Design Philosophy Class

Hello core77ers,
A fellow student and I are going to start a Design Philosophy Class at our school as part of our IDSA chapter to further facilitate the discussion of what “good design” is and how we can apply it in our designs. Not only just philosophy, but what designs are popular and the trend design is going in. There are two things I am wondering: if anyone has done something similar to this; as well as, what topics would you recommend reviewing?

I’m not totally sure how to ask this question, because I myself am not 100% on what direction to take it, but what advice would you have to make the class worthwhile and what topics or philosophy do you adhere to?

Thank you for your time.

This is interesting. I often think about The Philosophy of Design, does it exist, does it have a role outside of ‘designing’ and can you take the same philosophical approach and apply it to life.

I’ve always felt my beliefs on good design, what makes a designer and the design process in general dictates the clothes I wear, products I buy, how I buy products, how I go about solving general problems which then goes on to influence decisions etc.

Wondering if anyone has found the same?

Two philosophy books I recommend.
Senaca - Letters From A Stoic
And also Small Is Beautiful - While not strictly philosophy, the author philosophises around the subject of economics, capitalism and Buddhism which I’m sure will provide inspiration for your chosen subject.

I need to let this idea percolate more, but here’s some quick books I’d put in my reading list:

  1. The Craftsmen, Richard Sennett

Great book. First half and back 1/4 are really philosophical about design, imho. I’m working on another book review for this.

  1. Hot-wiring your creative process

I’m sure there are better books, but the author runs down some creative strategies. Not really philosophy, but process. I think that’s an important start though.

  1. Design for the Real World, Victor Papanek

Design history 101 reading for me. Too bad we can’t seem to get closer to his ideal.

Thank you both very much for the responses. I will look into both of your sources ASAP. I do agree Mr. 914, that process is essential. Too often, as well as fellow students, I have gotten too distracted with the unnecessary details and tangents and forget the bigger picture. I will keep you updated as to what topics we cover and the discussion notes: I want it to be much more of an open forum rather than, “hey check this out this is neat.”

Again, thank you very much.

Just a quick update, a friend of mine and I were talking about the classes and he brought up very good points about what a good Industrial Designer is. The term “jack of all trades” has been passed around our school a lot but in the way of being able to sketch, 3D model, and make a good physical model, and some nice boards to show off your work. Though we still need to be a “jack of all trades,” that term now really means being knowledgeable in everything affecting our designs: product life, ethnographic-type research, ergonomics, user interface, etc. All of those elements and aspects and more need to be taken care of and addressed in a concise and easy to use product. So I think the classes will be focused on those elements and how they effect the different products we design

Totally, And I extend this level of consideration to all my purchases, from restaurant selection (interior, quality of ingredients, quality of chef, food presentation, down to is the music and lighting right), what shops I will be a patron of, to which way I walk to work.

Design is creative problem solving, and I find myself looking for simple and meaningful solutions to everything around the house as well, from the way I put something together, to the way I fix and clean things, to loading the dishwasher. We all design our lives whether we are designers or not, the question is how much we consciously consider and decide, and how much we let autopilot and the learned behaviors from childhood take over.

Back to the original topic, I think it is impossible to teach design philosophy without design history, and topics can inform each other. You can connect the theory of Bauhaus to the practice of Rams, to the contemporary “Hyper Normal” work of Jasper Morrison, to the revival and eventual conceptual dumbing of minimalism that is going on now. (ie is that minimalist, or just not designed and does it even matter?). Just like you can trace late modernism, into the influence of psychedelia on product and interior design which was a result of cultural phenomenon like the s3xual revolution and culmination of the civil rights and equal rights movements into personal expression and the de-emphasis of basing identity on work and family and focus on identifying through free-time activities and friends, into the explosion of athletic brands, to the wild expressiveness and baroque form languages of the 90’s… It should be a lot of fun, and really provocative discussions around design, art, culture, music, and history.

Thank you Michael for your response. From your post, I do see the importance of design history, as well as cultural history, and how it has shaped into the different philosophies of design that produce recognizable trends.

