Submitted as input for the update of the Design Education Manifesto, ICOGRADA, March 28, 2011

In 2000, the International Council of Graphic Design Associations (ICOGRADA) published their first “Design Education Manifesto,” noting “many changes” in design practice, defining “visual communication designer,” and suggesting “a future of design education.” The ICOGRADA manifesto marked a turning point—an international design body addressing change at the millennium. Publishing the manifesto was a significant accomplishment. A decade later, ICOGRADA are updating their manifesto. This essay responds to their request for input.

Framing the manifesto
The manifesto acknowledges change without quite defining it and lists attributes of an emerging practice and education without quite prescribing them. The manifesto does not explicitly define goals or audience. It does not decry indulgences or urge reform. It does not sound an alarm or assert a theory.

Instead, the manifesto asks that we consider our responsibility for harmony, balance, and each other. It invokes oullim, a Korean word denoting resonance and connoting mutual duty. It might also have invoked similar ideas with the Chinese word ren.

In a thoughtful commentary on the manifesto and its development, Sharon Poggenpohl and Ahn Sang-soo acknowledge that “the search was for common ground” and “consensus” and that the manifesto is “somewhat quiet.”

Yet, Poggenpohl and Ahn note, “A manifesto is a form of communication predicated on three beliefs: that a change has occurred . . . that human agency can change circumstances into something more desirable; and the timing is advantageous . . .”

Thus, in relation to the ICOGRADA manifesto, we must ask:
- What has changed?
- What could be better?
- Why act now?

Framing the context
The manifesto begins by acknowledging changes in design. “The term ‘graphic design’ has been technologically undermined…. Boundaries between disciplines are becoming more fluid…. The variety and complexity of design issues has expanded.” We might better understand these changes by understanding their context and causes.

So: What is causing the large shifts in design practice?

Computers? Software tools? The Internet?

Yes, but they manifest a much larger shift in technology, economic structure, and culture. The industrial revolution is ending. A new revolution in information is beginning, on top of which comes another revolution in biology, also largely about information—”understanding how organisms encode it, store, reproduce, transmit, and express it.”

The shift is not only about what’s produced (from things to services) and how they are produced (from long-lead editions to continuous adaptation, from proprietary to open source, from transaction to relationship), it is also a shift in world view (from mechanism to organism), a shift in framing metaphors (from clock-work to ecosystem, from turn-the-crank-linear-causality to feedback-enabled-dynamic-equilibrium), a shift in organizing structures (from individual nodes to webs of links, from top-down to bottom-up, from serial to parallel), a shift in human values (from coherence to responsiveness, from seeking simplicity to embracing complexity).

Thus, we must also ask:
- How will we transform design in the age of information and biology?

Framing design
Design grew out of craft. A craftsman planned-for-making-things and made them. The craft tradition was cut short by the industrial revolution. Mass production separated planning-for-making-things from making them. Planning-for-making-things became design, and design took on some of the assumptions of mass production: notions of objectivity (e.g., framing situations in terms of problems and solutions), an expert or “professional” stance, a concern with “getting things right” (because in the world of mass production, the cost of fixing a design mistake can be quite large).

These assumptions may no longer apply; they may even be dangerous. Problem framing becomes more valuable than problem solving. Software is never “right”. And it’s never done. In software development, delays are often more costly than mistakes. With network-based applications, change becomes continuous. We enter perpetual beta. (For designers who acknowledge that improvement comes from iteration and that ending conditions are arbitrary, perpetual beta may be more comfortable than mass production.)

In the new world of information and biology, design will change. Less common will be situations in which things are designed by designers, in advance of use by users, enforcing a single view. More common will be situations created by participants, during use, enabling multiple views. Today’s users will become designers; today’s designers will become meta-designers, creating conditions in which others can design.

In this world, a media-based focus is less relevant. All design becomes trans-disciplinary. A concern for the form of objects will give way to a concern for the experience of services. A concern for products and things will give way to a concern for networks of interaction and communities of systems.

ICOGRADA has shifted from graphic design to communication design. The new position still focuses on individual products. A further shift to focus on platforms—to design of systems in which communications can take place—might be more consistent with the technological, economic, and cultural shifts we face.

