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PHD-DESIGN  February 2008

PHD-DESIGN February 2008

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Subject:

Re: Design research, design knowledge ...

From:

David Durling <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

David Durling <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 7 Feb 2008 15:04:29 +0000

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I agree with much of what Ken has said about the need for more and  
better research and the the kinds of contribution it can make, both to  
design practice and to the generality of knowledge about design and  
designing. As for historical precedents, I feel sure that many on this  
list have seen these statements before, and possibly several times  
over. Stating the same things time and time again does not make them  
any more correct and, as Eduardo points out, there are other  
explanations relating to the rise of modern design. Some threads woven  
into our fabric come from engineering and the crafts, and also from  
art. I have no wish though to enter the debate about research  
artefacts, nor am I especially fascinated by historical precedents, so  
no more from me on those aspects of recent posts.

However there are some assertions in Ken's posts from yesterday and  
today that should be challenged. I can speak with good knowledge from  
the perspective of the UK [art and] design schools, but perhaps others  
will bring perspectives from their experiences as tutors at  
undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

> I did some massive studies on these, including direct visits to over  
> two hundred schools. Things have no doubt changed since then, but  
> the deep traditions I observed, some going back many years, do not  
> vanish in a few decades, so I would argue that what I observed first- 
> hand cannot be entirely dated or mistaken today.


Ken, when you speak of the design education that you have observed  
rather than participated in, I do not recognise the tutors, students,  
or the model of teaching you describe. The notion that lecturers teach  
and students unquestioningly absorb this knowledge simply is not  
something that I experience, at least not here. I believe that things  
have moved on from the limited observations you made a good number of  
years ago.

It is true that when I was a student, some of my tutors had come from  
very vocationally based education as furniture makers and  
silversmiths. That did not make them poor tutors, but even in those  
distant days we were also taught by people with a mixture of  
backgrounds, often engineers and architects. Some exceptional people  
rose from humble vocational beginnings and became superb teachers: one  
colleague at Leicester, Derek Buckley, who inspired several  
generations of industrial designers, was one of the best tutors I have  
ever met, and he started as an apprentice. There are many examples of  
practitioners at the highest levels coming from similar backgrounds.

> When design teachers lecture to a class, students are usually likely  
> to accept what they hear based on the authority of the teacher and  
> the fact that a school has assigned them to learn what the teacher  
> says. When a student questions the teacher's claims, the teacher may  
> or may not give a satisfactory answer. A student who rejects the  
> teacher's answer and disagrees is likely to meet the fate that most  
> guilds meted out to dissenting apprentices: rejection, often formal.

In my experience, as a GENERAL statement this is quite wrong. Sure,  
there is poor teaching in places, but the best practice left behind  
the kinds of didactic lecturing that you infer several decades ago  
(there was some of this when I was a student). Sure, there are still  
lectures, but the modern studio model of teaching gives most of the  
time over to self directed study, with supervision. There is  
considerable freedom in this model to develop self motivation and an  
inquisitiveness towards the world. For many years, the kinds of  
teaching I have observed and been involved in are participatory,  
either in the studio or through workshops rather than traditional  
lectures.

If you believe that design students accept everything that we tell  
them from a position of authority, maybe you have not met enough  
design students! Design students have the kinds of personality traits  
that may be seen as inquiring, challenging, and with a good deal of  
flexibility (I have no wish to get into personality type here, but  
there is evidence). It is very typical of design to be disrespectful  
of authority: overturning what went before, what they are told, is  
natural to them, healthy and encouraged.

At the MA level, our students are often mature, may have worked  
professionally for several years, and the best we do is to advise  
them, often as equal partners sharing the same problems.

I would quite like to dress in a Jesuit gown and throw bones for the  
students, but suspect wouldn't go down too well here...

> There are now many more designers engaged in design research.  
> Nevertheless, these are still a minority. If the majority of design  
> school lecturers do not conduct research [...]

