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Title: American views on design education

Pages: 52 - 53

      

Author: Malcolm J.Brookes

Text: American views on design education
by Malcolm J. Brookes
A report on the first seminar of the design educators' section of the Industrial Design Society of America at which global views of design education and the technological revolution lead to a few practical thoughts.

Correlations was the theme chosen for the US educators' meeting which took place in New York this year and was, as far as I could make out, the first meeting of the new education section of the Industrial Designers' Society of America. Previously, the educators had had their own society- IDEA-and even though it has now been merged with IDSA, some of the participants in the meeting weren't too sure how much autonomy has been achieved. However, we were all sure of the topics, and our hosts at Parsons School of Design reinforced our views by impressive displays of students' work.
Jay Doblin led off the sessions after the formal speeches of welcome. Mr Doblin was set to describe one of three large projects that were being undertaken at IIT where he is professor of design. The projects are a theory of design, a theory of design education, and a theory of market segmentation.

Design in the marketplace
"Why is it we generally produce trash ? What is it that prompts us to produce, sell and buy trash ? I suggest that 98 per cent of people are visually illiterate," he said, pointing out that it was not the public's fault: no one had enlightened it- especially the design profession. "We are not going to have a profession until we have a theory supporting our trade," he declared.
At this point he introduced Professor Owens of the llT faculty to describe how far IIT had gone in designing a course suited to producing professional designers. Well along the line, it seems, for Professor Owens said that IlT's course was based on three conceptions: that products can no longer be designed as entities, but must be designed in the systems context; that an information revolution, using computers as design aids, is necessary; and that logical design methods must be developed for problem solving.
Thus IIT students are given interrelated courses dealing with information handling, methods of feedback and methods of design. Describing only the first group in detail, Professor Owens said that students are introduced to the works of Hugh Bowen, J. Christopher Jones and L. Bruce Archer when discussing methods of analysis and the systems context of design; to the work of Christopher Alexander for synthesis; and to the work of Gordon for matters of synectics. Analytical methods such as operational sequence flow diagrams, link analysis, hierarchical analysis and problem definition of variables were applied by the students. Due to the complexity of handling multi-variable problems, students learn to programme computers in order to decompose problem matrices into workable subproblems. It very much looks as though the next generation of US design students will be specialists in computer programming if IlT's lead is followed elsewhere.
Leaving us to ponder over how many design offices in New York could afford a $250,000 computer, Mr Doblin returned to the podium
to intrigue us with an astounding science theory of 'USA'.
To understand it, the definitions are given here:
U = utility: typified by an engineering approach, it is quantifiable and generates a vernacular design;
S = the symbolic meaning of a product, such as the social status the interpersonal qualities of the product;
A = aesthetics: aspects such as how it feels, and so on.
Doblin's two rules of USA are:
Rule 1: U + S + A = E where E is the value of the product. In other words, utility plus symbolic value plus aesthetics gives a value of the product.

Rule 2: U =1/2

In other words, utility is (generally) inversely proportional to the symbolic meaning of the product.
Based on these rules and definitions, Mr Doblin presented a theory of segmentation of the market place. Conceive. if you can, the values of U. S. and A as three mutually perpendicular axes. The U axis is carved into units of product category such as tools, transportation, communications, etc. The claim is that any product can be classified on this 3-d chart. And there appears to be some use for the chart, for if you can locate a product on the chart, and if you have a similar chart showing population stereotypes, then to guarantee a sale to the desired marketyou design your productto have those characteristics which land it right on the equivalent product spot.
To define the product's personality, Mr Doblin showed how prospective purchasers were shown sample products and then answered a questionnaire that looks like this:

very
quite
neither
quite
very

Beautiful
Conservative
High Class
Expensive
Durable
Easy to use
Good

Ugly
Radical
Low class
Economical
Fragile
Hard to use
Bad

+2
+1
0
-1
-2

The chart was then returned to the questioner, who scored it. Product profiles are thus generated by taking large market samples, scoring the responses from + 2 to -2, and averaging the scores.
What does it all mean ? Mr Doblin believes his pilot studies have shown first, that subjective reactions to product design can be measured in a realistic manner; and second, that it is possible to determine the demography of consumer groups. Among the side benefits of the studies was confirmation of the fact that women are extremely sensitive to shape and form in determining the cost of something. The results also showed that a woman knows whether or not something is high class even though she may not like it.
Mr Doblin introduced various maps of consumer stereotypes showing relationships of social strata, income and tastes - but I have the suspicion that the reader will be so subdued by the foregoing (as we were at the conference) that I pass on to even more illustrious happenings.

