NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

(Re)coding designerly activity

Current and future challenges around food security, climate change, migration, health, politics, and the environment, require positive, creative and ethical responses. COVID-19 has added layers of complexity to these global challenges given its precarious and diffuse nature. As the virus continues to cause disruption and harm, it serves to exemplify the need for advanced capabilities in open communication, advanced collaboration, and critical and creative thinking - core competencies of design.


By Dr Beck Davis 

Current and future challenges around food security, climate change, migration, health, politics, and the environment, require positive, creative and ethical responses. COVID-19 has added layers of complexity to these global challenges given its precarious and diffuse nature. As the virus continues to cause disruption and harm, it serves to exemplify the need for advanced capabilities in open communication, advanced collaboration, and critical and creative thinking – core competencies of design.

New field FoRs include design anthropology, design for disaster relief, social design and service design. These categories expand the interpretation and understanding of the benefits and impact of design.

At the center of designerly thinking and action is the ability of designers to draw on and develop rigorous methods for managing uncertainty. Indeed, over the past two decades there has been a progressive shift in the methods used by the traditional disciplines of design, as designers respond to increasing social and environmental ambiguity. This shift is evident across research and education with an intensified focus on “wicked problems”[1], decolonising the curriculum, the addition of courses in collaborative design, emphasis on inter/cross/trans-disciplinarity, as well as social design methods and techniques. In practice, the shift is evident through the commissioning of professional design services that encompass research, facilitation, strategy, service and/or systems design.

The recent Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification[2] (ANZSRC) Fields of Research (FoR) Review exemplifies and affirms these shifts in practice and the reclassification of FoRs reflects a change in traditional and rigid interpretations of design. The updated FoRs ensure emergent activity is accurately described and accounted for through the new Group 3303 Design.

Importantly, these shifts recognise the unique and vital role designers play in bringing clarity, optimism and creative solutions to complex issues.

This (re)coding better illustrates contemporary design practice by mapping territories of design distinctly absent from prior ABS FoR Classification Standards. New field FoRs include design anthropology, design for disaster relief, social design and service design. These categories expand the interpretation and understanding of the benefits and impact of design. The (re)coding process also echoes changes in education. In recent years there has been a plethora of new programs in Interaction and Experience design (FoR 330310) such as those offered at the University of Technology Sydney, University of Sydney, Swinburne, Queensland University of Technology as well as groups like the User Experience group at Harvard and the MIT Design Lab.

Additionally, editing the Design history, theory and criticism FoR (330304) better captures the emerging field of critical design. This field of activity is best exemplified by recent works by Malpass Critical Design in Context (2017, Bloomsbury); Tharp & Tharp’s Discursive Design (2019, MIT Press); Feng & Feenberg’s (2009) chapter Thinking about Design: Critical Theory of Technology and the Design Process; as well as through journals such as Design Philosophy Papers (since 2003 Taylor & Francis). The change to this FoR also affirms recent theoretical movements such as Transition Design[3] initiated at Carnegie Mellon University, and the Decolonising Design[4] platform launched by a global network of emerging researchers to centre Indigenous knowledges and practices[5] and in doing so, call for a more rigorous critique of design histories, and methods for advancing design criticism.

Finally, the new FoRs for Service Design (330312), and Social Design (330313) best reflect industry trends as evidenced by practices such as Meld Studios (Melbourne), The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (Adelaide), Old Ways New (Sydney), CoDesign Studio (Melbourne) and Social Impact Consulting (through Deloitte). The emergence of new undergraduate and postgraduate design programs in Service and Social Design also reflects the FoR update. These courses are often co-located alongside design innovation programs as seen at RMIT (Melbourne), Royal College of Art (London), University of Arts (London), Glasgow School of Art (Scotland), and Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh). The global DESIS Network[6] also centres on design thinking and knowledge to research, document and disseminate social innovation methods, tools and best practices locally, regionally and globally.

It is evident the (re)coding of designerly FoRs reflects contemporary trends in research, education and practice, and asserts the role of the academe as a critical space for leading the reconceptualisation of future design activities. Importantly, these shifts recognise the unique and vital role designers play in bringing clarity, optimism and creative solutions to complex issues. While COVID-19 continues to be a period of great global flux and challenge, designers are well equipped to respond.  

 

Acknowledgement

This article draws on the DIA Submission to the ANZSRC Review 2019[7], which I prepared on behalf of the DIA in my capacity as DIA Director.

References

 [1] In this instance I refer to Rittel & Webber’s 1973 formulation in their paper Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), pp. 155-169.

[2] See the ABS ANZSRC Latest Release 2020 https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/classifications/australian-and-new-zealand-standard-research-classification-anzsrc/latest-release

[3] Refer to the Transition Design website created by Carnegie Mellon University https://transitiondesignseminarcmu.net/

[4] Refer to the Decolonising Design platform http://www.decolonisingdesign.com/

[5] Importantly new FoR Group and new Field codes have been created that specifically account for Indigenous Studies. The 6-digit FoRs that will impact how some researchers classify their work, include 450115 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research methods; 450510 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander design practice and management, and; 450607 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander innovation.

[6] Refer to the DESIS Network online https://www.desisnetwork.org/about/

[7] DIA Submission to ANZSRC Review: https://www.design.org.au/advocacy/submissions/submissions


Dr Beck Davis is Head of School at the Australian National University, School of Art and Design. Her research focuses on design studies, examining design teams and how they collaborate and respond to complex problems. She is also a Board Member of the Design Institute of Australia, and Art Monthly Australasia.

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