Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

What Can Design Thinking Offer Writing Studies?

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

What Can Design Thinking Offer Writing Studies?

Article excerpt

The notion of "design" is already seeping into writing studies

-John Trimbur, "Delivering the Message: Typography and the Materiality of Writing"

One of the most basic insights from technology design is that one key term, design, is used to designate numerous, sometimes conflicting practices

-Stuart Blythe, "Designing Online Courses: User-Centered Practices"

In "Ways of Knowing, Doing, and Writing in the Disciplines," Michael Carter categorizes disciplines at his institution into metadisciplines that share a common "metagenre," or "structure of similar ways of doing that point to similar ways of writing and knowing" (393). As part of this classification, he groups his institution's program in rhetoric, writing, and language with art and design (401). This categorization is striking. Aligning writing studies1 with art and design rather than literature (which he puts into a separate category) challenges entrenched perceptions of the field-at least perceptions commonly held by those outside of the field and academia. Apart from a few stand-alone writing programs, writing studies is usually housed in English departments, institutionally associated more with literary studies than design disciplines. Yet Carter departs from this grouping and allies his program instead with design.

This move is characteristic of a growing trend in the discipline. Increasing numbers of writing studies teacher-scholars, like Carter, have invoked language of design.2 Though Carter's gesture is part of a larger argument about writing in the disciplines and not a main focus of his piece, the fact that such a gesture is not treated with big fanfare signals the comfort that many members of the field feel using language of design to explain the writing practices they study, teach, and enact. Indeed, the currency of design is particularly apparent in how teacher-scholars talk about composing multimodal and multimedia texts: videos and websites, for example, are designed, not written. Some writing centers (e.g., Duke, Eastern Kentucky, Georgia State, Vanderbilt), moreover, have adopted the name "Writing Studio," a title situating writing as design work, as studios are often the space of design activities (see Carpenter and Apostel). What, though, do these gestures to design seek to accomplish? What does it mean for writing studies practitioners to engage in design work? What can design offer writing studies?

In his 2009 CCC article "Embracing Wicked Problems: The Turn to Design in Composition Studies," Richard Marback begins to explore these questions. He argues that appealing to the concept of design is a way to solve "wicked problems" in writing studies, particularly for those "teaching writing in digital media" (W397). Following design theorists Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, Marback defines "wicked problems" as problems that lack a single, knowable solution but instead are ambiguous, contingent, and recursive. In other words, wicked problems are not just solved once by finding new information; they must be solved over and over again (W399). As design scholar Richard Buchanan puts it, wicked problems arise because "[t]he subject matter of design is radically indeterminate, open to alternative resolutions even with the same methodology"; thus, new solutions must continually be invented rather than discovered (229, emphasis in original). Marback implies, rightly I think, that the same is true for writing, and Carter makes this association explicit in grouping writing studies and design studies in the same metadiscipline.

To achieve his goal of using design to solve wicked problems, Marback advocates "a fuller turn to design in composition studies" (W400). For him, making this "fuller turn" requires that scholars in the field have greater awareness of the reasons they turn to design: "As compositionists continue the turn to design thinking, it is important to be clear what we mean to do through our appeals to design" (W418). …

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