We might even go beyond communication (which implies Shannon’s somewhat mechanical model of delivering messages) and focus on conversation (interactions that converge on understanding, agreement, and action). We might frame design as conversation—with a goal of designing for conversation.

Threats and opportunities
The very basis of graphic design is under assault. Printing is dying. In another 10 years, commercial offset lithography will have all but disappeared, save possibly for a handful of luxury artisans. Mass-production lithography will be replaced by mass-customization ink-jet or other digital printing techniques—or by electronic communications. New printed newspapers, magazines, and books may all but disappear, too.

At the same time, new forms of communications will emerge. Networked tablets will provide an environment for re-inventing the relationship between text, image, motion, and sound. Games, movies, and social networks will spawn new hybrids. E-books will become applications. Data-visualization will become a profession, employing thousands of designers.

We are also finding new ways to apply information technology to design. We are learning that “hardware products want to be web-sites,” and data-driven design is emerging as a new discipline. [5] Computation-based design (the application of algorithms to exploring solution spaces), long a subject of research, is entering practice and promises to become a discipline in its own right. Scan-edit-print, long a framework in two-dimensional design, is becoming a framework in three-dimensional design, and not just for mechanical objects but also for living things.

Given these opportunities, we must ask:
- What skills are required to take advantage of them?

Framing design’s relation to code
Juxtaposing the threat to traditional graphic design with the opportunities of “emerging media” might suggest an easy transition. And many traditional design skills do translate directly. But are they sufficient? Designers will also need to understand computers, networks, and software—as they previously had to understand printing, binding, and other manufacturing technologies.

Yet that industrial-age framing no longer fits. A designer’s relation to a printer is very different than a designer’s relation to a programmer. In both cases, a designer may develop a specification, but both the specifications and what happens next are very different. Printing is all about reproduction and requires little invention from the printer; programming has almost nothing to do with reproduction and requires a lot of invention by the programmer. Consulting your printer during design is a good idea; consulting your programmer during design is a necessity.

Practice has not settled the nature of the relationship between designer and coder, and it is the subject of intense debate among programmers. Alan Cooper has suggested it should be like the relationship between architect and builder. But most buildings are designed by builders, not architects. (And most software is designed by programmers, not designers.) Yet, when the architect is also an excellent engineer, such as Robert Maillart or Toni Kotnik, the results can be amazing.

We’ve also seen amazing results from designers who can code, such as David Small, Lisa Strausfeld, John Maeda, Ben Fry, Casey Reas, and many others. In fact, the best young designers are teaching themselves to code, and the best young engineers are teaching themselves to design. Is this a race? Or will they converge? Can we create schools for hybrids?

End-user programming tools have long promised to shield designers and others from coding, but so far, the best they offer is an easier way to begin. So far, learning mark-up and scripting languages remains a necessity. The best way to convey how you want software to behave is to demonstrate the behavior.

Framing design education
Our notions of design are rooted in the industrial revolution framing of design as planning-for-making-things. Yet our strategies for design education are even older; they remain rooted in the craft era, in the master-apprentice relationship played out in the design studio. In this tradition, students learn by emulating teachers. Almost all their learning is tacit. Response to change is slow.

In the craft world, where change is slow, the master-apprentice system works well. In the post-industrial world, where change is fast, the master-apprentice system tends to fall behind. Often, the apprentice knows more about new trends and new tools than the master. A post-industrial design education system can no longer rely solely on tacit learning. It must also turn tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge—”distill rules from experience, codify new methods, test and improve them, and pass them on to others.”

“The focus on design research at a few top schools is a positive development.” A few design journals publish articles that build lasting knowledge, but they are not widely read. A few design blogs are widely read, but they aren’t building lasting knowledge. Research must inform practice, and practice must inform research. They must co-evolve. This evolution requires invention, for example, fusing the studio and case-study methods.

Research must be more than observation or even abstraction. Research must also invent theory. The holes in design knowledge are huge. We lack theories of conversation, interaction, platforms, products and product management, and service. Filling these holes is an important task for design practice and education. Both must learn how to learn. Both must develop mechanisms to build and share knowledge.

