Using an experimental design course directed at industrial design undergraduate students as a study case, this study explores what new approaches towards design education can be applied to foster a contextually based practice within a post-industrial context. Understanding design as a fundamental trait of being human and a key factor influencing the quality of life the authors argue for design education informed by both practical and theoretical research to encourage cultural hybridity. Design education in the post industrial era poses multiple challenges, in particular within the industrial design field, that has been in a turning point for decades and is in the ongoing process of defining itself a new amid rapid technological, environmental and societal changes. Within this context, design education must move beyond skills-based one and service-oriented, in which the role of the designer is mainly defined as problem-solver, towards a more manifold approach, fostering a contextualized practice. »The culture of making» course explores the notion of cultural hybrid, through hands-on research of materiality, tactility and fabrication processes, going beyond the generic understanding of what “making” and just “experimenting” means.
Instead, it focuses on cultural narratives embedded in processes, materials and their visual, formal, utilitarian manifestations as products of industrial design. In this context, the emphasis of the course was on hybridity, applying advanced digital manufacturing methods and the transformation of traditional production modes, to create culturally and technologically determined trans-local artefacts. The developed design method applied in the teaching process separates material and processing method, by the unorthodox pairing of ubiquitous materials (metal, wood, clay etc.) with action verbs (baking, blowing, weaving, melting etc.). The term “sawing wood” for example implies a clear image of the material and processing/treatment of the surface, without the students having ever had sawed wood themselves. This tacit knowledge is based on memories, experiences, and personal value systems. In contrast, the term “knitting wood” cannot be assigned to a stereotype. It has to be interpreted through a creative process or reframing.
This approach allows students to avoid their processes becoming restricted by culturally conditioned or stereotyped strategies during experimental phases. Working with digital production modes played an important role in the process, as with the help of computer-aided design and production, we can radically question the basic typologies that have emerged in the history of design and work with new ingredients. Therefore, we envision the hybridity as a culture of making, being a process of binding categories together, instead of emphasising the differences. Conclusions – why is there a need for new methods? Traditional design methods focus purely on solving pre-defined problems, leaving some possibilities unexplored, and limit design practice. We argue that methods focusing on the strategic role of experimentation in the design process, informed by theory, history and research, open up alternatives to the solutionist understanding of design and foster innovation, outside of the established traditions.
Within our course, we create an environment in which students can explore their respective cultural identities, their memories, their experiences, their backgrounds not on a theoretical level, but on a practical one. Offering a space that merges theory and practice, examines to what extent design research conducted parallel with practical hands-on one makes it possible to scrutinise projects regarding their historical, social, and technological dimensions, thereby supporting the development of the concept and the making of design decisions. Within the course, we analyzed how instead of separating design history from design theory and research from praxis, choosing an integrated educational approach extends product development through varied dimensions and perspectives, opening up a forum for discussion on the future of design.
Themes: Design Education / Design pedagogy / Educational innovation in artistic matters / Design, sustainability and social responsibility
Keywords: Design Education, Manufacturing, Design Research, Hybridity, Design Methods
Maya Ober is an educator, researcher and designer, working as a research associate at the Institute of Industrial Design, and as a lecturer at the Institute of Aesthetic Practice and Theory at the FHNW Academy of Arts and Design in Basel.
Nicole Schneider is a product designer, deputy head at the Institute of Industrial Design and co-head Masterstudio Industrial Design at the FHNW Academy of Arts and Design in Basel.