So when we talk about different philosophies and ideologies, it’s best then to find the root of where it is coming from? I wonder, also, would it be better to briefly study the past and more intently focus on the current: what is going on socially, economically, and even globally. I am realizing more and more the immenseness of such topic :laughing: but I think it would be invaluable information for not only my fellow students, but for me as well.

That is why it is important to keep it a discussion, so others can pile on their thoughts and experiences while keeping a healthy debate. There are fashion trends which are easy to spot, but the important things are the macro trends that ripple across our cultural fabric. They tend to be at the intersection of the moves in social norms, politics, and technology. If you took someone from the 1930’s and gave them an iPod loaded with their favorite music, I’m not sure they would understand because culturally the radio was a group activity that replaced the gathering of people around the hearth and reading. It didn’t become accepted as a mass individual thing until the miniaturization of magnetic tape cassettes which also coincided with a cultural shift from public/family space to personal space. Did culture influence the technology, did technology influence culture, did the iconic, easy to use, and desirable designs of early Walkman products aid either of the two? Good things to talk about.

Very cool and yes very good things to discuss. Thank you for your thoughts and responses very much.

As for another topic to discuss, how important is it for students to be able to predict and design the life cycle of a product? I went to an IDSA-LA event and was able to talk with an Art Center instructor who said she has seen the students that are getting internships and jobs were the ones that were able to track and plan their products’ life cycles. was there and promoted their ability to allow companies and students to track this process.

so the question to you all: how important is being able to, as a student, plan products’ life cycles?

I’d totally take that class. I think it might even serve as a better way to teach design history. As far as I’m concerned, most young designers today don’t know jack about design history (myself included). Yeah, we know Bauhaus is some school in Europe, but taking history and discussing design philosophy would etch the facts into our minds way more than memorizing facts.

Tough one. I took design history in school (circa 1998.) That said, I just don’t see how it relates to working as a staff designer at a corporation. Do you think the head of engineering cares? Or the head of marketing? Nope, not one bit. I’ve often found myself trying to actually teach proper design to these people but to no avail. They are set in their ways. They just want a “me-to” product. Innovation takes too much money and risk, so the stock-holders won’t be interested. I’ve been down that road far too many times.

It’s sad, really. Far too much of our industry is dictated by dividends. Innovation is for those companies that have a lot of money and consumers willing to pay top-dollar for an inferior product (Apple Shuffle, Version 3.)

I’ve been to many marketing meetings that have told the designers to make an Apple-life product. They just don’t get it.

Now, that said, I’m not against pushing the envelope, but I’ve been around long enough to know that the accountants drive many companies. I’d love to say that consumers will pay extra for better design, but they don’t.

well so that is why, 6ix, i want to focus the class more on the real-world elements that we as designers have to be aware of. History and philosophy are good only up to a certain point, as you’ve said. when i talked with my buddy i came to the conclusion to focus much more on the aspects that drive design to make it a good product: marketing, engineering, manufacturing, environmental consciousness, user-interface, ethnographic research, and ergonomics. the term “jack of all trades” still applies to us, but in a much more different, and much more open-minded, sense.

I think you missed the point, it is not to inform them, it is to inform you! To understand the greater context in which you exist. Your work is but one thread in a greater tapestry, weather the CEO cares or not is irrelevant to that truth. Understanding that fabric is key to figuring out into the great scheme of things. Past, Present, and tomorrow.

I took design history in school (circa 1998.) That said, I just don’t see how it relates to working as a staff designer at a corporation.

I took art history a bit earlier than that, 1970. And I’ll emphasize that it was primarily ART history, which eventually touched on “design” history; it proved to be an excellent foundation for design history to build on. Starting with paleolithic forms dated to 29,000 BC, on to neolithic tool making, to bronze age casting techniques, the development of iron, the Industrial Revolution, and on, an on. Understanding what has gone before us gives us unexpected insight at times. The 1979 television series by James Burke “Connections” was an excellent reiteration of my art history education and how it relates to our work. Dated as it is, I would still recommend it for use in a class.

it is not to inform them, it is to inform you!

