Is Design Too Important To Be Left Only To Designers?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on April 30, 2009

There is huge anxiety among designers and design educators at the encroachment of business, education, health, energy, transportation and other fields into Design. The evolution of Design from an individual working intuitively to shape beautiful things into a collaborative process of discovering what can come next and making it happen is attracting people to Design for new ways to journey through these confusing and uncertain times. The failure of existing modes of delivering services to consumers, students, patients, travelers, etc., is making Design a hugely important system of reframing old problems and creating new answers. Design Strategy, for example, is new—evolving out of simple design.

Indeed, there is a growing conversation about whether or not Design can replace Liberal Arts as the intellectual foundation for giving us the tools to navigate the 21st Century.

But in all these discussions and in all this stew of intellectual debate about Design, where are the voices of designers and design educators? Where is the body of theory in Design that you see coming out of Architecture, for example?

This is a question that Anne Burdick, chair of the Media Design Program at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, asked recently in a talk at Parsons School of Design. Anne pointed to business, the humanities and even physics (at MIT) as embracing design and using it without much input from designers. She said that discussions about Design as a Literacy, Design as a Discipline, Design as a Way of Knowing were under way at various universities—without much input from designers or design educators.

Why is that? Most of the evolution of design into Design/Innovation has taken place within the private business sector. Design/innovation consultancies, not the schools, have led the way. The embrace of social sciences by design began in places such as IDEO, Continuum, Ziba, Smart and Jump. The integration of sociology, anthropology, and psychology broadly into design gave it much greater

gravitas and power to do large-scale change. Since that work is done within consultancies, most of it is kept inside, perceived as IP not to be shared. When you read designers in these consultancies, they talk about fairly standard process and the successes of their own consultancies successes. It's more elementary explanation and marketing than theorizing.

There are exceptions. David Kelley, co-founder of IDEO and founder of the D-School program at Stanford, has talked much about Design Thinking. This was a huge step in opening up Design and its application to larger organizations and issues. Kelly bridges the private/academic worlds and the D-School Program may yet generate a serious body of thought on Design.

Patrick Whitney's IIT's Institute of Design is making important contributions in developing new techniques of ethnography that can quickly be employed to develop strategy. ID is the only graduate school in design that focuses almost entirely on organizational strategy (and opening the important debate over whether or not designers need to be able to make something to really understand the design process).

Yet the vigor now infusing design appears to be coming from outside the field from non-designers. And it may very well be just fine that non-designers take design to the next level. But probably not. Design is still unpacking its intuitive powers as well as integrating new knowledge to make it even more powerful. One of the core competencies of design is the ability to integrate and iterate. Now is the time for the practice, the design practice, to do just that.

Is Design Too Important To Be Left Only To Designers? You tell me.

Reader Comments

Simon O'Rafferty

April 30, 2009 5:12 PM

Hi Bruce,
There are some platforms for these discussions among design educators. I'm not a design educator myself but I hope to hear some good debate on these issues at the CUMULUS conference next month - http://www.cumuluslondon2009.com/ and the E&PDE conference in September - http://www.epde09.org/conference_aim.html....

Where I think it can get interesting is incorporating a design perspective in the tangential and generalist discussions about the role of education and places of learning e.g. http://www.nesta.org.uk/the-connected-university/

Pulling together these connections can be as complicated or a easy as we want it.

Vahe Katros

May 1, 2009 7:04 AM

Bruce,

The clients of design companies should spend less time trying to appropriate methodologies and spend more time thinking thru how to adapt their firms and their talent base. The problem that requires design thinking is this: how can design firms develop methods that quickly and efficiently transfer enough know how to help their clients do more of the front end work? I believe the subsequent pie will be much bigger and clients will be more inclined to allocate budget if they know that the outcome of their first project will be to not just reinvent their products and services, but to reinvent themselves. Clients don't want a one-off project or a feel good workshop focused on how to think outside the box, they want to stand on their own.

