Are PhDs a threat to design education? Are PhDs a threat to all kinds of education? October 14, 2011Posted by @Karen_Fu in education, Innovation, research.
Tags: higher education, PhD design list, PhDs
add a comment
I am following up, albeit in a very fast eye dotting manner on the thread which Don Norman had started from ‘Brilliance without substance‘. I have plenty to say. As so much time is allowed for me, I think I will just candidly write from my personal perspective. I think Gunar Swanson had hit a lot of points that design research need not come from only PhDs ( see his post on PhD design) . That is a crux of the matter. Research should not be done by only people who hold PhDs. Its a fallacy to assume that all PhDs could do fine intelligent research. It’s an insult to those who are able but choose not to do a postgraduate education because of the opportunity costs concerned. Research is the process of using keen observation to do innovative investigation, whereby different skills and knowledge are put into use to find the solutions to problems. It has to be done by intelligent people. No doubt about it. But it may not always be done by PhD holders. It can be seen as rude to think so.
I don’t hold a postgraduate degree though I had gotten in to a good number in various fields. I had the wish to a postgrad and onwards to a PhD. But circumstances at home did not allow me to do it. It still is actually. Despite so, I still applied in the slim hope that someone out there would offer me the full cash to cover the costs I would have to forgo. I wanted to be a college professor. I love academic environment because of ONE damned reason : its a learning haven where dreams could be realized without the politics. Top colleges could do that with their kind of financial base with companies and their network to research materials. I was dreaming away and to be not able to attend one postgraduate course was a nightmare, especially to someone who really loves to learn and teach.
Now this motivation to do a postgrad has dwindled down rapidly as I read off minds who are not opened. To me, receptiveness is very important as much as intellectual integrity. One cannot be too intelligent and wise to ignore what others out of our clique could offer. Everyone has their experience, and their cleverness for us to learn. It adds up to a wholesome mind that knows no boundaries. PhDs can be a threat if it blocks this freedom to investigate and problem solve in different ways. If words and tons of words are the sole way of doing research, then we are in dire trouble.
From my clique from Senior High, whom many are holding top posts in the country, I know PhDs are not a must. However, intelligence is a must. The mind must able to see beyond context and be able to interpret different information at a sound level. A good number of my ex-college mates only hold a bachelors, some at Masters level but they hold billion dollar assets excellently. I have only come across 1 PhD graduate from my Senior High clique who is holding a vice director post. I was surprised that not a lot of people had done their PhDs given the fact that most of my senior high friends were high flyers in academia. The reason? They don’t see the point of doing a PhD. Apart from those who did a medical degree, where many of them are researchers in different areas of medicine, I hardly see like even a third of them holding PhDs. Oh yes, another one did hers for journalism. But I don’t think it really helped her much in the end because she was already at her pinnacle of her career. Many had done important work in serving the people. The essence of this success is their openness to learn and to solve problems actively in great precision and efficiency in the best possible method for their pending problems.
Writing to this point, I must clarify that I am not against PhDs. But I do punch out to those who have restrictive dogmatic minds of whom, what and how to do research. It spells discrimination and a poor sense of foresight and even hindsight.
Research is not about prescribed formulas. Its about looking at the problem in a very holistic and sensitive way with respect to people and the environment. It is about the process of creative innovation where methods itself could be even invented. Sure you need a rule to keep things in order and an efficient system for all to relate to. But not to the point of confinement.