Summary
The manifesto grew out of a recognition of change, mis-alignment, and the need to put things in order. Yet it was circumspect, almost vague. I urge ICOGRADA to greater clarity. Clarity invites response, which can lead to iteration, which can lead to improvement, which is a goal we share.

In the interest of clarity, I propose this summary:

The design practice that grew out of the industrial revolution is no longer sustainable (economically or ecologically). A new practice—one that responds to the information revolution—has begun to emerge. We can see its outlines, but much remains to be invented. For this, we must take responsibility. In addition, we must invent a mechanism (an organic system) through which the discipline of design can learn and evolve.

At the same time, design education still largely reflects design’s origins in craftwork. Simply put: Design education is out of date. What is worse: Change is accelerating, and design education is stuck. It has little means to move forward. We must also take responsibility for re-inventing design education and integrating it into an organic system through which the discipline of design evolves.

And what if we ignore the situation? What if we remain vague? What if we remain stuck?

Design schools will become increasingly irrelevant. But more will be lost: some continuity of history, certain values concerning quality, and perhaps a sense of humanness. The world will fall further under the sway of those satisfied with making things work without making them delight.

This need not be so. Our relationship to our technology is not inevitable. We design it. We have responsibility for it.

I look forward to the conversation that will ensue as ICOGRADA update their manifesto and continue the process of re-inventing design.

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5 Comments

  • Chris Reeve

    Dec 9, 2011
    12:34 pm

    Re: “Practice has not settled the nature of the relationship between designer and coder, and it is the subject of intense debate among programmers. Alan Cooper has suggested it should be like the relationship between architect and builder. But most buildings are designed by builders, not architects. (And most software is designed by programmers, not designers.) Yet, when the architect is also an excellent engineer, such as Robert Maillart or Toni Kotnik, the results can be amazing.

    We’ve also seen amazing results from designers who can code, such as David Small, Lisa Strausfeld, John Maeda, Ben Fry, Casey Reas, and many others. In fact, the best young designers are teaching themselves to code, and the best young engineers are teaching themselves to design. Is this a race? Or will they converge? Can we create schools for hybrids?”

    I couldn’t agree more. We live in amazing times. There are incredible opportunities available for regular people to take initiative in their free time. To participate, one needs merely to think critically about big ideas, and actually become an active participant of an emerging paradigm which motivates you. The fact that most of the public has tuned out to big ideas is an opportunity to those few who are more interested in participation and creation than consumerism. There can be great fun in creating something new, and there appears to be some support for the notion that creative problem-solving doesn’t always benefit from financial reward anyways. This suggests that outsiders will play a vital role in emerging ideas.

    Hugh, there is a physicist named Jeff Schmidt who wrote for Physics Today for 19 years before publishing a book titled “Disciplined Minds”. In that book, he branded our physics educational system as a mental “bootcamp” designed to generate obedient thinkers who will problem-solve within the confines assigned to them. He claims that physics PhD’s are being handed stacks of exams filled with esoteric algebraic tricks, which must all be memorized in order to pass the PhD qualifying exam. These algebraic tricks become meaningless outside the scope of this single test, and yet the exam cannot be completed on time without memorizing them. The purpose, he claims, is to generate “professionals”, who will attack the problems of science in thin slices without complaining. But, in the process of creating obedient thinkers, we’ve also arguably created dysfunctional thinkers whose extreme depth of understanding is great for abstraction, but horrible for interdisciplinary synthesis. In Schmidt’s view, science has entered into an artificially stable state of consensus. He claims that divergent thinkers are routinely purged from PhD programs, even as divergent thinking is encouraged within the undergraduate system.

    Jeff Schmidt was fired from Physics Today for publishing this book, but he would go on to successfully sue the magazine in retaliation for unspecified damages.

    Where you see fire in our educational system, you’d be right to look for the ashes in our scientific theories. To this day, our scientific framework fails to present a meaningful, cohesive view of our surroundings, as the quantum models fail to fit together with relativity. There is no doubt: Either one — or both — are wrong. And yet, everywhere you look, we see people praising science’s practitioners, their models and the processes they use to achieve them as if they are all faultless. And yet, all can plainly see that there remain major issues.