Edgar Zorrilla

May 1, 2009 6:53 PM

Is Brain Surgery Too Important To Be Left Only To Brain Surgeons?
I think I want my doctor to know what he is doing. His experience and knowledge will let me know he's going to do the right thing. But in the end I have to trust him. Just like a business should trust the designer they hire. I think businesses need to understand themselves and their markets before hiring a designer. Then they would know their own problems. Designers could then always give promising results. Design is also a very broad usage. There is aesthetics and functionality, and can be implemented in a diversity of ways across all forms of design. I think this article could have gone a lot further into research and thinking before posted for the general discourse. This article seems to be a fourth of a complete thought gone lost.

Gong Szeto

May 1, 2009 7:17 PM

Yes.

Octavia Maddox

May 2, 2009 7:27 AM

What is the context of design of which you speak? Strategy design has been done for years in organisations without designers. In my experience many designers do not have the training or experience to think of their designs in the greater context of an organisation's strategic goals and directions.
Product design for example, often happens without the assistance of formal product designers.
I think designers have a role in emparting their methods and techniques onto organisations, but in no way hold all the skill to make all the design judgements. When you think about it, people across organisations every day make decisions that effect the eventual user experience. Whether that be policy makers, document writers, policy implementers, customer service operators (the list goes on), they all have a responsibility in the overall user experience of their 'products'. In this context, design can never be just in the designer's hands.

RitaSue Siegel

May 4, 2009 3:21 AM

I feel so sad when I read a comment like Octavia made "In my experience many designers do not have the training or experience to think of their designs in the greater context of an organisation's strategic goals and directions." I am sorry for her. Her comment is the antithesis of my experience. There are incredibly talented designers with a complete understanding of their organizations' strategic goals and that's why they are successful. Find them at Whirlpool, HP, GE Medical, Nissan, Philips, Microsoft, Nike, Nokia, as well as smaller companies; I could go on....It has happened. Design has made it to the list of critical disciplines organizations cannot live (well) without. Organizations are not cutting back their investments in design although today they might not be increasing them, and they are not laying off designers. They are laying off lots of other types of folks but in the "best places," design is considered an integral part in making an organization successful not only in the act of designing products, communications, experiences and environments but the organizations themselves and the relationships between the people in them. I don't know any organization where design is successful where research is not a strong component whether or not it is done inside or by a consulting firm. The senior managers in the organizations of course have a great deal to contribute and one of them is understanding that design is an integral part of achieving strategic goals--and beyond them. And this is also because designers have learned how to articulate the value that design brings to a situation and evangelize for it.

Gunnar Swanson

May 5, 2009 1:36 AM

Gong Szeto has it right and is much more terse than I'll be. He was also more coherent than I'll be. Some random thoughts and questions:

1) I'm curious if you have any observations about how graphic design fits into your thoughts about design education. Graphic design may not be as central to innovation as product design but most design programs and most design students in the US are graphic design.

2) I hardly originated consideration of design as a viable center to general education but my 1994 Design Issues article, "Graphic Design Education as a Liberal Art: Design and Knowledge in the University and the 'Real World'" looked at the failings of the notion of liberal arts in a specialized and complex world and suggested design as an integrative subject that bridges many educational domains. One of the several problems with the plan I put forth is finding faculty who are up to the task of broad intellectual integration.

I will say that even the vocational and comparatively parochial nature of graphic design training does produce students prepared to deal with uncertainty, undefined tasks, and the sort of projection and iterative exploration that define "design thinking."

3) It fascinates me that designers here (and on Adrian Shaughnessy's recent "Ten Graphic Design Paradoxes" on Design Observer http://www.designobserver.com/archives/entry.html?id=39207) compare designers to physicians and then reveal a worshipful and unquestioning attitude toward medical personnel. If their comments are indicative of common doctor-patient relationships, no wonder that the world of medicine is as screwed up as the world of design.

Russell Kroll

May 5, 2009 4:48 AM

Of course design shouldn’t be left only to designers… But the potential for success is greater when it is.