Certain cliches for being a PhD graduate appears to be evident. Perhaps it stems out from the idea that to reach the top of the academic pinnacle is an accomplishment. It is, provided that the PhD education has taught one to be truly democratic and open to different people, creed and culture in a respectful way. This is indeed a highly sensitive topic. But I suppose if anyone is genuinely interested in research and to see how it goes, I bet you people will speak up. — Karen Fu
My other relevant blog post reference:
Tags: design, education, PhDs, research, tertiary education
add a comment
I have been skimming through the threads on PhDs, education, design and about substance without brilliance. To be honest, I really feel like ‘crying’. So were the few who had read them over my shoulders. First off to clear out the verbose clot, we need to question the basics of education if we are delivering the right skills to students of the right calibre. Next off, we need to ask if we are teaching the right ethics and ideas about what design should be. This includes not only in the area of the arts but in other fields of engineering design, service design, social innovation etc. They are, in my opinion, linked. For without a sound mind of thought and knowledge in a sharp logical way, clear creative thinking cannot be formed. It is as simple as that. We need to also ask if we have been designing for the sake of designing. Or are we chanting the mantra without asking why we need to use a certain technology. At times advance technologies may be harmful. We need not use ‘progressive’ technologies in certain areas; but we must have a progressive mind to know what is good, and what is bad. Then we are talking about the true usefulness of scholarship, research and design. Many times, we are creating more problems to the problems. Do we really need a microchip to push out the water from the sprout? Does a cup of coffee taste best using a US$3500 machine when someone with the right hand tools would suffice. At some levels, ego seems to be eating us up. Our environment is damaged because we have lost touch with the ground. What is the point of PhDs when you’ve loose the fundamentals? I seem to have been reading a chunk of many words on forums at PhD-Design. Surely the type of words show power and we do need words to communicate over the internet. Its fast & it’s damn quicker to run the keyboards than to even draw or make models.
But at several points, I seem to feel we are students studying English Literature;
while in reality we need to learn design literature, social economics literature, engineering literature, politics etc..Words are there to portray thoughts but words can never display full ideas. They are definitely valueless if they are always being repeated several times.
Should words be used to create ‘class disparities’ ? Definitely not. But it does appear that certain cultures have to be dogmatically followed. That itself stifles that idea of thought. I think there are some ideas about what design education should be; and what research should be. I really love to study and research on design issues. — its basically about life quality in terms of design. But at times, when I read some research views or work; I would start to question about the methods and the ideas behind it. Do we really understand what is research and how to teach research ? What kinds of mindsets and attitudes should we bear in mind ? Sometimes, I find them ‘funny’. At times I find it frustrating. At rare points, reading them makes you wanna ‘cry’.
Taking up a postgrad isn’t that attractive now as I seem to be seeing more problems than solutions. It’s probably the ‘horror’ I read off from certain people on the forum and also the people whom I met. They seem to sound so rigid at times. But I still like to think I could do a postgrad because of 1 reason: teaching. Colleges don’t hire people without a postgrad qualification to teach unless it were to mean guest lecturing. I am studying on my own and seem to be very happy with it. I’ve also come to realize that in higher education, people tend to despise non-postgrad or non PhD graduates. A certain egoistical pride in the way some people view their post grad degrees. That’s also one of the reasons I keep away from the degree. Then again, people can still say I am not good enough to study for one. I have got a different style in expressing myself in which everyone can understand me. No profound words, no ‘profound’ looks. Plain and simple. Maybe that’s why some people don’t really like my style.
I think life isn’t that complex if we chose not to. We live in a oddball world where many people do not die from the disease that they got in the first place. They often die from the side diseases that they contracted later. Advancement in technologies may curing diseases, but if we fail to understand what is the root of the problem, then we are not eradicating problems.Take some breathing space to ponder about how we live. Then you will understand where I come from. It would certainly be a question of character if one does something awfully different from what they preach. That’s a shame on design integrity.– Karen Fu, before late bed time snooze..
Tags: design education, Don Norman, higher education, PhD-Design, Steve Jobs, tertiary education
add a comment
Don Norman posted yet another provocative post on PhD-Design forum: ‘Substance without Brilliance.‘ He hits the nail on the spot. But as I was skimming through on pockets-of-spare minutes, I think there are still rigid ideas at hand with usually certain people who tend not to change.
What caught my eye on his post was his mention on the confined curriculum within the design education along with the lack of adaptiveness. He mentions that most are short of hard core Science and Humaities subjects; and paid little on learning the humanities via ‘liberal arts’ route. In my opinion, a strong logic must come in hand when it comes to comprehending different data. Excellent problem solvers are extremely logical yet they are very creative. I have come to find aquite a number within my encounters. And many do not hold higher degrees. And and for some, no degrees. But what I’ve found a little perplexing is the nature of how he made those arguements at times.
1- Drawing has nothing / little to do with thinking. — I wonder how he meant. Even when one is sketching a nude during life drawing classes, we were told to think in terms of form and how the muscles moved et cetra. Free flow of hand drawing movements train the hand and the eye to quickly take down details. Granted that sketching nudes is not the prime core of the product design, it does instill part of an important training in how to be sharp at observation skills on the human form — important when it comes to studying of ergonomics — provided if the lessons conducted was really into that area of human factors and not just drawing a beautiful drawing.
