Sensing the Terrain

If design pedagogy emphasised process and mindset over the material outcome, what would the individual’s experience be?

Figure 1.

The design process requires multi-modal thinking. There is no formula – it can be linear or non-linear, challenging or effortless, simple or complex. Experienced designers understand this, and typically work intuitively – rather than consciously – through the process until reaching a satisfactory outcome. The intangibility of this process presents a significant challenge for learners, educators, and practitioners as typically the primary concerns are the material outcomes.

This obsession with the material outcome in both design education and professional practice is reinforced by assessment, award schemes and more broadly by society itself. Placing such value on the end product undermines the importance of how the artefact came to be. At times designers are asked to reveal the process behind a specific project. However, the verbal and visual articulation of the process too often becomes a polished package akin to the material outcome itself. There is no denying that these anecdotal recounts aim to explicitly reveal aspects of the process, however, much of that communicated relies on implicit and tacit knowledge of the process itself. Do these edited narratives unmask the process, or do they perpetuate the mystery and allure surrounding both creator and outcome? How authentic are these recounts and what could be gained from discussing the less tangible aspects of the process? Do these project and process stories assist learners or do they directly speak to those already in the know? These narratives do support the idea there is a correlation between process and material outcome, but the question remains how can we balance the emphasis, so process and learner mindsets are valued higher.

The research seeks to balance the emphasis on what we value and how it is measured. It seeks to redirect attention away from the material outcome and take a holistic approach to the learning experience. Rather than following the status quo, it looks to reimagine design education by centring the focus on learner mindsets, and the thinking modes required during the design process. On a micro level, the research will address how we effectively support learners so they can act as improvisers, creators, strategists, leaders, and collaborators, but also how to operate in reflective and singular modes. This skill of switching mindsets is challenging, yet one that is essential for learning and design practice.

Researchers outside of design have explored the value of cultivating specific mindsets through brain-training exercises and mindfulness. However, mindset development largely sits on the periphery of the design process and remains isolated from learning and practice. This research proposes to embed these ideas into the process and assessment rather than perpetuating society’s obsession with the material outcome.

It is important to note that the primary factors of learning, mindset and process, are equally applicable to participants and facilitators. Every interaction is like a dance, you can move together, part ways or trip over each other — everyone plays a role in how the performance comes together. Breaking with the traditional hierarchal structures in education allows individuals to participate and contribute to learning environments in ways previously not possible. You are unlikely to see the words student and teacher within the research documentation, but you may see flattened or flipped hierarchal structures.

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