One of the thrills of design is the fact that it requires us to constantly challenge our understanding of the ordinary. The idea of taking something we know, something we take for granted, and improving upon it forces us as designers to redefine what it truly is. To a degree, this act of design demands that we question our own understanding, forcing us to define ideas and objects at their most base level, looking at the world in a new light.
Japanese designer Kenya Hara posed an interesting question in his book Designing Design. In it he asked how would a designer redefine or redesign a glass? He points out that standard methods of approaching this problem is to see a glass the same way the general public sees it—as a glass. But a designer should always look beyond the standard definition to find the best solution.
As a designer works through this problem, they would start by questioning just what defines a glass, what it does, and how it can be redefined into something better. At this point, they are more keenly aware of the glass than they had been before, simply through this act of questioning. It is this questioning, this open-mindedness, this ability to look beyond the ordinary at the world around us in extraordinary ways, that is essential to a designer in order to understand and evaluate how old solutions and new technologies will influence ideas and future designs.
As an designer and educator, it is this idea that I celebrate as my philosophy, as broken down into the following set of tenets:
Encourage alternate ideas and viewpoints_ With the global marketplace becoming a smaller, yet more diverse commodity, designers are no longer able to design for their immediate surroundings and make an impact of any significance. Inspiration and design intelligence can come from a series of disciplines, cultures, individuals, as well as an open mind into the possibility that the non-traditional solution may actually be appropriate. Embracing these will further develop a designer's understanding of how design fits into and inspires society.
Trust your peers_ Perhaps one of the most significant tools available to an educator is that of trust. Trust of the students that their professor knows what they are talking about and is there to share their knowledge to help them make their way in the profession. Trust of the professor that the students desire to learn. Without that trust, on either side, the education process grinds to a halt.
Educators should be constantly vigilant as they prepare their lessons and assignments, ensuring that these learning tools will continue to earn the attention and fuel the excitement of the students. Students should question everything, challenging the professor to alter their perceptions and continue to fuel the desire for knowledge on both sides of the lecture podium.
Have a plan_ When starting a new project, it is best to take a moment to review the ideas of the project and map out the intended results. A simple sketch, an outline, a series of check boxes, all allow for a more comprehensive understanding of the problem and the potential solution.
Frequently, students tend to jump into a project assignment, drafting their final solutions, without a clear understanding of the overall intentions of the project [at times, this same statement can be applied to their careers]. By taking more time early in the process to develop a plan of action, students are more able to determine what the potentials of the project might develop, including non-traditional solutions and new strategies. It becomes responsibility of the design professor to ensure that there is sufficient time built into the lessons and assignments to allow for this, and to provide a clear understanding of the prospects this will ensure.
Organize your toolbox_ When the only tool available is a hammer, all problems begin to look like nails. Design professors should help students realize that the hammer can also be used as a lever, a weight or even a pry-bar, that sometimes a rock might be a better hammer, and that not all nails are the same.
The toolbox of the designer should include historical precedence, peer review and collaboration, contemporary theory, interdisciplinary application, and universal principles, as well as digital and analogous representation techniques. This goes well beyond simple definitions of digital and analogue tools.
Teaching of software and composition is important to aid in understanding design ideas, but technique should be taught on a more fundamental level in order to avoid type-casting of specific tools or methods. Knowing how an application works on its most basic level allows the student/designer to know if it is the correct tool for the problem. Knowing how others have used these tools in the past helps further their ideas of how to apply them today.