What more does design education need to do…?
We all agree, by now, that in design education, simply teaching methods and technical skill are not enough. Reading this line in ‘This is Service Design Thinking’ (Stickdorn & Schneider 2010) section by Renato Troncon, spun off a few thoughts. He says ‘It is crucial not to teach students only how to make gloves without ever telling them to practice by shaking hands with their neighbours, or carelessly removing their gloves with the indolence of a great theatre actress; or to study interior furnishing without ever visiting the cell of the historically seminal monk and reformer Savonarola…’ (p. 320) led me to think, then, ‘where do you draw the line’? Life experiences enriches a designer’s approach to design – undergraduate students are often not emotionally ready to engage with certain things – its just that simple. If extra-curricular activities are encouraged at school, why not at Uni/College?
A few other things also came up during the Service Design Network Melbourne Q+A discussion where Michelle stated that design education ‘doesn’t teach implementation’, but my thoughts were, ‘how can it be taught’? Some things are better understood outside of ‘formalised’ classrooms, or taking the apprenticeship model, by simply learning these contexts by jumping into actual work with others. By no means, I am not being defensive – most design undergraduate programs are woeful (and that’s another whole blog post that I can dedicate to) and much work is needed to improve their standards – so I come back to my opening question – where do you draw the line?
Compassion and ethics..?
A few weeks ago, I was invited to take part in a facilitated workshop on ‘building a vision for Melbourne’ with Green’s MP Adam Bandt at The Hub Melbourne. There were a range of participants from education, like myself, and others from non-profit organisations, local government, greens members and various industry groups. This workshop was organised so that we, as a group, could contribute to this ‘vision’ for the city of Melborune and for Adam to potentially campaign and implement through his role and input in policies. We broke up into tables that each had a theme – sustainability, equality and compassion – and the groups were given roughly 45min to identify the problems and suggest ideas for implementation.
With the recent contentious Carbon Tax debate, this workshop potentially was a way to generate practical ideas and avenues to address sustainability and social inclusion – two key agendas of the government. The workshop seemed to be mainly greens/labor supporters – so no climate skeptics there – and with a one-sided discussion, it could easily promote an idealistic, skwewed perspective, which was a concern.
The workshop and group discussion sounds good in theory, but there were several issues that were problematic. I was on the ‘compassion’ table and with such a value-laden word, there was no time to agree on what ‘compassion’ meant which led to divergent interpretations about ‘caring’, ‘diversity’, respect’, ‘voice’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘empathy’. Broad generalisations were also made, for example, ‘people don’t care about eachother anymore’, or ‘people don’t have the time’, that also hindered a collective understanding of the issue. The conversation on our table was fraught with tension – those who had the largest voice usually got their point across – some talked over others – we quibbled over terminologies – and ironically, there was very little ‘compassion’ manifesting and being enacted on our table. I felt that the ideas that we proposed, was therefore ‘hollow’ in meaning.
Attending this workshop highlighted a critical neglect in our own discourse in design. It made me realise how ‘compassion’ or ‘empathy’ is a cornerstone for designers, yet little is discussed about its importance, possibly owing to the engineering, sciences or Modernist traditions that highlight roles and functions insead. Designers who have empathy for those they design for and with, are able to engage and create authentically trusting relationships, thereby leading to more meaningful interaction and outcomes. But how do we generate /educate empathy or compassion? Are these values we are born with, nurtured through our parents or taught through formal/informal education in culture/society? Some of these questions also surfaced in our table’s discussion and they seemed very philosophical and deep to be tackled in 10 min!