Design is a very open profession, as part of its process it seeks to include non designers whenever possible. The notion that designers are anxious about other professions encroaching on their turf is a miss read on what’s really happening. Perhaps designers aren’t territorial, perhaps they just become anxious when newly minted MBAs, fired up after reading Tom Kelly’s Art of Innovation, want to direct design efforts.

Despite its visibility in the business world and in the popular press, industrial design is an extremely small field. Compared to architecture, industrial design is many orders of magnitude smaller. The voice of industrial design is present but there aren’t many of us. As the interest in and dialog about design grows it’s becoming increasingly difficult for designers to be heard.

If someone can’t find a body of theory in design, they aren’t looking very intently. Furthermore, I disagree that design strategy is a new discipline and that practice of design has evolved in private sector consulting groups. I received an undergraduate degree in industrial design from Patrick Whitney’s program at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1994. My studies at the Institute of Design included considerable theory ranging from intensive instruction in structured planning and systems design to the study of relatively esoteric learning theory such as social constructivism and Vygotskian theory. That was fifteen years ago and the curriculum was very mature when I attended.

The” vigor now infusing design” from outside the profession is a testament to design’s success. The business world has noticed and is excited. I don’t want to be a buzz kill, but good design is hard work and not something one will likely succeed at on the first try or without training.

One can’t just show up in a celebrated restaurant’s kitchen and expect to produce the food responsible for making the restaurant famous. The chef has likely toiled for years to reliability create the desirable food necessary to maintain such a risky commercial business. Do you suppose the chef may be a bit anxious if an untrained but enthusiastic voyeur appeared and expected to direct the process? Hey, I know what I’m doing, I read about cooking on Bruce’s blog…

Indeed, integration is one of design’s core competencies but like a chef you need to know what to integrate and that takes time, hard work and practice. If you want to be a designer stop talking about it and go to design school or at least take the time to understand the process. Patrick is a good teacher and would be happy to talk to you http://www.id.iit.edu/.

Brian

May 5, 2009 2:56 PM

Actually I think it is the other way around- Design and Design thinking, administered by Designers can influence and change all of these fields and more you have mentioned. A certain personality type and thinker is attracted, or suited to design- That is why engineers/bankers/surgeons are who they are. There is some overlap, but generally it is nature and nurture- namely Design school!

In Design school we learn the process for creative and functional solutions- research, observation, ideation, feedback and refining. This process can apply to ANY situation and it works.

I do have concerns about the sub specialization in Design, and feel it takes away from our strength as designers, for it is through the struggle of differing problems that we find the solution, and notice and compare the similarities and differences between projects.

Scott Pobiner

May 7, 2009 3:46 PM

Bruce,

Before I tell you whether 'design' will happen without 'designers', you've got to tell me what a 'designer' is.

I find it frustrating that anyone would point a finger at 'MIT Physics' as being a group of 'non-designers'. Aside from the fact that the example is low-hanging fruit, a pure physics student is relatively hard to find amongst the staggering array of disciplines on campus there. Moreover, the physics department has happily co-existed with MIT's very successful design and design-focused programs longer than many school's of design have existed.

MIT and schools like it have been home to strategists, scientists, and and general 'makers of things' since long before any of the proponents of design-geist were born.
But rather than wax further about how MIT is a Design School (I actually attended Harvard so color me green with envy), I would like to argue that the distinction of 'designer' is doing more to hurt the future of the global Academy of Design than any copyist or opportunist ever could.

As this regards theory, I would imagine that there is something to be said for the prolific discourse occurring in the practices, but I think that it is a dangerous and all-together limiting assumption that practitioners who own firms and publish books have anything more than the capacity and means to make and sell products. If we buy these products, does that make them 'good' {designers, theorists, teachers, even writers}? ... and is the future of 'good' design about making more products or limiting the impact of the products we've already made?

