[Design Studies] A brief overlook of design studies

by bushra

A brief overlook of Design Studies

Mehdi Torabi

“Design” seems to be a simple word which everyone knows its meaning. It is pervasively being used in different human and even non-human activities from cooking to engineering. Also, it is a popular term – used as an adjective- in marketing that emphasizes the potential quality of products. However, there is still no agreement on a general and common definition of what exactly design is, especially defining design as a purposeful action. Intuitive, unconscious, mystical, non-verbal, and indescribable are adjectives that are usually used to illustrate the design as a verb. As a consequence, the Design Study emerged to shed light on this mysterious realm of design.

Nigel Cross has categorized design research in three main categories of people, process and product. I will discuss Design in this column from the second viewpoint that aims for study of practices and processes of design. Hence, in the first article of this column, to have a general understanding of the state of the art of design, I present a brief overview of the history of design studies.

The modernism movement aimed to apply the scientific methods for dealing with complex problems of society. In this regard, Bauhaus in the 1920s was the first academy that was established for methodological education of design in different disciplines. “Conference on Design Methods” held in London in 1962 was the emergence of “Design Research Society” where different academics gathered to share their studies about design methodology and process. It is interesting to note here that launching the first artificial Earth satellite by Soviet Union’s – Sputnik – was one of the key events that triggered the study of the development of creativity techniques in the united states. Consequently, the government devoted the huge budget to do researches on creativity, assuming that American scientists and engineers are less creative.

The history of design studies has closely related to the design methodology and design process. As we mentioned before, the 70th decades were a flourishing period of design methodology studies. However, at that time there were opposite sounds against this approach. In fact, critics have problem with attaching “-logy” to method because they thought methodology is a machine language and logical framework. The root of this disapproval was in the postmodernism movement and socio-cultural climate of that era and criticism of modernism rationality. Moreover, there was not enough evidence that confirms the value of methodology in the designing process. Although methodologists from introducing time of design methodology tried to distinguish science methods from design methods, they somehow accepted these kinds of criticisms by labeling these primary efforts as first-generation methods and opened a new prospect for the development of design methodology and its future generations.

In fact, after world war II the Europe and U.S societies encountered new and complex problems like the cold war between eastern and western block countries, the reduction of male labor, lots of destroyed cities, economic crises, and etc. Hence, considering the Design as problem-solving and the necessity of optimized decisions pushed methodologists to inspire from rational methods in science and engineering and incorporate them with the design process. However, the first-generation methodologists were incompetent to overcome the complex problems of society due to their simple and abstract models for various type of problems.

While in the first-generation the objectives were defined by scientists or designers and therefore were rigid, the second generation, affected by the socio-political debates, involved users in identifying objectives and problems and this cooperative approach has been pursued up to now. Besides, the nature of problems in Design and science are different. While scientific methods are based on analyzing and focusing on what exists and aims to find a solution for problems, the Design methods goal is inventing and predicting potential problems that do not exist. These kinds of problems are known as wicked, ill-defined, or ill-structured problems. For every wicked problem there is always more than one possible explanation and each wicked problem is a symptom of another, higher-level problem. Therefore, in second-generation the design and science methodology diverge each other.

In parallel with this research, another development accrued in the realm of computer science and almost transformed all the fields of technology. In the AEC industry Computer-aided architectural design (CAAD) which emerged in 1960 to help architects and designers to release from the hardship of traditional drafting on paper, gradually developed and nowadays has become an integral part of the design process. Technological inventions in computer industries were tools and techniques to assist designers and reduce the time and cost of designing. However, the evolution of the automated procedure in decision- making and problem-solving by machine, which was known as Artificial Intelligence opened a new vista later. Generative design, Genetic algorithms, Cellular Automata, L-systems, and etc. are different methods of AI application in architecture. It seems that these kinds of methods are merely some automated processes to solve designing problems. However, we should consider that the logic of AI is completely different from humans. Also, suppose a future situation in such a way that machines could gather and analyze data from different sources then decide and act without the need for initial human inputs. Accordingly, we can conclude that AI in design could be the next and evolutionary generation of design methodology and its process.








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