Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Image Making and Meaning: Educational Benefits to Studying Design in the 21st Century

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Image Making and Meaning: Educational Benefits to Studying Design in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

Introduction

When I begin a design project in class, I always tell my students to define the characteristics of the project first, proceed with research, reflect on the definition, create and produce the solution, and finally, evaluate their response. At first, students are overwhelmed with the task. I explain that although one must always be conscious of the whole, many complex tasks need to be divided into smaller pieces. When I thoroughly explain the Design Process as a plan of action, they learn to trust the process, their abilities, as well as the knowledge I provide. There's another benefit to learning this way: Students gain confidence in themselves, as their broader skill sets develop, and their outlook on working in the Design profession improves.

I try to influence my students by offering a methodology, a way of thinking about and practicing Design. I lecture on how Design has been integral to man's life for thousands of years. Throughout history, people have used the technology available to them at the time to reveal answers to daily questions and enrich their lives through meaningful solutions. Pre-historic people were able to create meaning and clarity, in what must have felt like a chaotic world, through the use of visual information and the adaptation of materials in their environment. They planned hunts, drew on cave walls, devised ritual ceremonies, and made tools and clothing for their survival. Human systems of writing reveal how each civilization designed solutions by blending the period's technology with the need to communicate in a meaningful way. The Sumerians designed clay tablets carved with pictographics, numerals and personal names in orderly columns. This system was developed to answer the need to record information on their extensive temple economy. Eastern Islamic and Western European scribes created manuscripts, composing religious texts with "illuminated" visuals in the belief that a more complete spiritual experience would be provided. The Gutenberg press, with its movable type, developed out of the demand for more books, the availability of paper and the successful integration of relief block printing. Presently, computer scientists and designers have created the virtual writing and reading systems we use today in response to the need to transfer data between global research sites. [Meggs, 2006]

We live in a world where we spend most of our time interacting with designed environments: the houses and neighborhoods we live in, the workplace environments, the places we shop, the money we use, the clothing we wear, the religious spaces of worship, educational learning environments and virtual spaces on the Internet. All these examples and more are contexts enveloped by different meanings and functions. Their commonality is they have all been designed. We are now affected by extreme weather conditions on the one hand, and on the other by virtual characters in the Internet world of Second Life[TM]. If we understand the significance of Design, we will have more success adapting and responding to the changing landscape of our personal and professional lives. I believe that using the methodology of Design in education, from kindergarten through graduate school, can provide a great foundation for critical thinking and problem solving. Its methodologies are easily utilized, no matter what career an individual chooses or what small problem needs to be fixed at home.

Design means many things to many people. The definition in the American Heritage Dictionary states that design means: "1. To conceive in the mind, invent. 2. To form a plan for ... 3. To have a goal or purpose, intend." Design as a professional practice, however, takes on additional meanings. The AIGA, a professional association for design in the United States, says that, "Great design always connects with people. Designers inspire, provoke, validate, entertain and provide utility for people. To truly connect, designers need to have compassion and empathy for their audiences. …

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