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PHD-DESIGN  October 2011

PHD-DESIGN October 2011


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Re: Are PhDs a threat to design education?


"Salisbury, Martin" <[log in to unmask]>


PhD-Design - This list is for discussion of PhD studies and related research in Design <[log in to unmask]>


Tue, 11 Oct 2011 11:48:14 +0000





text/plain (194 lines)

Dear Terry

This is wonderful news! Thank you for sharing it and Praise the Lord! There is no longer any need for unpredictable, intuitive human input into the design of a children's book illustration, a dress, a tea pot, a chair or a car. All we need to design now is a reliable suicide rate monitor (can we put you in charge of that bit?).

Best regards


Professor Martin Salisbury
Course Leader, MA Children's Book Illustration
0845 196 2351
[log in to unmask]


From: PhD-Design - This list is for discussion of PhD studies and related research in Design [[log in to unmask]] on behalf of Terence Love [[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 11:13 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Are PhDs a threat to design education?


The whole of the discussions on current thread  can be viewed differently
through reference to a single unacknowledged fact - the massive change in
the role  of information in design.

All past design practices, methods and approaches were based on designers
being able to produce designs in situations characterised by lack of

The situation has changed.

Enormous amounts of relevant information and theory are now available for
creating any design, and the generation of and access to this information
and theory is exponentially increasing. This is  the dominant defining
feature  of all current and future design activity.

There are three  implications:

1.  There is no need to teach designers with the assumption of designers
having an information shortage

2. There is no need for design research, particularly PhDs in Design,  that
assume that design practices are typified by information shortage.

3. The two new important directions in Design  are teaching designers how to
understand and use the large amounts of available relevant information; and,
undertaking research that assumes that, in future, designers will have
access to all relevant information needed to create any design.


A parallel understanding, central to the past of design,  relates to the
role of creativity.

From observation, the following and its implications are hard to see if one
has spent too long in practices with poor access to useful information. They
are even more difficult to see if one has strong personal investment in
those practices.

 'Creativity  and intuition are the primary tools for creating  solutions
when relevant information is short'

The corollary, which is what defines design in the future (and currently
except it hasn't been widely perceived) is:

'Where information is available,  creativity  and intuition are
significantly less relevant in design activity and in many cases not

Current contexts of design are marked by availability of enormous amounts of
relevant information for designers - from every discipline

This latter present a paradigmic shift in perspective for understanding
design education, PhDs in design and future design practices.

The discussion on the current threads  look very different in the light of
access to information and reduced relevance of creative abilities to create
something in situations marked by lack of information and  understanding.

For example,  discussions  about the roles of PhDs in  design education in
the current threads have, as described above, have followed the  path of
assuming designers have little access to information and instead mostly rely
on creativity and intuition.  Evidence  (in both design education and PhDs)
is  the unusually high level of attention that has been given to  improving
design  via  'reflection' on designers and users' creative and intuitive
activities.  This can be seen as a bias against using the large amount of
relevant research-derived information that is readily available from other
fields that applies directly.

Awareness that the  situation viz-a-viz design and information  has changed
the game defines two groups in this discussion. It is at the heart of Don's
initial post,  and 'avoiding addressing it'  is the defining gestalt of the
responses to it and the ensuing discussion.

Some have already  understood that the replacement by information-based
design is not only happening,  it has already radically changed design
activity over the last 50 years. Others however, hold tight to the idea that
design activity must be based as in the past on 'creativity' and 'intuition'
and that as such designers do not need to be educated to use the enormous
amount of information and theory that is useful and relevant to design  and
is  now easily accessible.

The uncritically adopted  assumption that 'creativity' and 'intuition' must
always be central to design has been a seductive and well-reinforced
habituated conditioning for anyone associated with design activity. The
consequence has been an unconscious  habit  and  blinkered way of thinking
that excludes the possibility that design and human functioning in general
changes. It   has resulted in discussions being predicated unthinkingly on
the  false assumption that the old past way of designing, when information
was short, is relevant now.

Design activity  and the context of design practice have changed. Access to
enormous amounts of relevant information and theory is now the defining
factor in understanding and practicing design. This has moved aside  the
need for, and relevance of, the previous obsession with designers' skills in
creativity and intuition.   Instead what is required is improvement in
designers' skills in using information.

This paradigmic shift is very  difficult to address because of the nature of
competence in design , which  fully understood  involves a very large number
of  areas of human action, information and knowing. This may be why the
design field shows strong signs of avoiding addressing it.  It requires that
designers' are able to use the research-derived information from a very
large number of disciplines.  Thus far, the response that has evolved has
had  two parts: 1) the emergence of large numbers of specialised sub-fields
of designers each tied to their field; and 2) the Art and Design response
to ignore the new availability of information and focus on creativity alone.

The better solution is to identify and implement   new forms of
design-related research and practices in which design activity is
characterised by the skills and understanding  for extensive and rapidly
increasing access and use of  relevant information  and theory across all
fields of human endeavour. This will require very different forms of  PhDs
in Design. The expectation that designers will use the information that is
available requires them to understand it. This in turn, requires a major
paradigmic shift in design education.  Currently, PhDs in design are leading
this change.

Best wishes,

Dr Terence Love FDRS, AMIMechE, PMACM, MISI
[log in to unmask]   Mob: +61 434 975 848

Dept of Design
Social  Program Evaluation Research Unit
Edith Cowan University, Western Australia

Dept of Design
Curtin University, Western Australia

Hon Researcher, IEED
Management School, Lancaster University, UK

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