It is my impression that over the past decade or so, there has been a  
considerable increase in both quantity and quality of research in the  
design schools here. The reasons are well known. One driver is a  
system of national audit (RAE) that rewards universities (and by  
extension individuals). Another driver is the growth of research  
council funding, not just through the relatively new AHRC, but also  
through other research councils, arts funding bodies, charities,  
NESTA, and commercial work.

The only national audit of the scope, quantity and quality of research  
outcomes that we can rely upon is the RAE2001. The picture you paint  
of a minority being research active is too black and white. What we  
can infer from the results of RAE2001 was that there was a  
considerable variation in the proportions of staff submitted. In some  
cases, 100 per cent of staff in a particular department were  
submitted. The typical profile was sometimes a majority submitted,  
sometimes a minority. What we don't know is how many other tutors, who  
were not selected for the RAE, were in fact active in some form of  
scholarship. In the two or three design schools I have been closely  
associated with during that period, the majority of staff (expressed  
as Full Time Equivalent) are active in some form of inquiry that meets  
the criterion of scholarly activity set out in their contracts of  
employment. I make the FTE point because, though it varies between  
programmes and universities, many staff are [small] fractional staff  
and may be hired specifically for the deep skills that our students  
require. However, many do develop their work and put their work into  
the public domain.

However, I think that the proportion of teaching staff that are  
research active in a department or university, whether entered for RAE  
or not, is irrelevant in the sector of [art and] design. We try to  
hire the best people to teach the intellectual and practical skills  
that we think students need, regardless of whether research is  
required. Some of those skills are vocational, they are what gets the  
student a job and equips them to perform professionally.

I recognise that the world is changing, and that we need new ways of  
thinking in the future. Programmes are evolving to suit this new  
environment, and always have. But I would be very careful not to throw  
away the great skills that designers develop: intuition,  
visualisation, inquisitiveness, observation, ideation etc. in a  
misguided swamping of undergraduate education, as though deep research  
skills matter more than practice skills, or that research skills  
necessarily lead to better design. It some design areas they will, in  
others it may make little or no difference.

>  In some fields, researchers distinguish what we learn from what we  
> contribute to the knowledge of the field in the motto, "If it isn't  
> published, it isn't research."

There may be a presumption here that the term 'published' means a  
journal or conference paper. Design has moved on from that position,  
and you will see in for example RAE criteria a much wider definition  
of what constitutes work that has been placed in the public domain.  
Even 'in the public domain' may be a misnomer, as there will be  
commercially sensitive reports that are not made public, but it  
doesn't make them any less important as research outputs. I have read  
a number of such reports demonstrating considerable advances (but I am  
contractually bound not to discuss them). There are also some serious  
scholars figuring out quite how research may be demonstrated through  
exhibitions and new media: some of those folks are on this list.

Where I do agree with you is on the need for better peer review. This,  
it seems to me, is generally a rather neglected area for development.

> Many, perhaps the majority, are chartered designers, industrial  
> designers, graphic designers, etc., and they also belong to the  
> professional societies for design practice.

Are there chartered designers? I know some chartered engineers, but  
that is not the same thing at all. Chartered status for professional  
designers at an assured high level of expertise would be a very good  
thing. Chartered status for professional design researchers might also  
be a good thing, though that's probably beyond my lifetime!

David


---


RAE2001  http://www.hero.ac.uk/rae/index.htm
RAE2008  http://www.rae.ac.uk/
AHRC   http://ahrc.ac.uk
UK Research Councils   http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/default.htm
NESTA   http://www.nesta.org.uk/

_______________________________________________

David Durling PhD FDRS  |  Professor of Design
School of Arts & Education, Middlesex University
Cat Hill, Barnet, Hertfordshire, EN4 8HT, UK
tel: 020 8411 5108  |  international:  + 44 20 8411 5108
email:  [log in to unmask]  |  [log in to unmask]
web: http://www.adri.org.uk |  http://www.durling.info
http://www.dartevents.net
_______________________________________________

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