An Interdisciplinary Approach to Art and Design Education: Computational Design

Article excerpt

We now have a growing body of evidence that enables us to evaluate the likely effects of introducing new technology into traditional discipline areas, A much-simplified description would include three phases:

1) Initial resentment by the discipline specialists when faced with a strange and intimidating new technology.

2) Development of "user-friendly" automation tools that enable greater productivity and efficiency. These tools are promoted by enthusiasts and quickly get integrated into the mainstream discipline.

3) Eventual evolution of a new class of tools/ processes that are enabled by the unique (intrinsic) opportunities that computational processing makes available. These tools often initiate fundamental and major changes in the discipline involved.

For example, engineers now use the terms "Computer Engineering" and "Computational Engineering" to distinguish between the automation tools, typical of Section 2 (above) and the newer methods and opportunities associated with Section 3. The term "Computational Paradigm" is increasingly being used and scientists have referred to it as a new mode of scientific enquiry.

It is my belief that a similar paradigm shift will affect the visual arts and design as a consequence of the increased used of computer systems. At Mississippi State University we have initiated a cross-disciplinary development program intended to address this issue and to develop new curricula that can prepare students for the changes that are likely to occur in the near future.

Great Expectations?

Given the widespread expectation of a paradigm shift in the creative visual disciplines, it's tempting to speculate what the nature of the change may be. My opinion is that it's too early to predict. Indeed the act of prediction is itself dangerous since it could prejudice the change itself along channels of "expectation" and so prevent it from fulfilling its true form. Brenda Laurel has commented on this act of limiting by expectation: "If you had asked people in 1955 what new kind of a toy they wanted nobody would have said 'a plastic hoop that I can rotate around my hips.' And extrapolating from the current interactive entertainment landscape is risky too, because it may give us a future that unconsciously incorporates the limitations of the past."

At the 1993 National Council of Arts Administrators conference, delegates were invited by the title of the meeting to see multimedia as a paradigm shift. In contrast I suggested that multimedia was little more that "yesterday's media wrapped up in today's technology" and counseled listeners not to be taken in by such simplistic rhetoric. Multimedia is an invention of the computer manufacturers and has more to do with the need to sell more computers than with any intrinsic future challenge (or human need).

John Gage, a senior executive at Sun Microsystems, supported my opinions and described multimedia as... "an ugly vehicle for a new idea"... "freight car rhetoric versus the potential for a whole new way to think about space and time" and went on to say that multimedia could fail because it served to placate rather than initiate.2 Other commentators have drawn reasonable comparisons between the so-called "multimedia paradigm" and the TVremote "couch-potato" syndrome. Educational theorists are concerned that such "passive" interaction has questionable value.

Paradigm Shift

In Design Disciplines

Nevertheless dynamic, interactive, richmedia delivery of information will be one component of the forthcoming paradigm shift, as will significant improvements in the whole concept of computer-human-interaction including immersion techniques popularly referred to as "virtual reality." Much more important, however, will be the development of design "smarts" and "guides," the area of artificial design intelligence and the encoding of expert knowledge.

This is the area that causes most professional concern. …