The design process, like all creative activities, involves both rational aspects and other less easily-explicable non-rational aspects, such as the roles of intuition, imagination and personal insight. There are therefore different ways of knowing and learning involved in teaching design.
In an academic context, such as that of the university, where the design educator is expected to defend his or her teaching methods with intellectual rigor and academic credibility, the normal reaction is to explain design as a problem-solving activity, with the specific cognitive techniques and thinking strategies used by the designer clarified as much as possible. Specific stages of design have been identified and these can be taught with relative confidence by design educators. The development of technical skills is also dealt with at length in most design schools, but the more “fuzzy” non-rational aspects are usually avoided. In my experience most design teachers are not sufficiently confident to explore the potential roles that these may play in the design process. Students are guided in terms of methods, skills and techniques, but are usually left to find their own way through the more "mystical" lands of intuition, empathy and imagination.
This paper will attempt to address this rather unsatisfactory situation by arguing for a more balanced and holistic approach to design education, in which both the personal, irrational aspects of the designer and the more rational, objective aspects of the design process are taken into account and nurtured.
A definition of design as an interactive process will be presented at the outset of this paper, illustrating that it is a highly personal process, one in which both the “design problem” and the designer him/herself are changed by the process.
Design as a “creative encounter” between the self and the world will also be considered. The concept of a “creative mode of being” will be examined in the context of the design studio. In addition to this, the heuristic nature of the design process, which calls for an attitude of freedom, not-knowing and exploration, will be discussed. Eastern philosophical concepts will be presented and analysed in an effort to understand how the intangible and highly personal parts of the design process may be nurtured intelligently by the design educator.