    I’ve come to view your findings, Hugh, as absolutely central to this other, seemingly unrelated problem. The problem with novel scientific ideas is that they are always shot down by advocates for conventional wisdom on the basis of a single argument. But, I know of a group of theorists who can present an entirely new scientific framework to replace the dysfunctional one we have now. It is our choice to create or destroy scientific models. We can choose to build better models, if we desire it. Most don’t, and this is really quite exciting for those who possess the open-minded curiosity to carefully pick through the fringes of scientific literature. There are rock-solid “fringe science” ideas out there, if one knows where to look.

    What I suspect is happening with scientific belief is that the forum-based discussions are entirely sequential in nature. Yet, the new competing paradigm excels due to its holistic ability to explain our observations. Its internal consistency and comprehensive ability to explain all observations is the very virtue which compels attention. Yet, when advocates for conventional wisdom shoot the new scientific framework down, they attempt to do so one tree at a time, before they’ve even seen the entire forest. What is needed, therefore, is to show the entire forest all at once. What is needed is concept mapping.

    The theorists involved in the creation of this new framework have not been able to figure out how to move forward in getting the word out that their framework is a better fit. They are stuck in an artificial feedback loop, where their forest is perceived as a bunch of small, unrelated trees. By showing the forest, for the first time, I believe that we can break through to the world.

    Thanks, Hugh, for your valuable insights. It is perhaps a sign of how far ahead of the rest of us that you have so few commenters. I’ve had to stand on the shoulders of many giants to get to this point. Your papers on design are turning out to be the missing link. I now see that the way forward is to personally take responsibility for both the design and programming of my idea for transforming scientific discourse. I believe that concept mapping will be to interdisciplinary synthesis what calculation and mathematics have been to abstraction.

    Abstraction has built us rocket ships that took us to the moon. It has built transportation systems which span miles of waterways. It has increased our quality of lives in ways that were inconceivable just a hundred years ago. But, the fundamental problem of the Information Age is information overload. People are not dealing with the overload very well. There’s not even an awareness of their own coping mechanisms — which have been incredibly simple, when applied to the formulation of scientific beliefs amongst the public.

    We now know so much about our physical surroundings that we can fill libraries with books just on science. Yet, there is insufficient intuitive understanding of Nature to even direct the body’s healing system. We don’t even know what photosynthesis is, or what keeps the atom’s nucleus from exploding apart. When we look at the sky, we see spectacularly energetic phenomena which we can only explain by resorting to “dark” forces and matters.

    The fundamental problem of science at this current point in time is that the micro and macro scales of existence are absolutely vital to the formulation of our scientific worldview (our cosmology). And yet, this is where our experiments and observational tools struggle the most to be accurate. Thus, the very foundation of abstraction is weak — which, due to our current over-reliance upon abstraction, dictates that the resulting theories also will be weak. Interdisciplinary synthesis is the way forward, out of this problem. By using the concept map idea, we can perform large-scale interdisciplinary synthesis in science.

    And since our own personal worldviews derive to some degree from our scientific worldview, the ramifications to success are enormous.

    We live in interesting times. Please keep writing.

  • Roger Michael Longo

    Jan 19, 2012
    7:08 am

    Chris Reeve’s were on target. Lack of tolerance for divergent thought, as we see in Physics and other disciplines destroys creativity on the part of the individual and fosters dictatorial social structures that are undermining democracy, freedom of thought, and academic achievement. Unfortunately we see this trend exhibiting pernicious emergence within the educational system. As an educator in higher education for almost 40 years, I see the effects of this daily. Increasingly students are incapable of comprehending abstract concepts and their relationship to the real world.

  • learning languages

    Jun 17, 2013
    6:56 am

    Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing this write-up plus the rest of the site is really good.

  • web design training

    Nov 15, 2014
    3:37 am

    I’m impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across a boog that’s equally educative and engaging, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is an issue that not enough men and women aare speaking intelligently about. I am very happyy that I found this in my search for something regarding this.

  • Choykokkee

    Dec 17, 2014
    7:23 am

    It is a matter of the heart rather than the mind. Unfortunately, little advancement has been made in design education based on nurturing the heart and value creation.

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