Sunday, September 20, 2009

Interesting conversation on the PhD in Design Listserve

Below is something shared on the PhD in design listserve...what do you think is going on?

Date: Thu, 17 Sep 2009 09:24:40 -0400
From: Charles Burnette <
Subject: Re: exceeding the brief

A similar experience. I presented a group problem solving technique at three different Universities. At the distinguished research university (The University of Pennsylvania) the student's questioned everything thoroughly and intelligently but never entered into the process. At the more vocationally focussed university (Drexel) the students required much more guidance, were more rule bound, and got to a solution much more tentatively. At the art based university (The University of the Arts) the students entered into the process readily, explored it creatively and came out with the best outcomes (in my judgment). Each group seemed to manifest the nature of their institution and education. Design education clearly biases students to
seek creative solutions (hopefully with sensitivity, intelligence, rigour, etc.) It is no surprise that they behave as they do. Similarly, communication students seek to find an expression understood and acceptable to the communicants involved. But I have never met a "well behaved traditional art student" that manifested that view! Their own goals and understandings usually guide their behavior, or so I believe. Hopefully, as design education gains a seat in the University and becomes more user oriented it will become better at contextualized communication - yet still hang on to its creative edge.


Kevin said...

In response to the group problem solving techniques at three universities – This is likely a result of (a) selectivity bias, (b) students not trusting their own experience/tacit knowledge, and (c) students imitate professors in order to improve their grades.

Students are likely to pick universities with like-minded students and institutional values. Coming from a small Lutheran university, I can absolutely confirm that Valpo students are a different breed than Purdue students. Therefore, the differences in problem solving may be in part due to the type of students choosing a certain school and not so much on what or how the school is teaching the students. To better confirm the influence of university design teachings, it may be better to compare say Purdue to Indiana University (considering students come from similar educational/socio-economic backgrounds and all chose a public institution).

The difference is also likely a result of students not trusting their own experience. Instead, students tend to imitate their professors/ bosses who they view as ‘experts’. Given that the common thread of all the students at the universities is their design professor(s), this may further explain similarities.

Finally, students are adaptable. For instance, I change my writing style constantly depending on what a professor or advisor seems to prefer. Perhaps, students similarly change their design process depending on whom they are currently working under or with.

As for the readings, here are my questions/comments:

1) The old adage that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes seems to hold true. Designers have a heightened awareness of their tacit knowledge after a surprising result (which could be a failed design).
2) It may be hard to distinguish between irrational personal prejudices/biases and rational tacit knowledge. For example, think of the case of the banker getting the wrong vibe from business partners for reasons he could not explain. In that case, he trusted his gut and was correct, but what if he just had some hidden racial prejudice?
3) Reflection/‘back-talk’ seems to be helpful, but could it not actually disrupt the ‘groove’ at times? For instance, in a think-aloud study, does the constant back-talking disrupt a natural process or is it just triggering tacit knowledge, which is then rationalized in order to ‘move’ the problem along?
4) I still would love to see an econometric model be created out of the freshmen and senior quality scores with a few more years of observation.
5) Based on the results of the Adams et al. (2003) paper, does this suggest that teachers should focus more on problem definition?

tforin said...

I really had fun thinking about reflective practice and that truly influences design. Having to deal with "surprise" during the design process is perhaps the best term used to describe what begins the iterative process. As a designer, I hate having to readjust the flow of my work and admit that something was overlooked, but yet I know that my design can't be worth much, if I don't cover as many of its facets as I can.

I find that I learn more as I deal with the various "surprises" that I find. I'm given a chance to really branch out and expand my knowledge base. I feel that the reflective practice method allows the designer and the design to grow together. That's a valuable asset to a designer. The more breadth and depth you are able to secure through the experience of designing, the better your designs can be.

As far as thinking about teaching design, I agree with Kevin's comment about focusing on problem definition. The issue though is how do instructors effectivly teach students something as amorphic as problem definition. Depending on what frame you are using the problem will be different. I also suspect that focusing on problem definition might also lead to design fixation, if students believe that their particular frame is the ideal frame. I believe that while problem definition is a very important step to design, no single student can account for ever possible facet of a problem. I would think that there is greater value in having a student understand that there is a large amount of complexity and variablity within a design problem. The student has to adjust according to these complexities and it's up to the instructor to give the student some means of coping with these changes and being comfortable in dealing with a morphing problem. Perhaps it's a topic that should be taught and reinforced throughout a student's educational career.

Eric Holt Design said...

It appears that the students are “reflecting” their design bias because of the training or experience they have had at this point in your career. That is very interesting to see. If I reflect on my own design learning journey, I realize just how many things have guided or influenced my design style and process: Education, belief system, geographical location, other design and building professionals that I interact with, past clients both good and bad, personal tastes and preferences, my learning style, the type of design projects that I have been involve with, and all a good experience I've learned from all the bad design that I have done.

I have the same question number three as Kevin. The reflection/backtalk does the job to gather data, but is it a true reflection of the process going on in the mind or knowledge of the designer? And how do you account for the influence or bias of the researchers presence in the process?

michihcim said...

