Week 42 - 26 November 2021

  • We had a fantastic lecture from Dr Mahmoud Keshavarz on Humanitarian Design this week. The focus was on the problems with the way design practices engage with crises such as the refugee crisis in Europe. Often, design practitioners can see the world as a series of self-contained problems to be single-handedly solved - rather than a complex network of actors, relationships etc. Things that are intended to be 'solutions', like the Roundabout Playpump, can generate more problems than they solve.
  • When I visited The Design Museum the other day I saw one of those donation boxes that encourages you to donate by turning your money into a vote in a poll. The poll asks people to define design. The option that was most popular with the donating public is 'practical beauty'. If I still carried cash, I'd have probably dropped my £1 into that first tube. 'Ideas made real'. This has been put slightly more poetically by Jared Spool as 'the rendering of intent.'
  • In my mind there must always be a 'making concrete' part of design. Even when what is designed is something as abstract as a policy or system, that thing is made concrete by a diagram or writing or speech. Otherwise there is no design - just reality. This is somewhat obvious - but it also sets up an unresolvable tension in the MA GCDP course - between the issues contained in the 'global' part and the practice contained in the 'design' part. We are attempting to grapple with systemic issues from an isolated position in a design studio.
  • A discussion with Peter Hall helped me make sense of all this. As part of a lecture he showed a series of design projects which tackle these 'wicked problems' through visualisation or communication of the issue, rather than necessarily 'designing' a solution. I asked something along the lines of whether this is a retreat for design practices - returning to visual communication rather than systems / service design.
  • He responded something along the lines of - what's radical is not the design methods but the attitude and the subject. Those pieces of communication can be collaboratively designed, iterated and used to advocate for change. He talked a bit about how design is parasitic. It always attaches to other disciplines. I'm still figuring this out so apologies future me (or a surprise reader of these - hello!) if it's hazily written.
  • The description of design as parasitic makes my concerns about the course crystal clear - if we accept that design is at its best when parasitic, that it needs stuff to attach to, then doesn't it follow that studying it in a sealed institution like UAL is a waste of time? Practice is in the title of the course but it's easier said than done to bring the 'real world' into the course.
  • I'm also feeling that the best way that a designer can contribute towards some of these 'wicked problems' consists of two things in parallel. One is deciding to be an ethical person. The other is honing their craft as a designer. One cannot be taught in a university, but the other can. Does a course like MA GCDP conflate the two? Is it as absurd as a course that combines global issues like inequality, hunger, education etc and cabinet making?

Last update: 2021-11-26 12:00:00 -0600