For anyone to suggest that 'designers' don't participate in the 'design process', and won't in the future, reveals a rather limited understanding of what Design is and a myopic sense of what it will be. I would be suspect of any practitioner who claims to have enough time to run a successful firm of any kind while also writing and publishing the last words on design - most of all architects. Unless, we assume that they are not that involved in either A. their writing or B. their practice. Most troubling about this discussion though is the willful disregard of the role that pedagogy has to play in the development of a thoughtful practitioner of anything. Are we to think that the superstars of the world will actually open their doors (jet, limo, or pied-a-terre) to masses of would-be students? That vision of the great-one teaching and fostering their apprentices was always a fairy-tale - one that has crushed many an intern into submission and a fallacy even when it was assumed to be a rite of passage in ancient greece.

I would hope that the future is not manifest by mere self-validation. Though sometimes an aggressive and messy transaction, discourse between those who 'make things' and those who discuss that which is made is a necessary part of society. Every evening and Sunday morning we have a slew of people who are paid quite well to do so.

But it is fun to imagine - next we should discuss journalism without journalists, law without legislators, governing without government, medicine without doctors, and of course - utopia without utopians. Thanks for keeping us on our toes Bruce.

Respectfully,

Scott G. Pobiner
Assistant Professor
Parsons The New School for Design

Scott Pobiner

May 7, 2009 3:46 PM

Bruce,

Before I tell you whether 'design' will happen without 'designers', you've got to tell me what a 'designer' is.

I find it frustrating that anyone would point a finger at 'MIT Physics' as being a group of 'non-designers'. Aside from the fact that the example is low-hanging fruit, a pure physics student is relatively hard to find amongst the staggering array of disciplines on campus there. Moreover, the physics department has happily co-existed with MIT's very successful design and design-focused programs longer than many school's of design have existed.

MIT and schools like it have been home to strategists, scientists, and and general 'makers of things' since long before any of the proponents of design-geist were born.
But rather than wax further about how MIT is a Design School (I actually attended Harvard so color me green with envy), I would like to argue that the distinction of 'designer' is doing more to hurt the future of the global Academy of Design than any copyist or opportunist ever could.

As this regards theory, I would imagine that there is something to be said for the prolific discourse occurring in the practices, but I think that it is a dangerous and all-together limiting assumption that practitioners who own firms and publish books have anything more than the capacity and means to make and sell products. If we buy these products, does that make them 'good' {designers, theorists, teachers, even writers}? ... and is the future of 'good' design about making more products or limiting the impact of the products we've already made?

For anyone to suggest that 'designers' don't participate in the 'design process', and won't in the future, reveals a rather limited understanding of what Design is and a myopic sense of what it will be. I would be suspect of any practitioner who claims to have enough time to run a successful firm of any kind while also writing and publishing the last words on design - most of all architects. Unless, we assume that they are not that involved in either A. their writing or B. their practice. Most troubling about this discussion though is the willful disregard of the role that pedagogy has to play in the development of a thoughtful practitioner of anything. Are we to think that the superstars of the world will actually open their doors (jet, limo, or pied-a-terre) to masses of would-be students? That vision of the great-one teaching and fostering their apprentices was always a fairy-tale - one that has crushed many an intern into submission and a fallacy even when it was assumed to be a rite of passage in ancient greece.

I would hope that the future is not manifest by mere self-validation. Though sometimes an aggressive and messy transaction, discourse between those who 'make things' and those who discuss that which is made is a necessary part of society. Every evening and Sunday morning we have a slew of people who are paid quite well to do so.

But it is fun to imagine - next we should discuss journalism without journalists, law without legislators, governing without government, medicine without doctors, and of course - utopia without utopians. Thanks for keeping us on our toes Bruce.

Respectfully,

Scott G. Pobiner
Assistant Professor
Parsons The New School for Design

Ravi Sawhney

May 9, 2009 7:00 AM

Hi Bruce,

Absolutely yes!

The beauty of being a designer, from my thought process, is that we can use design and our processes to leverage everything and everyone available to us.

