Twenty years ago a seminal article appeared in ID magazine that contrasted two approaches to design and design education: the methods-driven and scientific approach described by Chuck Owen of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and the experimental and semantic approach advocated by Mike McCoy of Cranbrook.
These two separate methods evolved into what are today simply known as "innovation" (or "design thinking") and "design," and each has built its own culture within the design profession. Yet some confusion surrounds these concepts, especially about how these two methods interact to deliver products.
By examining the two approaches, we can highlight some of the most critical issues shaping American design. In a debate format, two new voices are revisiting and updating the argument; Scott Klinker from Cranbrook and Jeremy Alexis from IIT.
A snippet to tempt you:Q: Whatâ€™s the current approach of your school?Scott Klinker (Cranbrook): If the world is filling with "things with attitude," then we explore "the attitude of things"â€”informed by a critical look at modern change. As part of an excellent graduate art school, Cranbrook 3D is a laboratory for experimental thinking and making. Most of our students already have some professional experience and have returned to a research setting to develop a unique voice within the field. Like all of the 10 disciplines here from painting and sculpture to jewelry and architecture, we experiment with new connections between form and meaning by actually making things. A designer's creative autonomy and authorship is equal to a painter's or a ceramicist's. Innovation culture calls this a "traditional, arts-based model" of design education. We simply call it design.
Design should be mastered as a liberal art before it is considered as a business tool. Great design comes from an artistic or cultural impulse, not from a focus group. Great design starts by creating meaningful stories with a POV, not by building a bulletproof business case. Great design creates new culture, not just clever new utilities. Great Design is about meaning first, the market second. We want the next great generation of designers who know how to experiment with form and meaning, not the next generation of strategists who churn out 8.5x11 rationalized reports on business opportunities. We want to elevate the best American design talent on the international radar.
After 30 odd years in the global design industry opening doors to new and frontier markets through exploratory user research, concept design, and innovation strategies, Niti returned to academia as a student to pursue a PhD in Product Development at Aalto University's Design Factory. Her dissertation looks at the contribution of design methods to foster agency and capacity for innovation as a resilience strategy to shocks at the micro-level of the individual. Her research approach has expanded the multidisciplinary lens of viability, feasibility, and desirability to a transdisciplinary one where participants generate the actionable knowledge for their own innovation pathways.