I would like to return to the issue of a "canon" and perhaps change
the words a bit. Dick Buchanan, in my estimation, is right when he
raises questions about core readings in a field. I believe this is
true. The literature of a field is its actual foundation and the
current issues arise from those that have emerged in the past. We
need not use the word 'canon' which is too restrictive but we can
certainly talk about a body of core texts. Successive generations of
researchers engage with the issues that were central to their
predecessors and either take some of them farther or refute others.
Certainly, some design historians have begun to engage with the
literature of their field. Most whom I know do not use Pevsner as a
core text nor do they feel the need to do battle with him anymore.
Design history has incorporated many other themes and methods and the
field is just beginning to become interesting by virtue of occasional
polemical articles about methodology (Cheryl Buckley's work for
example, particularly her intervention at the recent Milan
conference) and demonstrations of research that go well beyond
Pevsner's concerns (Judy Attfield's edited volume on British utility
design for example).
What, I believe we face in trying to develop a field of
design studies, a term that some might consider to be part of design
research in that design research might include research for designing
rather than for studying design) is precisely the question of an
existing literature base; what are the sub-fields and their
literatures; how many of them should we expect a PhD or design doctor
to be familiar with. I find in design discussions that the
discussions frequently go round and round simply because they are not
based in any shared body of literature. People present points of view
with no reference to others who have presented similar views
previously. Then the discussion goes on until exhausted and
eventually starts up all over again.
The question of ethics is a good example. There has been some
interesting literature on ethics related to design (i.e. Carl
Mitchum's essay in Discovering Design) and the role of ethics in
other professions. I think we might move the ethical issue into a
realm where we can deal with it in some mode that is other than
imperative; i.e. what types of designing would be considered ethical.
Ethics is not innately opposed to the market, as much as Victor
Papanek polemically asserted that it was. Yet, how do we get into a
nuanced discussion of what constitutes ethical design?
I would be interested in further discussion about how others
on this list feel about the idea of a design studies component of any
design PhD. How much should an advanced design student read? I
believe that any PhD practitioner should have read a lot and should
be able to make her or his way through the issues in the field and
even be able to help shape debates about the field's future.
At what point do we have a field of design studies? What do
we need to agree on before we can say that we are all working in a
common field? How do we create some sense of an intellectual space
that "contains" a history of the arguments that interest us and that
we can use as a frame of reference for moving forward?