A hermeneutic approach in design education



Design Education Strategy


  • innovation, cultural influence

Whilst the world is indeed in flux, the purpose of design – to address human needs – remains constant. The concept ‘Human needs’ is multifaceted, and needs clarification, This paper is concerned with the relationship between ‘human needs’ and design education.

Firstly, to be a good designer is to be an aware designer. Awareness improves the end product and feeds the process of concept generation. But awareness also engenders positive outcomes beyond the scope of objects. Design informed by awareness enriches the user, as well as the designer and maker.

In order to contextualise design education and practice in terms of awareness, R. Keith Sawyer and Phillip McIntyre’s ‘sociocultural model’ of creativity is useful. The model consists of three central elements necessary for the creative process. These are the Individual, the Domain (briefly definable as the technical aspects of one’s discipline, such as techniques and tacit knowledge), and, lastly, the Field, which can be described as the sum total of the body of knowledge consensus and consumer demand ‘out there’, at any given point in time.

Knowledge of the Domain is essential for awareness, and I wish to broaden the notion of the Domain – design’s ‘Domain’ cannot be relegated to knowledge of successive historical design movements, of techniques and methods, nor to knowledge of current trends and theory, but must be conceived in terms of ‘being human’. Thus, knowledge of the design Domain entail knowledge of what it means to be human, how humanity lives, what people believe and experience.

In this argument I am lead by the 2005 Ahmedabad Declaration (Tradition and Modernity, 2005) which defines design as the creation of ‘holistic experiences ... for the quality of life and environment’, and which furthermore states that design education should ‘promote value based design ... prepare students to be culturally sensitive ... [and] draw upon multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural sources’. The multi-disciplinary approach I am arguing for involves knowledge of being in an ontological sense, and in the Heideggerian sense that understanding ‘pertains to the entirety of being-in-the-world’, to ‘solicitude for Others’ and ‘concern with the world’. In this sense, to be aware of design in terms of objects only, is not to be aware at all.

To summarise, I wish to argue that design education should foster awareness of the Field, and that awareness of the Field entails ‘knowledge of being’ on an ontological level. Thus ergonomics and techniques, whilst important, are never enough. The ‘x-factor’ in design is awareness of what it means to be human.

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