Designers take up LSD
These were related by Robert McKim, associate professor of the design division of Stanford University. Stanford is in California no less - and where else would one expect to find experimentation in psychedelic - or consciousness changing creativity ?
Professor McKim prefaced his descriptions of the goings on by saying: "Art schools have a built in LSD effect on students, a thing which engineers need." He then introduced the symbolism of the left and right hand sides of the mind: the left hand side represents disorder and chaos, and the right hand side order and knowledge. "The well balanced designer needs to be psychologically ambidextrous," he declared, and thought there was a lack of creativeness among the design profession.
Professor McKim described primary creativeness as the ability to be aesthetically sensitive, freely imaginative with ready access to fantasy, as in dreams. The lid on creativity was kept on by the right hand which experienced secondary creativity, as in the application of logic and design methodology. The secondary/primary balance was controlled deep within the human psyche. Stanford's experiments in psychedelics were in the nature of a left hand exercise for right handed people. This was done by directing research towards achieving an education experience in creativity, rather than by training people to rely on drugs.
At Stanford, some 40 persons had undergone hallucogenic experiences under carefully controlled conditions, with their reactions recorded for later analysis. The effect of taking LSD was to trigger a metabolic process which seemed to affect the synapses in the brain, making them say 'no' less frequently. Consciousness was thus expanded and everyday focus on safety and well-being removed
Having described the experimental procedures involved "environmental settings affect the situation and the type of experience, as does the whole personal set" - he summarised the subjects' own reports. There is, they say, a reduction in inhibition, anxiety and fear. Envy, sense of competition and embarrassment diminish and things seem less crucial and less dangerous. The subjects have a heightened capacity to restructure problems in the large context, an enhanced fluency of ideation, and their capacity for visual fluency and fantasy is heightened -for example, electronic engineers were able to visualise the workings of an oscillatory circuit. They also have a heightened empathy with people, and a greater sensitivity to closure.
Professor McKim believed there was something of great value to be learned from these psychedelic experiences. They appeared educational in that the subject seemed able to recall his feelings of creativity once experienced through LSD. There were experimental difficulties, he reported, in quantifying the validity of the concepts produced during sessions, but it seemed that valid work was done during experiments. It also seemed that right-handed things, such as word fluency and mathematical ability, would not be so readily enhanced by LSD. Finally, all the evidence pointed towards vast depths of human potential which have yet to be tapped.

Enter bionics
Next day, Victor J. Papanek, professor of industrial design at Purdue University, entered a plea for the examination of biological prototypes - bionics - during design training. Why bionics ? Because bionics is the nature of change, and we must learn today to design for non-static, self-changing, self-compensating conditions.
"There is a need to develop the most flexible syllabus for students of design," he said "and 12 hours of kinematics, 12 hours of drawing, etc. is not the way to do it. Students need to receive a creative background in art and science, and a study of bionics gives us this. We have dropped required engineering courses from the Purdue curriculum, and we propose to create problems for students which will force them to take the courses needed to solve them."
Arthur Pulos, professor in charge of industrial design programme at Syracuse University, was up next to act as the middle man. His subject, The Persistent Dream, was founded on the belief that there is still a fear that man will become a slave to the machine in an industrialised world. "Scientism can become an end in itself if we are not careful. Here is a hidden menace from a rational garment clothing irrational demands." The design student must absorb the knowledge of other disciplines, but practising them was not his forte.
Professor Pulos introduced the elements of a programme for design education by saying that it was up to each school to find its own salvation for its particular problems. At Syracuse, there was talk of a school of environmental design in which all design and engineering students would participate-to save the duplication of many schools teaching the same things in different manners. For the first two years, the course wouId be common to all the students majoring in environmental design. The curriculum would include courses in drawing, design theory, colour and light theory, mathematics, physics, psychology, and the history of civilisation.
The student's next two years wouId be devoted to his own specialisation enabling him to be granted a degree in architecture, engineering, planning, design, and so on. As Professor Pulos outlined it, the final two years leading to a master's degree would be devoted to team projects in the field under appropriate supervision.

Basic standards needed
Today in the US there is a crying need to devolve towards some educational brass tacks - to generate some standards in design education that will be acceptable on a professional level to all. Joe Parriott made the plea for a strengthening of the profession in this area, and now is the time to do it. The old ASID/IDI committees on design education came to nought, perhaps because the design educators were at that time only interested by-standers. Now they are part and parcel of the one professional industrial design society: cannot something be achieved without too much delay ?
The problems are somewhat larger than those in Britain, due to the physical size of the country and the fact that autonomy of action is part of the democratic way of life to an extent that no one without personal experience of the US can understand. This, perhaps, is the root of non-agreement on standards for design education; yet too often participants hide behind the old adage that we are "unable to define the practice of design, so how can we set up standards ?"
This is not a plea for carbon copies: there is a need for schools to retain their individuality. But at the same time, there is a need for a certain degree of rationality amongst curricula if we are to avoid today's situation where one school can turn out designers in a two-year course while a student at the next school undergoes five years' training both receiving the same shingle. Design educators might give those two facts a moment's consideration and let the computers look after themselves for a little while.

 

 

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