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Design without Designers

Across the Academy, an array of disciplines have turned to design as a stimulant or a strategy for increasing relevance. Sometimes it’s named design and sometimes it’s called studio-based learning, multimodal scholarship, or media literacy, to name a few. Whatever you call it, it’s a version of design that can now be found within the Physics classroom, Education Theory, Ethnography and the Social Sciences, and the scholarly production of Literature, Philosophy, and History.

Within Business Education this attention to design is the most pronounced. Academics, business leaders, and journalists proclaim Design to be the savior for failing corporations, the secret of savvy managers, and the resurrection of the MBA. In some circles, the evangelism for “Design” and “Design Thinking” is so strong that I’ve heard the 21st century referred to, a bit prematurely, as the “Century of Design.”

But in the Century of Design, “design” is not the discipline that designers know and love—that is, it’s not the province of design practitioners, scholars, and educators. Instead, “Design” is variably a value-add, an everyday event, a working method, a byproduct, a literacy, and a complete abstraction. And frequently designers are nowhere to be found.

Rather than bemoan our absence, it is useful to explore what kind of future this interest in Design—but not designers—portends for design and design education. Is the notion of the practitioner steeped purely in design a thing of the past? Is our scholarship too little and too late or just in the knick of time? Will a formal design education be required for fields of all kinds? And what of the act of designing itself—will it be at the center of an epistemological shift or will it be relegated to a low-level service?

This talk looks at the confluence of forces that have brought us to this moment of spreading influence through an array of case studies in which non-designers have incorporated aspects of design into their own fields. Design educators and practitioners who dismiss or ignore this activity do so at their own peril for each instance provides surprising insights into the power and definition of design while at the same time raising critical questions about our future.


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videos are linked; best viewed online.

Design-Based Learning: Arts and Enterprise Charter School

Design Thinking: Roger Martin at Overlap '07
Institute for Multimedia Literacy, USC