Absolutely. Most people can associate themselves with other periods of time. Having an awareness of history allows us, as designers, another avenue to relate to others. And once we build a relationship with another person overall communications generally improve.

The front door isn’t the only way in.

… Since this discussion came up I’ve been thinking about Design Philosophy and how this applies to a persons life and lifestyle decisions a fair bit.

I’m about to get started on a 10,000 word paper and in a last minute panic am considering changing my subject to something concerning this area. So I figured it’d benefit all if I put a few thoughts and questions out there and try and get this discussion moving again.

A portion of the above comments have talked about the subject of Design Philosophy with a focus on commercial products. Yet I think this subject allows for a far broader scope, in that the product in question is that of moral, ethics and actions of a person influenced by a ‘design state of mind’. Even as designers, I imagine our definition of design will vary from person to person here resulting in different and conflicting conclusions.

I have thought about this for a while, ever since being introduced to the design process and designers way of thinking and doing. Though am wary of the bias of such a viewpoint, to the point where I’m questioning whether writing a 10,000 paper on this subject could result in a a load of self-obsessed drivel.

I’m convinced design influences a lot of what I do, say and think. Yet I can’t quite pin point my finger on why, where and how. And it’s this I’d like to explore. And whether if the fact that design can influence a person and moral and ethical decisions then what does this mean for designs role within other areas outside of commercial products - public sector, society, economics etc.

To understand the greater context in which you exist. Your work is but one thread in a greater tapestry, weather the CEO cares or not is irrelevant to that truth. Understanding that fabric is key to figuring out into the great scheme of things. Past, Present, and tomorrow.

I think Yo!'s comment above summarises what I’d like to explore here. I know there is something around this subject though right now I’m having trouble grasping what that might be, and in typical designer style I’d like to get it all organized in to some form of digestible order. I don’t think this area is talked about enough, and when it is, it usually involves business and products in some way or other, which I don’t see as the right context for such a philosophy.

So what does everyone think, does this resonate with anyone? Or do you smell bullshit?

I’d recommend to keep it focused in terms of the course work, but let guide group discussions there. Otherwise it might get a little too “woo woo” and hard to grasp in the paper?

philosophy of (good) design?

Historically there have been a few attempts to quantify just that. Psychology studied aesthetics and landed in Gestalt theory, Philosophy studied it too, and landed in neurobiology. Business tried and just got buzzwords, Designers mostly produced manifestoes. None gave results that were reproducable or of more than academic value.

Ergonomics is producing fine-resolution methodologies, Environmental Science is producing methods and quantifiable guides, but neither supply an encompassing formula for a succesfull (or good designed) product.
A rich background.

Start with a philosophical definition of “the good”, an idealized state that embodies utility.
Discuss a workable definition for “Innovation”.
Ask what fields of study not mentioned yet need to contribute to the discussion (if there are any left).
Proscribe what knowledge is missing from the understanding and defining of good design, (does that differ from successful design?)

Personally, I see Anthropology and Cognitive Psychology leading the charge of creating tools to better understand needs/wants in context. Ergonomics is moving closer to Marketing and is creating ways to measure satisfaction as a function of use.

Design education will struggle to keep up, but this type of coursework should teach the critical thinking skills to enable the individual designer to learn anything coming down the pike rather than a final definition.

I definitely think Anthropology and Cognitive Psych play a role in design philosophy.

Maybe the reason no one has come up with a reproducible process or tested formula that consistently leads to great design is because one does not exist. Since every project is different, it requires a tailored approach, in fact a tailored team. A few people have asked me what the secret is here, and I always say the secret is the people and creating an environment that they can do their thing in an organic but focused way. The secret formula is skill.

there are too many variables for any valid testing methodology to factor in. there would need to be an entire field of research not yet invented that’d be capable of accuratley measuring everything involved in “good design”.
(consider trying to include everything mentioned by Don Norman in “why great ideas fail”.)

But for a Philosophy Course, how would you chart a path towards that more reproducable/consistent result? Organizational Behavior may be one field of study, not yet mentioned, that addresses your secret formula of a tailored team of highly skilled individuals…