Education and Practice, Blauvelt & Davis
Visualizing Research: a Guide to the Research process in Art and Design, Gray & Malins