1) Reflective-in-action sounds a lot like the schema theory of learning. An existing schema is challenged by surprise or inconsistency, and the learner experiments with new “theories” and adapt his schema. This is a parallel that I can think of. Is there other ways of talking about reflective practice? How does other field besides design talk about it?
2) When the routine is challenged, meaning reflection-in-action, does it still work in the space of tacit knowledge?
3) I started the reading with Schon. I wondered how as researchers we can investigate the reflective behavior if there is much not being said. (Schon’s example to me was hard to understand…). Valkenburg commented that researching reflective practice can be subjective. It is very nice to see how the Adams article operationalize the framework by observing the problem setting and solving iterative process. Valkenburg used diagrams that allowed analysis with the framework. (And thank you Valkenburg for defining the terms!)
4) Talking about the diagram, I was trying to draw a reflective practice diagram when reading Schon with some key words he mentioned. Such as free space, moves, implications, repretoir, surprise, commitment. In thinking about this, I realize I do not understand what Schon meant by global or local experiment. Anyone with thoughts on that?
5) I like it that we read papers that work with the same data through different lens. I struggled with the idea of “looking through a specific perspective” in qualitative class, and this would be a perfect example of how agglomerate findings through different frameworks let us see the phenomena (in this case, design) better.

Valkenburg did a good critique on Schon’s work. She (??) didn’t mention the banker example which I did not see the connection to reflective practice. It is more like a hindsight 20/20 story to me.

Laura said...

My thoughts on the conversation are similar to Kevin's. The way students "design" will vary so much based on all kinds of factors - what university they go to, who they're working with, their major, what region of the world they're in, etc. It's interesting going to grad school now and doing homework with students from so many different backgrounds - when we compare, we almost never have gone about problems in a similar way. And we all are chemical engineering majors - but our undergraduate university and where we're from are all different, and that influences how we go about solving the problems.

So, in this conversation, obviously the students' majors are a main influence of how they designed - but it would be interesting to see what other factors came into play also. Which brings me back to something that we discussed and that was bugging me last week, about how the different backgrounds (or the different "toolboxes) of each student can change their design process so much.

Kat said...

Regarding to the "e-mail" question, I think what stroke me was that, I always thought that designers from different cultural bachgrounds would design differently in terms of the "creative" and "artistic"part, but I had never thought that more research oriented students would show that much difference in comparison to the more vocational students of almost the same discipline. Now that I read it it makes sence of course, since the final outcome always depends on the initial problem definition and the designer's perspective abaout it. What partially contradicts this position though is the fact that althought the "expert" has different expectation from the different groups of students, she coulf not predict the quality of their work.

When it comes to the readings I was reflecting-in action when reading them, trying to remember if I was ever reflecting-in action when I was designing. I can remember instances that I was using a tool to design and had moments that i relised that "I can do something easier or faster like that" but i am not exactly sure if thought regarding the tools can be reflections about the design process. Looking at diagrams that represent design cycles I can see thought processes and working processes, but i guess the use of a new tool automatically changes the both of them.

AD said...

Pushing the 5pm deadline as I’ve been stuck in the ENGR of 2020 workshop all day and I’m off to my evening class… looking back over the readings, my thoughts/questions follow:
1) Schon refers to each move as “a local experiment which contributes to the global experiment of reframing the problem” … this was interesting to me in the notion that there are little design processes occurring within the frame of the entire process. This is reiterated again later when Schon refers to how “the designer must oscillate between the unit and the total.”
2) Valkenburg says that “it looks like Petra ‘forgot’ to design a building” … she was so overwhelmed by the “screwy” slopes and problem’s constraints that she missed the basic objective. I think this happens a lot with more novice designers. They/we get wrapped up in the problematic parts of the design and cannot see the big picture.
3) I had a problem with how Valkenburg begins by really bashing Schon’s work. Of course it had its shortcomings and unclear parts, but it seems to have been inspiration for a lot of other research and encouraged thought about the concepts he presented.
4) I have to echo Kevin’s third comment about back-talk possibly taking a designer out of “the groove” … but I think we came to the agreement last week that verbal protocol studies are a necessary evil for the analysis of design process until we develop mind-reading abilities.

Bethany Fralick said...

After class last week and our discussion of how to teach design, I was trying to come up with a list of helpful 'tools' or skills that designers draw upon. These skills could be taught to students in hopes that they could apply them to solve design problems. Problem definition, as Kevin and Tiago discussed, is important. How do we teach students to understand the problem? Any ideas of what kind of tool that would be?

SpngRoy SqrPants said...

It sounds like the research students are trying to bound the problem or from the reading “frame” it. Perhaps they already had their own internalized problem solving techniques and had to be CONVINCED to adopt a new one. The art students seem more comfortable with addressing problem sets from various standpoints and strategies. For example: “Express yourself on this sheet of paper…Express yourself with a sculpture…etc” dealing with constraints and open ended questions with each medium requiring a different “attack” mode.
Dr. Adams can you tell what kind of institution we came from based on our interpretations? :)
I would like to add a caveat (I never get to use that word!) to Reflection. As we saw last week with the timing sheets showing iterations of experts and novices – it is import what you iterate on. I think with reflection that the experts know what reflection questions to ask and spend their time on those, think about how the student in the Schon reading got stuck. Mindless iteration does not translate to high quality designs maybe the same applies to reflection. I disagree with one of the criticisms of Schon in the Valkenburg paper. Valkenburg states that the conversation between the Teacher and student was not Reflection in Action but it was Reflection on Action. I believe it contained both. The pair were reflecting on what had been done but Schon emphasized the Teacher’s own performance while imposing his own geometry to the situation and reflecting on the implications.