We do so to create teams of contributors and evoke their creativity and vision combined with every piece of knowledge and know how we find. Then, we look for insights into the hearts and minds of the audience. We so with a high level of professional training, experience and leadership.

So, I would ask, who would you want to exclude from design?

Being results driven , as the design profession can be, I propose we realize that at times we may be the pilot, other times the co-pilot, or even the navigator. We could even be the passenger. But, we will learn and gain insight to make it better. Design is clearly an inclusive team sport.

Perhaps we should ask if design is too important to allow the designers to lead. To that I would say absolutely "no". Designers must take the leadership role.

Ravi

DT

May 11, 2009 7:59 AM

A lot of rich comments, however I'm sorry to say, are you hanging out with the right crowd? Time to move on from this topic, I believe. Most of us designers already have moved on and many are not even anxious at all.

I for one agree with Rita-Sue, and perhaps you should look into how organizations (Apple, HP, P&G, Philips etc.) deal with design as a core competence. That is a much more powerful way to further the competence of design. Was that not what you shared with me your objective of your site?

In short, YES, Design is too important to be left to designers and it has been long recognized so. However the Best realize that is has to be lead by designers. Proof is in the pudding.

Steve

May 11, 2009 9:26 AM

The design profession is the last remaining hold out to certify or license their practitioners to be responsible for their work.

Physicians, Attorneys, Architects all require a board certification process to practice their discipline. This may be why design educators and designers themselves are being left out of the conversation to leverage the power of design. This lack of professional credentials is a result of the design profession's long standing delay towards professional certification and is no doubt why they may feel encroached upon by others in the business world lately.

Designers have always resorted to innovation and reinventing themselves to boost their je ne sais quoi and to add value. Including anthropologists and social scientists is just another example of the most recent innovation within the profession.

The thing I have noticed about designers is that that many are never around to take responsibility for their work as the product goes into production and the real problems surface. Not the case with other professions. This hurts their credibility.

Patrick Goff

May 11, 2009 1:40 PM

Alan Topalian wrote the first book in this area in 1977. I have attended a series (11 or 12?) of informal group meetings he has held with leading UK designers and design managers from firms where design and designers are central to success - companies such as Samsung, Balck & Decker and so on.These meetings were set up to address the very issue raised here.

We have explored the failings in design education and have tried through the professional body (the Chartered Society of Designers) to stimulate and develope policies which encourage designers to become managers. We believe that the management of companies is too important not to have designers involved - certainly far too important to be lefet to accountants. The problem is the shallowness of thinking (as expressed by Octavia)of many, and the narrowness of definition (as expressed by Scott PObiner) which obstruct the recognition of design as a leading intellectual discipline which needs application to management and management structures.

As someone involved with running a successful, award winning,design practice and who now writes about one area of design (www.hoteldesigns.net) where designers need to be aware of management goals and how to serve them I also know that being involved in design management can be very rewarding. I also know that companies where design should lead often have contempt for designers, or compromise design. The winners are those like W or Kimpton in the US, or Kit Kemp in the UK, where design is a respected part of the management matrix.

Jamey Boiter

May 11, 2009 5:25 PM

bruce,
i would take issue with your opening presumptions. as i'm sure was your intent. "The evolution of Design from an individual working intuitively to shape beautiful things into a collaborative process of discovering what can come next and making it happen is attracting people to Design for new ways to journey through these confusing and uncertain times." while there are still ivory towers out there, my experience is more like that of rita sue's. i have been a principal and owner in a multidiscipline design firm for over 20 years, where we have strategist [both brand and product] industrial designers, graphic designers, creative directors, writers, and engineers all in the same bullpen. it's always been our process for design to be inclusive at the very beginning, throughout the immersion, investigation, and assimilation of insights, in order to ultimately innovate. and at other junctions in the process - whether we are designing a new product, a new brand, or a new service. we use traditional and non-traditional means of research [qualitative, quantitative, ethnographic, blended,etc.] to include not only consumers, users, clients, and outside disciplines, in order to expand our knowledge base, then use our cognitive skills to analyze, empathize, and design an appropriate and successful solution. it's always been collaborative for us in the beginning and along the way. then, specific disciplines take over to realize these solutions at the appropriate times when expertise around a particular element is required.

