Education and the Age of Biology | wk1_2

Hugh Dubberly talks about the shift in design that is occurring at this time in history. In a similar fashion to the entry of the industrial age we have now shifted into the information age. What does this mean to the designer?  Dubberly begins the article by discussing the shift from mechanical ethos to that of an organic ethos.

In the technical mechanical ethos age – we become reliant on machinery and technology. Perhaps too much so. Technology keeps changing the way we live, communicate, how we perform our work and how we design. We have placed a great deal of emphasis on the tools of design. Trying to place graduates has led to the act of beefing up tangible workplace skills – predominantly software that gives voice to the design.

Couple the emphasis on software as design with the availability of anyone to have and use software the field has found itself in need of rejuvenation.  An infusion of purpose beyond the artifact.

Technology remains necessary.  Dubberly states this, “But computer-as-production-tool is only half the story; the other half is computer-plus-network-as-media.” [1]  He goes on to say that the output of design is changing the way that we view the practice of design.  Dubberly’s description of networking, process flow and information processing brings to mind the blood system of humans. Dubberly draws this contrast, “The eras are framed as stark dichotomies to characterize the nature of changes. But experience is typically more fluid, lying along a continuum somewhere between extremes.” [1] He even talks about how we refer to instances of computer malfunctions as bugs, attacks as viruses, and so forth. Notice a trend in the language?

What is this infusion that goes beyond what Dubberly calls “hand-craft” or artifact design, “service-craft.” Dubberly quotes Wired Editor, Kevin Kelly,  “commercial products are best treated as though they were services. It’s not what you sell a customer, it’s what you do for them. It’s not what something is, it’s what it is connected to, what it does.” [1] This is not to say that there is no room for “hand-craft” in fact it is part of the larger “service-craft.”  Service-craft looks at the systems of design. It works out extensive what ifs and why’s as well as what would be better for everyone.  Not everyone will want to be a “service-craft” designer and some will find “hand-craft” not enough.

At the end of the article, Dubberly wonders if one school can bring together hand-craft and service-craft.  At one time while having a similar discussion about design thinking, my thoughts lead to the stages or levels of education as an indicator as to the degree the designer would be involved in design thinking.  This could also be said about “service-craft.” Not every student will want to evolve past the enjoyment of creating artifacts.  The  pedagogy of a career college or associate/certificate degree may very well be heavy on the “hand-craft.” Whereas a four-year gives the student even more time to develop methodologies, understanding and a personal aesthetic.

Many discussions with seasoned designers lets me know that design thinking and the age of organic ethos is nowhere near their thoughts, they are too busy meeting the needs of their clients. Yet once the discussion begins interest is piqued. Either that or total dismay.

For this reason, the inclusion of systems design, or “service-craft” should be in the conversation even in the first year.  So often we set out own limitations on what is possible simply because we haven’t been exposed to anything larger.  Just as the computer should be introduced and used as a tool, our brains and soul should be called upon in design – the part of us that makes to affect change for the better.  Many of us just never knew that as a designer this is possible.

[1] Design in The Age of Biology: Shifting from a Mechanical-Object Ethos to an Organic-Systems Ethos.”, September 1, 2008.

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