This week's readings opened with a quote (at the start of chapter 3 of Lawson, B., & Dorst, K. (2009). Design expertise. Oxford, UK; Burlington, MA: Architectural Press) about the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition, which has long been a favorite framework of mine.

If one asks an expert for the rules he or she is using, one will, in effect, force the expert to regress to the level of a beginner and state the rules learned in school. Thus, instead of using rules he or she no longer remembers, as the knowledge engineers suppose, the expert is forced to remember rules he or she no longer uses... No amount of rules and facts can capture the knowledge an expert has when he or she has stored experience of the actual outcomes of tens of thousands of situations. (Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 2005)

The development of expertise can sometimes be at odds with the development of reflection-in-action, sort of like strength and flexibility. Lest you become musclebound or noodle-limbed, you need to develop the two in loose tandem -- not exactly in lockstep, because they'll leapfrog each other, but just making sure you don't end up saddled with too much unconscious process or too little actual skill.

Famous flautist James Galway advises learning the flute by first blowing across just the head joint -- worry about the fingering and such later. This reminds me of the practice of scaffolding in cognitive apprenticeship -- little by little, you give novices more and more complicated tasks to do, starting them off with simple things and getting them more involved in the full process as they gain skill (but letting them see the full complex process the entire time, whispers the "transparency! transparency!" voice in my brain).

Later in my readings, I started running into issues. If expertise is about fluency with context (according to Dreyfus & Dreyfus), and design requires fluency in context (according to pretty much all decent designers; you don't just randomly make something for nowhere and nobody, you create designs for situated spaces that you'd better understand)... does all good design require expertise? Is it possible for novice designers to come up with "good designs" (what does "good" mean?) and if so, are any "good" novice designs an inadvertent accident? Hm. How do I answer my own question?

One attempt: design isn't just a straight-up cognitive apprenticeship; it's a ridiculously multi-disciplinary cognitive apprenticeship (or a combination of many cognitive apprenticeships in many disciplines) and people will enter at different levels for every domain and develop at different rates in each of them, so a designer might be novice in one domain and intermediate in another and expert in a third, and their design might be correspondingly "good" along some facets and not others.

As for what "good" design is (or what "design" is), we can look at the work of Shanna Daly for some clues. She looks at ways various fields describe design -- how does a choreographer describe design compared to an architect or a chemical engineer, for example? She found that some domains view design as (for instance) evidence-based decision making while others view it as directed creative exploration -- in other words, they literally see design differently.

This implies that different domains might disagree on the quality of the same design (because of their different criteria) and also on which designers demonstrate "expertise" in design. This is something that's peculiar to design and other madly multi-disciplinary fields There are certainly many facets to single-domain things like flute-playing; people enter at different levels for certain skills like tone production, sightreading, etc. and progress at different rates for each of them as well. However, there will be more general agreement among flautists -- whether they're classical musicians or beatbox as they play the flute -- regarding who is a "good" flute player than there will be among designers of many different varieites on who is a "good" designer.

A final thought and a throwback to Dreyfus: we hear a lot about how innovations in a field can come from newbies who don't know what's impossible yet -- people not constrained by the conventional view of what's "good." Dreyfus & Dreyfus, on the other hand, describe this stage as being "visionary," and they put it even higher than "expert" -- and I agree. Novices can sometimes have visionary thoughts, but it's hard to be a true visionary and create change without mastering a domain first -- the impact is hit-or-miss otherwise because you don't know the context you're transforming. I think this is why I feel so uncomfortable with radically transparent research right now; maybe it'll change the research world someday, but I need to learn the research world before I can change it, otherwise I'm just spouting hubris. It's a tough balance to strike, knowing a context but not being mentally bound by it, knowing the world as it is and being able to imagine things beyond it.

For anyone who wants to be an agent of change, that's the challenge; that's the balance. Get out there and master, but don't get musclebound by your mastery. Good luck.