our current trepidation, or as you put it, our "huge anxiety", is that these new disciplines [business, education, health, energy, transportation, etc.] emerging into the design thinking space won't be as inclusive. part of what makes the process work is to have the personal discipline to shed ourselves of any pre-existing constructs, or prejudices associated with the problem at hand. it's about creating new models, not modifying old ones. r.s. wurman said it best. "the only way to communicate, is to understand what it is like not to understand." with this empathy for the user, or public, reframing can occur without bias.

not all design thinkers are designers, and should not be. nor are all designers successful design thinkers. but beyond design thinking, designers [of all disciplines] play an extraordinary role in the evolution of society. anthropology, art history, and sociology all bare this out, and designers must be included in our future's design, as they were in our past.

MF

May 11, 2009 11:48 PM

Have we reach the point that we need to have certified designers?

Yes, seeing all discussion in this comment section, certainly puts the torch on the sensitive spot – who is qualified to be a designer? Being only 5 years into the graphic design field, have taught me that many want to be in the designer seat. Regardless of being able to oversee the implications and consequences of that decision it seems like when a design decision is in the making everyone feels entitled to be a designer. Maybe it's because we have become so good at visual literacy, it has made non-designers thinking that they can do it too.

I don't know if there is one way of distinguish a designer, but to me it's to know the difference between articulating and rationalizing design. Designers are committed to make things work in context and to make the world an easier place to visually navigate in.

I wish we could move beyond the point of constantly defending our role as designers and the importance of what we do. I don't think certifications will resolve a designer's low self-esteem, but I think it would absolutely help in the eye of the public.

Agjah Libohova

May 12, 2009 6:11 PM

About 3 years ago I wrote on this subject in the MCADCafe Weekly
http://www10.mcadcafe.com/nbc/articles/view_weekly.php?section=Magazine&articleid=318575
There is a huge misunderstanding between the overlapping functions in which these two processes-industrial design and design engineering-operate. The following definitions are from Wikipedia:

Industrial Design (ID) is an applied art whereby the aesthetics and usability of products may be improved. Design aspects specified by the industrial designer may include the overall shape of the object, the location of details with respect to one another, colors, texture, sounds, and aspects concerning the use of the product ergonomics.

Design Engineering (DE) is a discipline that creates and transforms ideas and concepts into a product definition that satisfies customer requirements.

The definitions of these two categories of design have a fundamental difference between them: ID is an applied art, whereas DE is a discipline. This means that industrial designers more often have more liberal control than design engineers to design everything that they or their customers like. This is due to the fact that design engineers have only one choice: make it work.

However, since the functions of each are often unclear, customers can easily be confused as to which one they need. Although, misunderstanding which one they need is almost inevitable because of a series of factors:
Each industrial designer or design engineer has greed to get the job, so they do not make it clear to the customer what their function is.
The customer looks for a "one stop shop", so they want to accomplish everything in one shot, whereas they may need both an industrial designer and design engineer.
Designers believe to be something they are not. Some industrial designers believe to be design engineers as well, only to end up creating a product that is not functional or suitable for manufacturability. Whereas, some design engineers believe to be industrial designers as well, only to end up creating an ugly product that requires a three-armed person to use it.
It is both the industrial designers and design engineers' job to educate customers. If we compare them with doctors, doctors have done a much better job in educating their customers (patients) about their specialization. You never have a cosmetic surgery doctor performing brain surgery (or vice versa) due to the differences in specializations (and liability). It is very clear on what one can and cannot do. Unfortunately, it is not as clear what one can and cannot do in ID and DE. Therefore, it is a big mess.

