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PHD-DESIGN  2000

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Subject:

originality, etc.

From:

Bob Este <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Bob Este <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 29 Aug 2000 19:17:26 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (230 lines)

All:

This is a rather long posting.  If such things are a bother for you, 
please trash w/out prejudice.

I've been 'lurking' in the virtual shadows of the phd-design list 
since its inception and have only just this evening had a bit of time 
to crystallize a few thoughts which I hope might be of use / interest.

First, I began to puzzle over the question:  just what is design? 
Clearly, others are also usefully exploring this question with very 
practical program planning goals in mind.  Also, the question has 
been around for a long time and much has been written and explored 
already.

Those who are 'designers' and wish to have a better grasp of 'design 
programs for designers' have added many ideas about the concepts of 
originality, creativity, innovation, and modelling, among other 
things.

In addition and not exclusive to this list, folks who are artists, 
computer architects and even aerospace engineers, for example, have 
offered many useful viewpoints to include aspects of their 
perceptions, their trades, their skills, their thoughts, and their 
abilities; the history of these viewpoints and observations is 
extremely useful.

It is my opinion that 'design' is not a special category of unique 
capacities or talents belonging exclusively to people today (or of 
yesterday) who we might usually think of as 'designers'.

This is not to suggest that everyone can become what we think of as 
an architect (software or bricks and mortar), a rocket scientist, a 
political or military strategist, an interior designer, an artist, a 
sculptor, or a renaissance engineer.

But I do suspect that the capacity to design is much more general 
that we might normally think, and is generally applied (with 
differing levels of success) --  and I do think we should all stop 
and think, and think differently, about design, from its smallest 
pieces to its largest embracing elements.

I think re-thinking design, however slightly, may well increase our 
chances of survival (although it may also be too late -- the outcomes 
are uncertain).

Allow me to tell you why I think this to be the case.

It strikes me that the extent and nature of originality, creativity 
and innovation on the part of the individual are aspects of humans' 
general adaptive capacity.

What does this mean?  Adaptive capacity, I think, has to do with the 
intellectual, emotional and interpersonal skills and abilities a 
person can use to interact with and apply to our environments.

These skills are expressed conceptually, technically and politically 
and are primarily intrapersonal and interpersonal (in fact I'm not 
sure there are any other categories).

Our environments can be usefully thought of as intrapersonal (having 
to do with the reflective, metacognitive, self-awareness of the 
individual) as well as interpersonal (having to do the organizations 
-- family, work group, team, proximate social environment, etc., 
within which one operates -- and, on a larger scale, the cultural 
milieu within which said organizations operate).

In the situation where our intra- and interpersonal environments have 
relative long-term stability and predictability, one has only a 
moderate need for adaptive capacity; however, if either or both of 
these environments are not particularly stable or predictable, one 
has a greater need for adaptive capacity.

As our environments change for whatever reasons, our palate of 
adaptive skills, and our application of those skills, changes 
accordingly.

Therefore, what are perceived and understood to be the 'survival' 
tasks to hand, regardless of environment, I think determine in large 
part whether one engages in creativity, originality, and 
innovativeness (e.g., the engagement of appropriate adaptive 
capacity), or primarily patterned, algorithmic responses.

Further, the ongoing interactions between the two environments, 
especially with the deliberate engagement of critical metacognition, 
permit the longer-term establishment of what I think is absolutely 
necessary in the expression of originality and creativity -- the 
perpetual dynamic balancing between epistemic dissonance and harmony; 
that is, our ongoing adjustments and readjustments of our intra- and 
interpersonal environments vis-a-vis what is perceived to be the case 
and what we wish to be the case.

The tractability and solubility of what are perceived and understood 
to be the survival tasks to hand are also evaluated in terms of what 
a person has in his or her 'toolbox' of dynamic adaptive capacities.

So one of the questions that arises is:  can perception, 
understanding, and tool use for such tasks be taught?  Is it possible 
to 'teach' creativity, originality, innovativeness -- the capacity to 
be adaptive (and, by extension, the capacity to design)?

The answer, I think, is yes.  I suspect that the creation and 
maintenance of an encouraging, challenging, humanistic, 
well-resourced environment -- where the self-directed exploration of 
interdisciplinarity as well as more disciplinary and defined 
task-focused engagement can take place -- allows the individual to 
develop and pursue intrinsically-motivated, externally-facilitated 
self-teaching of adaptive capacities.

I suspect this happens 'naturally' when effective child-rearing, or 
what we would today call excellent teaching -- at any age or in any 
environment -- takes place.  This might be defined as a caring, 
proactive environment, process and developmental response.

