Is Design Too Important To Be Left Only To Designers?

There is huge anxiety among designers and design educators at the encroachment of business, education, health, energy, transportation and other fields into Design. The evolution of Design from an individual working intuitively to shape beautiful things into a collaborative process of discovering what can come next and making it happen is attracting people to Design for new ways to journey through these confusing and uncertain times. The failure of existing modes of delivering services to consumers, students, patients, travelers, etc., is making Design a hugely important system of reframing old problems and creating new answers. Design Strategy, for example, is new—evolving out of simple design.

Indeed, there is a growing conversation about whether or not Design can replace Liberal Arts as the intellectual foundation for giving us the tools to navigate the 21st Century.

But in all these discussions and in all this stew of intellectual debate about Design, where are the voices of designers and design educators? Where is the body of theory in Design that you see coming out of Architecture, for example?

This is a question that Anne Burdick, chair of the Media Design Program at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, asked recently in a talk at Parsons School of Design. Anne pointed to business, the humanities and even physics (at MIT) as embracing design and using it without much input from designers. She said that discussions about Design as a Literacy, Design as a Discipline, Design as a Way of Knowing were under way at various universities—without much input from designers or design educators.

Why is that? Most of the evolution of design into Design/Innovation has taken place within the private business sector. Design/innovation consultancies, not the schools, have led the way. The embrace of social sciences by design began in places such as IDEO, Continuum, Ziba, Smart and Jump. The integration of sociology, anthropology, and psychology broadly into design gave it much greater

gravitas and power to do large-scale change. Since that work is done within consultancies, most of it is kept inside, perceived as IP not to be shared. When you read designers in these consultancies, they talk about fairly standard process and the successes of their own consultancies successes. It's more elementary explanation and marketing than theorizing.

There are exceptions. David Kelley, co-founder of IDEO and founder of the D-School program at Stanford, has talked much about Design Thinking. This was a huge step in opening up Design and its application to larger organizations and issues. Kelly bridges the private/academic worlds and the D-School Program may yet generate a serious body of thought on Design.

Patrick Whitney's IIT's Institute of Design is making important contributions in developing new techniques of ethnography that can quickly be employed to develop strategy. ID is the only graduate school in design that focuses almost entirely on organizational strategy (and opening the important debate over whether or not designers need to be able to make something to really understand the design process). Yet the vigor now infusing design appears to be coming from outside the field from non-designers. And it may very well be just fine that non-designers take design to the next level. But probably not. Design is still unpacking its intuitive powers as well as integrating new knowledge to make it even more powerful. One of the core competencies of design is the ability to integrate and iterate. Now is the time for the practice, the design practice, to do just that.

Is Design Too Important To Be Left Only To Designers? You tell me.

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