When I started in the plastics injection molding industry 26 years ago, I was fortunate to be taught then the difference between ID and DE. And so, as a design engineer, I have always been careful not to step into the ID area. My job is to design a working product and send that to an industrial designer to dress it up.

Having worked with different customers of different backgrounds, I realized that industrial designers and design engineers very rarely recommend that their customers see the other (unlike doctors do). This is a matter of pride and business. There is a fear that the customer will think one is incompetent or that the customer will finish the project with the other one, although unbeknown to the customer the other one is not the expert in both.

I consistently receive product designs from industrial designers, in which case 99% the parts are not ready for manufacturing. They most often times need a draft angle added in order to eject the part from the mold or a wall thickness increased to accommodate the material specification. Somebody has to spend the time to redesign the part, and that has to be paid for by the customer. Often times, the customer does not understand the need to redesign and the sequence of events to validate. This situation creates confusion, frustration, and mistakes.

When a customer pays for a design, they expect the design to be ready for manufacturing. However, many times customers find themselves paying more and waiting longer for product redesign so that it is suitable for manufacturing. Therefore, know the difference between industrial design and design engineering, and ensure you know which one you are dealing with.

I still think the that basics of that article are still valid, but I have to agree that a strong collaboration between DE-ID-Marketing-Customer-User has to be improved.
I many cases the business/marketing people skip the direct interaction of the customer with designer because they think is redundant. In my opinion all the structures between Designer and User are neccesary but they have to live open the direct line Designer-User otherwise thre will be some "lost in translation" problems.
Try to think in this way--- How difficult would be today if we use the telephone line 60-70 years ago, when for connecting to people from NYC to LA at least two other people were requested.

Adam Smith

May 12, 2009 8:51 PM

My answer is yes but this is because design education has failed the profession. The "body of knowledge" required to sustain the design profession has been destroyed by the very institutions entrusted with creating that knowledge. The problem is two fold.

Over the last 20 years undergrad design education has retreated from the acceptance and inclusion of other disciplines as part of the curriculum. Initial design study today is either too pragmatic (sketching/CAD) or too esoteric (the discursive project). This stuff looks good in print, on the web and in the school prospectus but doesn't add to the nascent designers understanding, full stop. I see too many portfolio containing bikes, shoes and CAD fantasies or homeless shelters, sustainable, green or developing world feel good projects that walk the line between rejecting artifact and making it a savior.

The second problem is that many grad programs have not focused on creating advanced/professional knowledge that incorporates other disciplines and thus most design grad study has become irrelevant.
The mentioned grad programs at IIT, Stanford, etc. valuable models but just how many designers make it to these institutions? Most grad programs are the money maker for their design programs and therefore receive little scrutiny from the university. Students are often allowed to simply do an extended version of and undergraduate project: no new expertise is learned or created but the program makes a nice profit.

The problem is not that designers can't operate in different modes of practice but that education has given up on creating a profession filled with designers that understand how non-design knowledge/skill could be useful in creating a viable solution.

No professional "test" is going to make that right.

Valerie Romley

May 12, 2009 8:57 PM

The question should be Isn't Design Too Important To Be Done Without Research? Design for design's sake was the motto that was instilled in me in art school too many years ago, when idealistic teachers and designers didn't give much thought to user needs or experience.

Luckily today, we are seeing design come full circle but lest we be too intrepid and jump onto the "innovation" bandwagon without the data needed to create innovation.

Design is too important without investing in the research necessary to deliver the insights that foster innovation.

Stephanie

May 13, 2009 10:48 AM

The Future is collaborative. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Kengwei

May 13, 2009 6:12 PM

The topic itself is somehow confusing. As business men claim they are designers too, I guess I am not sure who are designers. Or what's designer? Bruce, I assume the designer you talking about is those who designs such as ID or DE. If that is the case than the answer will mostly be a yes. But design has been broaden so wide and so deep it has raise so many questions and debates in design school and business school. Again, using design or designer is confusing nowadays. What is really the design we all talking about here. Maybe it is time to simplify it.