Further, I suspect this also happens 'naturally', regardless of 
circumstance, when the perceived dissonance between what appears to 
be the case and what is desired reaches a threshold where (hopefully) 
intelligent action leading to increased chances for survival simply 
must take place.  This might be defined as more of an environment and 
process of urgent reactivity.

I suspect that the encouragement of design capacity as it has been 
discussed on this list emerges more from the former circumstance than 
the latter.  Design capacity, therefore -- which I suspect involves 
much more than a subconscious or even conscious metacognitive 
adaptation, and likely involves a great deal of practised 
deliberative introspection as well as subconscious recursivity -- is 
a specific example of the general case of adaptive capacity.

All of us start at a very early age addressing the tasks of building 
design capacity.  For example, small children must design the 
elemental components of their epistemologies which they will 
formatively use for countless purposes as foundations for the rest of 
their lives.  Without even being aware of it at the beginning, they 
must 'create' everything in their intra- and interpersonal worlds; in 
other words they must assign reliable, robust, yet 
generally-modifiable meanings to all the pieces which they experience 
and deal with.  They must teach themselves to place those pieces into 
a useful dynamic framework to allow the beginnings of that perpetual 
balancing of epistemic dissonance and harmony that will, in the end, 
define their humanity.

I think a very important result of this early and ongoing design task 
of epistemic construction is not just the burgeoning dynamic 
epistemological framework, but also the creation of varieties of 
metacognitive tools which can be recursively applied to new 
variations of the epistemic construction tasks themselves -- as well 
as the wide variety of elements experienced in the emerging intra- 
and interpersonal environments.

This, I would suggest, supports some list members' arguments that 
starting early to encourage comprehension of and practice with design 
is a very good thing.

I would go further and suggest that starting early is crucial.

The reason for this last point is the primary focus of this essay.

In my opinion, humanity is inexorably losing the skills and abilities 
necessary for survival.  As has been observed and argued for some 
time, we have increasing evidence that our interpersonal environments 
(our families, our neighborhoods, our malls, our towns, our cities) 
are fraught with increasing numbers of increasingly complex, 
insoluble and often incomprehensible circumstances and problems, 
rates and varieties of change never before experienced, and 
increasing instabilities of every kind on both intra- and 
interpersonal levels (of all kinds). We are moving simultaneously on 
many broken fronts from industrial, to post-industrial, to 
post-modern ways of being human.  Hand in hand with this, our 
intrapersonal environments are, in general, increasingly stressed, 
angst-ridden, and full of questions, most of which have no truly 
fulfilling or meaningful answers.  Denial and pharmacological 
'solutions' are de rigeur.

Given this unfolding circumstance, how well do we teach, learn and 
apply design skills?

Today, as the move into full post-modernity (for lack of a better 
term) takes place, children in general no longer play as they once 
did.  Their lives are programmed and channelled and filled with every 
artifact of galloping global microeconomic consumption imaginable 
which, thanks primarily to the global application of 
computer-mediated communications technologies (wonderful tools, but 
sadly, in aggregate, emerging beyond our capacities), crowd out the 
beginnings of what I would argue are 'natural' and genuine epistemic 
construction tasks.  These tasks are being replaced by worldviews 
which are not self-created, but are pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped, 
extremely well-marketed and uncritically consumed en masse.

I suspect that this is one of the prime features of the erosion of 
humanity's adaptive capacity -- the capacity to survive.

We are in trouble.

 From time to time we might wonder about how well we are able and will 
be able to design almost anything in small focus; in larger compass, 
I think we even bump up against wondering about how well we are 
inventing our futures, and what our humanity will end up 
(formatively) defining itself to be.

Whether we can hope to successfully apply any of our diminishing 
adaptive capacities to this state of affairs is a nagging question. 
One would hope that optimism and clear thinking would prevail.

It has been said that our species' undeniable technological 
brilliance has far outstripped our humanity.  It may already be too 
late to apply the technobrakes and turn up the volume on reflective 
awareness of just what it is we've done and are continuing to do to 
ourselves.

The tasks of design have much greater significance than what I have 
seen to be discussed on this list (although I fully acknowledge that 
I may have missed some elements of exchange so far; if I have, my 
apologies).

Critical feedback is appreciated.

Cheers,

              Bob Este <[log in to unmask]> / 250.774.6958
Resource Centre Coord., and	|	Sessional Instructor
Talented and Gifted Coord.	|	University Transfer Programs
School District #81		|	Northern Lights College
________________________________|____________________________________
	      Fort Nelson, British Columbia, Canada
____________________________________________________________________


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