On Buchanan’s vision of “The Future of Design"
Buchanan begins by disusing the future of design research, introducing the ideas of John Dewey and Herbert Simon. In 1983, soon after his Art As Experience book, Dewey published Logic: The Theory of Inquiry in which he states:
Inquiry is the controlled or directed transformation of an indeterminate situation into one that is so determinate in its constituent distinctions and relations as to convert the elements of the original situation into a unified whole. (Dewey, 1938)
The key elements of inquiry in Dewey’s proposed methodology here, identified by Buchanan, are:
(1) the indeterminate situation, (2) the formation of a problem for inquiry, (3) the distinctions and relations that may be discovered in a directed 6 transformation of the situation, and (4) the unified outcome that is produced. (Buchanan, 2005)
Buchannan poses that this list is more of a reflection of the design process of a practising designer. He then goes on to contrast Dewey’s theory of practise with that of Herbert Simon, who offered a counter methodology of design.
Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. The intellectual activity that produces material artifacts is no different fundamentally from the one that prescribes remedies for a sick patient or the one that devises a new sales plan for a company or a social welfare policy for a state. Design, so construed, is the core of all professional training; it is the principal mark that distinguishes the professions from the sciences. (Simon, 1968)
This is a rather idealistic stance on design as not all design acts to help people but to poorly remedy social issue in order to avoid a cure, for instance antisocial design/hostile architecture/unpleasant design, intended to frustrate or deter people form using them. More information and examples on this form of design can be found here https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/unpleasant-design-hostile-urban-architecture/.
Buchannan interprets Simon’s work as trying to integrate design into more scientific fields, namely cognitive psychology. Though, Buchannan does acknowledge that Simon is making a distinction between his general logic for design and empirical logic utilised by science. Ultimately Buchanan seems to prefer Dewey’s definition of inquiry as he sees it more suited for design, from which he derives the three broad forms of design inquiry; the practising designer; nature of design; and the extension of design thinking. Which can be interpreted as present study, past study and future study (which maybe better described as lateral study) respectively.
On Blauvelt's "Remaking Theory, Rethinking Practice"
Blavault’s writing begins by introduces the topic of design vs theory as a source of contention within the field. Wherein he cites the arguments of one J. Abbott Miller as an example of an “anti-intellectual reaction” to theory in design.
One always hears complaints about the 'dumbing-down' of design in journalism, but shouldn't we be equally critical of the 'smarting-up' of design for academic audiences? (Miller, 1996)
Where in theory is acknowledged as useful but its overtellectuaization interferes with the intuitive practise of design. The point is countered by the concerns that theory is too vague or abstract to be used by practising designers.
Blavault proposes that a middle ground be found between these to view points, by doing as his essay tittle suggests – rebuilding theory by considering and reflecting on how we go about the practise of design in order to gain a realistic theory of the design practise that is demystified.
It is also important to recognize that graphic design, no matter how it is practiced, fashions its own theories about making that help give it meaning, significance, and legitimacy. Just as it is impossible to honestly entertain the notion of being outside of politics, it is equally impossible to imagine any practice of design that is somehow independent of, or beyond, a theory of practice. (Blauvelt, 2005)
Blavualt note that this self-reflection of the industry and stems from the double-edged sword which is technology, specifically the personal computer.
With the threat of every personal computer owner becoming a desktop publisher, graphic design was in danger of demystifying its professional practice and abdicating its perceived role as a "gatekeeper" to mass communications. Simultaneously, the personal computer expanded the range of media and skills needed by graphic designers in the areas of motion, sound, and interactivity, for example, which threatened the very definition of graphic design rooted in the world of print. (Blauvelt, 2005)
This massive expansion of the skill set requisite for a designer is forcing practitioners to redefine what they are. Designers are now required to be highly skilled polymaths or highly specified in a craft, in order to compete. These problems are further expanded in the consideration that past design is becoming more irrelevant as technology develops and formats and means of interacting with design fundamentally changes, thus making the future of the design increasingly volatile. Blavault cites and interview with Ellen Lupton on the role of theory:
Theory has opened up a multitude of ways that we can understand our work, but it will not tell anyone how to produce a better or more interesting design. Graphic design will continue to be measured-or seen-through its visual manifestations, in all their variety. (Lupton, 1996)
A theory in this model would ground work that from which design is to be navigated and to ask questions about and through work, thereby is integral to the process of design.
Blauvelt, A., 2005. Remaking Theroy, Rethinking Practise. In: S. Heller, ed. The Education of a Graphic Designer. s.l.:Allworth Press, pp. 102-108.
Buchanan, P. R., 2005. Design as Inquiry: The Common, Future and Current Ground of Design. Melbourne, Australia: Monash University.
Dewey, J., 1938. Logic: The Theory of Inquiry. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Lupton, E., 1996. In: Mixing Messages: Graphic Design and Contemporary Culture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, p. 173.
Mars, R., 2016. 99% Invisible. [Online]
Available at: https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/unpleasant-design-hostile-urban-architecture/
[Accessed Monday 11th February 2019].
Miller, J. A., 1996. What Did You Do in the Design Studio, Daddy?. Eye 6, Issue 22, p. 6.
Simon, H. A., 1968. The Sciences of the Artifical. 1st ed. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Design In Context
Daniel Thomas Coates, graphic designer based in the UK. Currently a student at the University of Cumbria, Carlisle.