Coming back to the subject, if you are talking about a broader term of design or designers nowadays, with all the respects, I don't think it is a proper subject line because business men as designer are doing design of business as everyone wants to be a "designer" of some sort.

Again, I feel very confused. Maybe we need a new word to better describe the practice rather than using "design".

Maybe we can "design" the new word?

Kengwei Lu
Director of Design
Idea Couture

Daniel Erwin

May 13, 2009 7:55 PM

The idea that design will be the basic education of the 21st century is fascinating, but indeed if this is the case then there is a lot of work left to do on the foundations of design. Essentially, design will have to engulf large parts of the nitty-gritty and creative parts of architecture, engineering, and science, along with the (largely invisible) iterative/critique processes of the arts and literature, and the multiple (bordering on infinite) viewpoints of the social sciences. It will then have to meld them all together into a structured, universal way to approach making things, meanings, and abstractions. This process was started by Christopher Alexander and Herbert Simon, and even today the work of people like E.O. Wilson, William Wimsatt, and Douglas Hofstadter show us the way towards developing structured approaches to seeing and creating structure that aren't limited by the old discipline boundaries.
As a student at the Institute of Design, I would be pleased and well-served if all studies are someday structured around the idea of "design," but it seems that there are so many opportunities - even responsibilities - opening up every day for practicing designers that (as Scott Pobiner pointed out) we generally don't have time to stop and explain it to the world.
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I think Russell Kroll has it right, as well as others who understand you don't just become a designer because you say you are or you are a corporate exec. It requires education, training and experience to achieve....and yes, it is teamwork, not a one person show or you will never reach that synergistic solution that goes beyond the indivisual

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I am not as literate or learned as many of the other commentators here but all I know is this; I have been working in the creative industry for 10 years, most of my "design skills" have been learned through trial and error, personal education and learning from other professionals. I do not consider myself the greatest designer but still find myself amongst people who have no skills or experience who think they know better than me, or think they know something about communicating visually. I think the time has come to certify designers; I would sit the test and if I failed accept it and resolve to improve my skills and understanding or leave it those that are! I don't think many others would though, too many think that "anyone can design".

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May 14, 2009 4:31 PM

I think the "anxiety" Bruce describes is that design decisions are increasingly being made *without the benefit of designers at all*. So-called "D-schools" teach students how to think like designers without teaching them how to design or about the actual process, practice, and craft of design (you know, trying color combinations, sketching ideas, drawing pictures, diagramming processes, cutting plastic, drilling metal, etc, etc).

I don't understand the hostility here. Bad design happens when disciplines don't collaborate. Demonizing designers isn't part of the solution.

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May 20, 2009 1:54 AM

I see that the issue of "Certification" of (industrial) designers has popped up again. I'm anxiously awaiting the first test that would adequately judge whether one was qualified to be a designer. Once we have that then it will only be a matter of time before all businesses will hire only "certified" designers, right? Or will they hire someone cheaper who claims to be a designer? Maybe a mechanical engineer already on staff will do the form giving? Until there is a legal reason for certification, e.g. building codes for architects, I don't see it happening.

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June 16, 2009 10:47 PM

My comment is ancient by blog standards but nonetheless, if anyone is interested in reading the original talk that led to Bruce's post with the incendiary title, a pdf can be found at: http://www.burdickoffices.com/Design-wo-Designers/

I am interested in how the appropriation of design by non-designers may give us (designers) insight into the power and definition of design. I believe that our focus on developing a design profession in service to industry has interfered with our ability to understand and advocate for design in larger terms. If design practitioners, educators, and researchers don't expand thinking about the field, we risk its dissolution into other fields who may do a better job at claiming its powers.

Of course this isn't a process that can be controlled and I do believe that there is much to be learned through exchange and the testing of boundaries. But I do think that "makers of stuff" need to be better advocates for their unique way of engaging with the world so that the "thinkers" out there--as if making were distinct from thinking--don't get it in their heads that a few post-it notes and a white board are all one needs to be a designer.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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