I gotta say: design papers have way friendlier-on-the-eye formatting and print layout than engineering papers. They use whitespace and reasonable fonts! In contrast, IEEE stylesheets seem to imply a DOOMFUL IMPENDING SHORTAGE OF TREES.

That having been said, I've just finished reading Ken Friedman's "Models of Design: Envisioning a Future Design Education" and the 2nd chapter of "Design Expertise" by Lawson and Dorst (full citations and plenty more notes at the zotero group) and am ruminating here for the benefit of the folks in my class and the small group discussion I'll be missing on Wednesday.

The first thing that struck me in the Friedman paper was Goran Roos's model of value creation, which is in a diagram that I can't reproduce here for copyright reasons, dammit. He drew a quadrant with these four things in it...

  1. Science & Technology (explanatory models - explaining reality, universal understanding)
  2. Art (expressing models - questioning reality, individual understanding)
  3. Hermeneutics (working models - improving reality, hermeneutic understanding)
  4. Design (exploring models - changing reality, subjective understanding)

...and stuck engineering square across all four of them, suggesting that engineering spanned all these components. In contrast, the curricular triangle used to discuss All Classes Ever at Olin (my alma mater) had design as the spanning, unifying element, with engineering, entrepreneurship, and humanities/arts/social-sciences as the three legs.

So is design part of engineering, or is engineering part of design? My answer: yes. This is something that "Design Expertise" discusses, that all models of design (and engineering, and many other big, messy, and complicated things) are imperfect, getting at some things and missing others. Part of the great struggle for my teenage self encountering "design thinking" for the first time was my obstinate tendency to hunt for The Algorithm, The Solution, The Great Grand Unified Underlying Theory -- I was okay with paradoxes, but only those that could be clearly expressed in equations, like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and only those that were right. (In my defense, I was 17 at the time and on something of a theoretical physics kick.) Part of the gradual awakening that happened for me during college was the notion that there might be a multiplicity of conflicting answers, and that all of them could be right.

You'll never find that as an answer format in the back of a textbook, though -- a solutions guide that argues with itself? It'd confuse the students hopelessly -- which is why I'd love to write it. Wim Groeneboom's complaint about teaching design-as-algorithm to minimize student anxiety is dead on:

"..through this kind of teaching [with a fixed design method to follow] we take away the insecurity of the students. It is a way of quickly and efficiently explaining design but that is deadly. Students have to learn to deal with uncertainty, and we take that away by this kind of teaching... In the end, I would say that dealing with uncertainties is the core of our design profession."

YEAH! LET'S MAKE STUDENTES INSECURE! Er, in a supportive, nurturing environment. That reassures them that they are wonderful people who happen to be horribly confused at the moment, but who will someday emerge from this Stronger and Wiser for having undergone a metamorphosis. I'm not sure how one does this; I think it's more an art than a science, and it's something the teachers I admire most can do consistently. I am trying to learn this art of scaffolding somebody else's bravery -- what makes someone plunge into a dark underwater cave with the certainty that they'll find their way through the tunnel into the light before they run out of air? (Maybe Bandura's theories behind self-efficacy have something to say here.)

If coping with chaos is part of design, what gives good designers the assurance and courage to plunge into the chaos?