Tensions in the professional field of design

I liked a pas­sage in a Kees Dorst paper on “aca­d­e­m­ic design” so much, I turned it into a lit­tle diagram.

Ten­sions in the pro­fes­sion­al field of design. (PDF)

Note that these ten­sions are inde­pen­dent of each oth­er. The dia­gram does not imply two “sides” of design. At any giv­en moment, a design activ­i­ty can be plot­ted on each axis inde­pen­dent­ly. This is also not an exhaus­tive list of ten­sions. Final­ly, Dorst claims these ten­sions are irreconcilable.

The orig­i­nal passage:

Con­tem­po­rary devel­op­ments in design can be described and under­stood in much the same way. The pro­fes­sion­al field that we so eas­i­ly label ‘design’ is com­plex, and full of inner con­tra­dic­tions. These inner ten­sions feed the dis­cus­sions in the field. To name a few: (1) the objec­tives of design and the moti­va­tion of design­ers can range from com­mer­cial suc­cess to the com­mon good. (2) The role and posi­tion of the design­er can be as an autonomous cre­ator, or as a prob­lem solver in-ser­vice to the client. (3) The dri­ve of the design­er can be ide­al­is­tic, or it can be more prag­mat­ic (4) The result­ing design can be a ‘thing’, but also imma­te­r­i­al (5) The basis for the process of design­ing can be intu­itive, or based on knowl­edge and research… Etcetera… The devel­op­ment of the design dis­ci­plines can be traced along these lines of ten­sion — with design­ers in dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ments and times chang­ing posi­tion rel­a­tive to these fun­da­men­tal para­dox­es, but nev­er resolv­ing them. Ulti­mate­ly, the real strength and coher­ence of design as a field of pro­fes­sions comes from rec­og­niz­ing these con­tra­dic­tions, and the dynam­ics of the field is a result of con­tin­u­ous exper­i­men­ta­tion along the rifts defined by them. Rather than a com­mon set of prac­tices and skills that design­ers might have [Cross, 1990] it is these inner con­tra­dic­tions in design that define its cul­ture, its men­tal­i­ty. Design research should be an active force in these dis­cus­sions, build­ing bridges between them where pos­si­ble. Not to resolve them into a mono­lith­ic Sci­ence of Design, but advanc­ing the dis­cus­sion in this dynam­i­cal­ly shift­ing set of relations.

Dorst, K. (2016, June 27). Design prac­tice and design research: Final­ly togeth­er? Pro­ceed­ings of DRS 2016. Design Research Soci­ety 50th Anniver­sary Con­fer­ence, Brighton, UK. https://www.drs2016.org/212

Published by

Kars Alfrink

Kars is a designer, researcher and educator focused on emerging technologies, social progress and the built environment.