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PHD-DESIGN  2000

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Subject:

Design theory + thinking & acting

From:

"Johann van der Merwe" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Johann van der Merwe

Date:

Fri, 17 Nov 2000 08:33:29 +0200

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text/plain

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Can anyone doubt that Western dichotomous thinking is alive and well and flourishing in design circles? David (Nov 16)  said "In short, I'm not convinced that the distinction between thinking and acting
is useful, particularly if the distinction implies that thinking is in some
sense superior and prior to acting-- principles before praxis."
That this will (always?) be a problem for students of design is an area that should receive much attention, because there should be no distinction. And before anyone else remembers I did reply to Rosan that T.A.F.B. can never be "one and the same thing" - which seems to imply a distinction between thinking and acting. Of course we do and no we shouldn't. This "Western type thinking" is both a drawback and an opportunity. If we could only ever see both thinking and acting as indistinguishable (no distinction whatsoever) it would be very difficult indeed to do quality research. Because we have a cultural  tendency to play with the idea of dichotomies we may look at a whole by breaking it up into what we hope are constituent parts (this is normal research procedure) - as long as we keep the all-important connections between the "parts" alive we will learn something new, or the one "part" will learn about the other, which is like finding out about yourself by first finding out about someone else with whom you have  a strong and defined connection.

In this sense there must be no "practical" distinction between thinking and acting, but in research and teaching and learning we "make" that distinction "visible" - use the rhetorical force of the  "as if" mode if necessary - until both become part of our knowledge base, at which point they become indistinguishable again. It's very much a chicken and egg thing:  you can clearly "see" two different "things", but can you imagine the one without the other? The two "things" are not two and not different after all, simply different stages of the same thing. Tim (Nov 13) is right in saying that thinking and acting cannot be separated, and that the hermeneutical philosophers may teach design a thing or two, which shows up in the work of Papanek and Norman. The hermeneutical circle is not just a perfect description of both the research and the design process (one process after all), but thinkers such as Gadamer and Ricoeur start to make "design sense" because, as Tim says, "Heidegger was concerned to understand ordinary everyday behaviour ..." - or social constructivism - and throw in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and many things become more understandable. Even Gadamer and Derrida found something to essentially agree on - the way ordinary people act and react and the way they safeguard their beliefs and opinions.

And to answer Rosan's query: there should be no existential boundaries to design research (because there should be no boundaries to research into human behaviour: thinking and acting), but only adaptations, I suppose that could read as very passive and somewhat lame: what I was implying is that design research adapts itself to the very circumstances and varying  contexts within which it finds itself - adaptability into change into innovation. 

In this context of course Terry (Nov 14) is correct in saying that we should not try to identify that illusive "ultimate"  theory that exactly fits designing (although I have been tempted into constructing an "ultimate" diagramme of the basic design thinking activity). There can never be one neatly bound "theory of design", and David (Nov 15), in mentioning the profligation of theorising, echoes what Gui Bonsiepe mentions in the Design (plus) Research conference proceedings: in his paper he quotes John Willinsky as saying that, instead of inventing a grand new scheme to deal with modern overloaded information systems, "The great intellectual challenge of this Age of Information is to be better served by what we already know."

Regards
Johann

Johann van der Merwe
Faculty of Art and Design, Port Elizabeth Technikon
P/Bag X6011 Port Elizabeth 6000
Phone  +27 41 504 3682  Fax +27 41 504 3529


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