Putting the Critical in Design: Recap of Our Kick Off Event

Students and a faculty member from Planning, Architecture, Geography, and the interdisciplinary programs of the Built Environments and Urban Design and Planning came together on November 7th to discuss the role of critical thinking in design.  People came with entering the conversation from a range of interests and experiences, from ecological urbanism, to indigenous autonomy, to social sustainability. What most had in common was an interest to re-invigorate the design fields with the critical thinking needed to address socio-economic challenges and inequality.

The discussion was prompted by a video of an interview of Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, during the opening plenary of The Clinton Global Initiative’s 2012 annual meeting. Brown makes the case for how design as a mode of operation helps to address some of the world’s largest problems, from poverty to failing education systems. 

He argues that a core principle of design is to create prototypes based on the limitations of the market and to “learn from doing, not just thinking and talking.” He also highlights that constraints are actually opportunities for creativity. The interview highlights how design has become a buzzword, from businesses to philanthropy, to describe a problem solving approach. This prompted several thoughts and questions from the group, including:

What is the balance between learning from doing and learning before doing? In both studios and in the field, ethnographic research and research methods often get sacrificed in order to jump directly to prototyping

How do local knowledge get properly incorporated into the design process without fetishizing it and local people?

Where do vision and values come into play in the “learning from doing” process? How do we do this with a long-term vision while addressing real world constraints?

How does design of products and services differ from place making? Where does that locate us visa vis this larger notion of design which is often about the former?

These questions are ones the Critical Design GIG will continue to explore over the course of the school year. Join us for our upcoming event on November 29th where URBDP student David Smolker will share his thesis work on truth telling through landscape interpretation of San Juan’s Island National Historical Park.

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