Towards Understanding Design Expertise as a Developmental Dynamic: A Learner's Perspective

Common Ground Publishing Pty Ltd
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, 2007, 1 (4), pp. 131 - 144
Issue Date:
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The capability to design, and thereby shape a culture's ascent over time, might well be one of the most basic characteristics of what it is to be human. Cultures value successful designs; hence the urgency of understanding the principles and practices that underpin design success. One approach to gaining insights into design has been through exploring the processes of proficient, experienced designers, often in comparison with those of novices. However, researchers are beginning to question the worth of such investigations, arguing that they tell proficient designers little more about design than what they already know from their practice. Nor do they give an account of how these so-called experts might develop their design practice over time in response to emerging needs, pressures or opportunities, for example, so as to design sustainably, in circumstances of resource shortage or with new technologies. Moreover, such studies risk a far too stark and static a priori dichotomy between novice and expert, simply on the basis of their experience at a point in time, suggesting the need to look more closely at how people might develop their design capability. This paper reports preliminary findings of the first part of a doctoral study by a learner-as-researcher, who sought insights into the nature of design by documenting her own developing learning to design over a university semester in an undergraduate architectural design class. Here, we give a brief account of the first phase of her learning to design as a participating member of this class community. We describe some of the design ideas she generated, her early perceptions of designing in this context and some actions she subsequently took, alongside the developing ideas of other students and in response to teacher critique. We speculate on the power of this approach to understanding designing, including how it might inform the teaching of design and the creation of environments conducive to designing.
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