Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. - Lord Tennyson
What is it that designers know? Does design knowledge involve a special way of knowing? How do designers acquire and make use of their knowledge? What is it that marks out the really successful designers? Do they know something that the rest of us do not, or maybe do they know the same things in different ways?
Design knowledge is rather unusual. The nature of the knowledge that designers work with and the ways in which they manipulate it remain fertile grounds of study not just so we may learn more about design but that we may also learn to respect all these great traditions of enquiry. Design must be one of the most interdisciplinary of subjects. It often sits uncomfortably in the old-fashioned structures that many of the great universities use to divide up knowledge. A study of design, above all else, perhaps teaches us to challenge those structures, whether they still help us or perhaps more often hinder our investigations. The nature of design knowledge is both fascinating and complex.
What is knowing? There are many ways of knowing. You ‘know’ how to ride a bicycle or how to swim- that has been recognized as ‘knowledge in action’. Such knowledge is often hard to acquire, and even more difficult to describe or explain, and yet easy to recognize. We may also ‘know’ how to see or hear in particular ways. But, why might we believe that design knowledge is likely to turn out to be different or special? There is some higher quality depending on some identifiable body of knowledge lying outside and beyond the problem that distinguishes design from other knowledge forms. Translating this into more generic language requires us to see that design as opposed to mere problem solving requires the application of a body of knowledge not stated or necessarily even referred to in the brief.
The design problems are not defined in such a way that any two designers trying to solve them would rely upon the same body of knowledge. Since each designer takes their own approach, each will require supporting knowledge related to that approach. Unlike problems of science there is no one commonly shared theoretical body of knowledge which can be applied to generate a solution. Thus, the kinds of knowledge that may enter into a design solution are practically limitless.
Designers have understood the complexity of design problems and have worked towards the need to break them down in manageable chunks that could be addressed by the human mind. He could then propose solutions to each of these sub-problem clusters and then assemble all these sub-solutions into an overall solution. This way of reaching a solution through creating sub-solutions, is rather archaic and seldom resolves the issue of optimized utilization. Design integration is a rather preferred way to achieve design solutions. Design is clearly a process that suggests how the world might be rather than one which describes how it is now. This knowledge is predictive but uncertain and laden with values. It is clear that the application of such knowledge is a highly selective process and therefore inevitably results in designers making their own unique interpretation of design problems.
Thus, Design activities are ‘problem structuring’ and ‘problem solving’, with the latter divided into ‘preliminary design’, ‘refinement’, and ‘detailing’. It is true that these show the designers beginning with ‘problem structuring’ and ending with ‘detail design’. It is also true that in general the ‘modal’ activity passes through these four stages as the protocols proceed, but it is certainly not true that they are ‘distinct’. Once we take other evidence into account about the design processes of experienced and outstanding designers we shall see that some at least use quite different sequences.
- MAMTA MANTRI