Tuesday, July 14, 2009

DCC2009: Water in our lives

DCC2009: Water in our lives

Prof. M P Ranjan

The year has started and another year of courses with new students from several PG design disciplines come to this course at NID. The first batch consists of four disciplines on the Paldi campus of NID and these include Product Design, Textile Design, Transportation and Automobile Design and Animation Film Design. The theme for this year is Water. Various facets of water in our lives are to be explored by these students and for the first Paldi batch we have three sub-themes that are listed below.

1. Water: Storage and Delivery
2. Water: Festivals and Sport
3. Water: Awareness of Issues and Methods

Image01: Blackboard with the preliminary discussions on What is Design? Using words offered by the students as part of the class discussion.

The black board shows the early discussions in the class when we tried to assess the current level of knowledge about design amongst the students of the batch and as the dialogue progressed the board filled up with the words that were used by the students to try and share their own notion of design and what they thought it is. Rashmi, Shashank and Ranjan were involved in these discussions by reacting and adding their own dimensions. We asked the students to think deeply about themselves and their lives to try and see when they discovered the idea of design and found it may be a career for each one of them. The discussions led to both sharing as well as an introspective journey that would continue for some time particularly for the students to discover themselves and find out a bit more about their own beliefs and positions in relation to a variety of human subjects, many of which are intangible and not usually a subject of either active analysis or discourse. What do you really believe and what would you do in a particularly difficult situation?

Image02: Group formation and bonding of groups in three sub-groups before the commencement of the formal brainstorming and structure building sessions that follow.

The action to these situations may reveal our deep seated fears and convictions which we may not be aware of at the surface of our consciousness and this would influence all the design decisions that we were to make in our careers ahead, therefore it would be useful to know, if it is at all possible to know all of it, which may not be possible till we are actually confronted with a particular opportunity or situation that would test this belief in some deep way. Ranjan used his slides as well as pages from the internet to share ideas about design and to introduce some of the key thinkers of the day along with their current ideas about design.

Image03: Books discussed this year in class. The students are also primed on the other resources that are available in digital format and on the internet and appropriate links are shown and provided in this session.

The scholars discussed included Dr Harold Nelson and John Heskett for their books “The Design Way” and “Toothpicks and Logos” respectively. Hesket’s book has been released again as a low cost edition in India under a new title called “Design: A very brief introduction” that is available from many book stores as well as online. Also discussed were the new books by Bryan Lawson with Kees Dorst called “Design Expertise” and another book by Dorst called “Understanding Design” and the teachers shared the long list of 175 attributes of design that is included in the contents of the book for students to look up as a direction finder for their own search for understanding of “What is design?”

We have asked the students to reflect on the question once again quite deeply and get back to the teachers with an email response to the question and this could open up the platform for any further dialogue on the new subject. Our finding from the various responses by the students while the black board was being filled up with words associated with design thinking and action was that they individually knew very little and even that knowledge lacked any conviction. So far three students have submitted their email response and we are sure the others will muster courage to make their offerings as the week progresses and they feel up to steam on the discourse on a subject as complex as design

Image04: Class presentations and group discussions in thumbnail views. The class is held in a large studio with flexible furniture arrangements possible with a lot of softboards available for the posters and visual material for the presentations.

We introduced the course by sharing a slide presentation that was made for the EAD06 conference in Bremen, which was a description of this course that was made for the first time by Ranjan since the course was formulated and conducted at NID over the past fifteen or twenty years. This course has indeed evolved from its origins in the “Design Methods” and “Design Process” beginnings in the early 70’s at NID and the name change to “Design Concepts and Concerns” occurred in the late 90’s and from a scientific and environment focus of the 70’s and 80’s the shift that we made to “Concerns” brought an element of relevance and ideology into the core consideration at the centre of this course offering. This is why we started looking at meta themes and we did shift away from micro problems and in the process removed the kindergarden from the basic design course at NID while keeping the quality of flexibility and the non-prescriptive nature of assignments that design education demands. Another major shift was the design assignments being handled by a team rather than being assigned to individual with the specific intention of encouraging team processes and attitude forming that could support such demands top deal with the typical conflicts that design tasks abound.

Image05: The theme and sub-themes of "Water" with a description of the process of discovery by the group to set the assignment rolling.

The structure of the assignments is therefore collaborative and graded through the following intentional stages.
1. Understanding oneself and ones beliefs through deep thought and articulation of the self.
2. Group processes in exploring a meta theme and discovering what one already knew about the topic so that it could be used as a platform for design action.
3. Outward exploration to fill in the gaps in ones knowledge by meeting and connecting with experts and with resources that are available both published and in the environment.
4. Understanding the processes of categorization and modeling leading to the building of external models to share and discuss ones deep understanding of the meat theme in question and to be able to see a structure that could depict the current understanding of the subject which is open to change through the arrival of new insights and new knowledge.
5. Sensing and discovering design opportunities that are worth doing and elaborating all the latent opportunities through a process of visualisation and discourse.
6. Building deep convictions about possible opportunities through a process of visual exploration and sharing with colleagues, while at the same time it is a process of learning to think and learning to act in design with a future focus on potential and optimistic outcomes.

To discuss this and other aspects of becoming a designer Ranjan talked about the “Design Journey” using the model and a copy of the paper that describes the various modes of thought that the designer had to use and this brought us to the first assignment and the forming of three teams with tasks as listed above. The presentation is expected on Thursday morning and each group woud be given one hour to make their presentation having explored the sub-theme fully through the process of brainstorming and categorization followed by forming structure and giving form in the shape of a suitable metaphor for durable recognition of the theme and its organization that would be reflected in the structure. The students have now started working on the task of finding structure and form of their sub-theme areas through the process that we described above. The group work is intensive through ice-breaking conversations, brainstorming and collaboration, categorization and arguments, finding structure and agreement with some compromises and last of all finding form through a shared metaphor that could show the level of understanding the the group has arrived at through this active process, a real learning by doing. We look forward to the presentations and the deep learning that can be used for future design projects as well.

Prof. M P Ranjan

1 comment:

Paula Thornton said...

May I suggest that there is already limited thinking in this matter (although it is often best to focus first on the obvious and then address the less-obvious). Solid-Liquid-Gas are classic states that are drilled into us in school, but what about the 'in between'?

It turns out that super-chilled water has unique properties that are not found either in the solid or liquid states.

When we focus only on the classics that we've been taught are we really exploring the possibilities?

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