[Update: 20AUG2013 posted revised table at top. See update here.]
Are there designerly ways of knowing? Does the design mode of inquiry depend on distinct methods and values? How might design ability be developed?
From Cross’s 1982 “Designerly ways of knowing” (pdf):
From the RCA [Royal College of Arts] report, the following conclusions can be drawn on the nature of ‘Design with a capital D’:
- The central concern of Design is ‘the conception and realisation of new things’.
- It encompasses the appreciation of ‘material culture’ and the application of ‘the arts of planning, inventing, making and doing’.
- At its core is the ‘language’ of ‘modelling’; it is possible to develop students’ aptitudes in this ‘language’, equivalent to aptitudes in the ‘language’ of the sciences – numeracy – and the ‘language’ of humanities – literacy.
- Design has its own distinct ‘things to know, ways of knowing them, and ways of finding out about them’.
I identified five aspects of designerly ways of knowing:
- Designers tackle ‘ill-defined’ problems
- Their mode of problem-solving is ‘solution-focussed’
- Their mode of thinking is ‘constructive’
- They use ‘codes’ that translate abstract requirements into concrete objects.
- They use these codes to both ‘read’ and ‘write’ in ‘object language’.
From these ways of knowing I drew three main areas of justification for design in general education:
- Design develops innate abilities in solving real- world, ill-defined problems.
- Design sustains cognitive development in the concrete/iconic modes of cognition.
- Design offers opportunities for development of a wide range of abilities in nonverbal thought and communication.
From a 2009 interview in Rotman Magazine:
How can design thinking help managers tackle ‘wicked’ problems?
Part of the difficulty in dealing with wicked problems is you don’t know when you’ve got the right solution. There’s no definitive, correct solution, and there’s no definitive, correct view of the problem. They’re called wicked problems because they haven’t been tamed; they haven’t been structured or well-defined; they’re not cut and dried; and they don’t yield readily to a single optimal solution. This is an important point because much of training in management and reasoning is about finding the ‘right’ solution. In dealing with wicked problems, it’s not about optimizing, it’s about ‘satisficing’, as Herbert Simon describes it in his book The Sciences of the Artificial. Simon, himself greatly accomplished in science and economics, realized that when faced with these sorts of intractable problems, you can’t actually optimize a solution, but rather find one that is satisfactory.
Another thing we’ve realized about these wicked problems is that the problem and the solution have to be – and indeed do – develop together. The understanding of the problem begins to develop as soon as you try to develop ideas as to how you’re going to solve it. It’s a mistake to set out what the problem is first and then try to find a solution. Be prepared for the fact that the problem and the solution will co-evolve, and you’re going to go to and fro between the two of them.
The final point about wicked problems is that constructive or design thinking is indeed the best way to tackle them.
Thoughts on design as a “third culture” or on this table?
[Update: see also — Bela Banathy: Salient attributes of the designer.]