2- design education must take on on its own. — true. But I think the more fundamental part is to genuinely learn to be open and not be so much on one’s own. Learning has to be free -spirited and without ego is very important to acquiring knowledge. An education lasting a span of only 3-5 years doesn’t really teach you the world but a good education could certainly teach you how to see and evaluate things around you. How would a design education do this? I believe it must first come off from the ‘human aspect’ to first change attitudes before the curriculum could have a radical change. Without that, nothing much can be done.
Our century is the rebellious era of change where the conventional hype will not work because they have proven to be outdated. However, the inertia of change has always been stubborn to go because of the inherent human ego. I always come to think of history as a keen reference to the various human sufferings we have had in the past. Education to that effect, should always cater the idea of how to grow out of ego-istical’ ideas such as ‘elitism’ that confines us from seeing how many other different people see things. Ethics and sustainability issues have been discussed over the years. But I am beginning to suspect that it hasn’t been really working, else we would not be having so much waste created that is not really decreasing. If ethics has been brought into place, then I would have to question why the major world problems have not been eliminated. Social unrest, international disputes on trade and politics of different kinds simply show that our problems are merely morphing in form. Of course, that’s on the economics and social sciences front; but that is also related to design too. For without knowing these key relations, the products designed won’t be relevant. What Don hasn’t pinpointed are a few facts naturally on the ethical mindsets of leaders today who may be perhaps the output of our current tertiary education culture. We may talk about the curriculum that we need to develop a new form. With respect to design, it is a young course that is still changing. It doesn’t have the resolute syllabus of what needs to be learnt like traditional courses at universities like Medicine and Engineering. It is more of an applied course where technology and other subjects of study are brought into place.
I don’t think the craft aspect must be totally taken out. It’s a human skill and sensitivity that is trained through seeing how craft is done. But what Don may be referring to is the overemphasis on craft as the main source for designing products, which is a faulty emphasis if you were to consider the changing technologies & social economics which requires one to be astute and logical. The knowledge in fuel, materials and manufacturing areas are needed to fully understand how a potential product design needs working on. Craft itself is simply insufficient. We can’t live on solely craft anyway. But neither do we do products that are too ‘cold’ in nature as with the emphasis on solely technology and engineering are concerned. Design should break this out of this mold and form a clear distinct definition of what it can do. Else this discipline will soon be perished. All these, I feel, have strong relations to the kind of practice and people we have. All these will build the reputation of the course. I suppose ‘Substance without Brilliance’ isn’t exactly a good title. It really should be ‘Brillaince without Substance.’ That is the crux of the problem, in my modest opinion. I have decided to quickly put in my edited reply to the PhD-design Forum about the thread:
Posted on the 10-10-2011 (Singapore Time)
Looking at the world at large, we have to question that if we have strayed away from the true aims of what education should be. Design education, of course, belongs to a special breed. We cannot exactly equate that to the traditional form of tertiary education. I’m afraid I have to spear the head that in most establishments, teaching tends to form the school’s mould rather than the students’ mould. The late Steve Jobs serve a crucial lesson for both PhD educators and us all who love to learn and learn to love. We need to flexible with an apt mind that shows no rigidity in any way. Then the hard works chutes in. But I believe that hard work has a limit. Health is very important. Many, like Jobs, work as though there is no tomorrow. They work at the expense of family ties, which I object. Sometimes, you need to play for yourself. And when at game, you’d probably expand your mind more. Perhaps, I should have voiced this out ages ago. It’s a little late but its better late than never.
Posted on the 11-10-2011 (Singapore Time)
I had missed out the part on education that I’ve almost sounded as
though education isn’t important. It isn’t. Agree with Frankie on the
innovativeness of teaching as being crucial. However, one would have
to question about the quality of some teachers in the first place in
terms of their own minds if they are able to be that receptive and
elastic to various cultures and concepts. Chances are its very hard to
find such people. Most tend to keep on to their own and refuse
‘provocative challenges’ since that was how they were brought up and
got ‘successful’. We can’t change very much on that, at least on the
direct front.Then again, the history and the nature of most human
minds is that we tend to keep very much to our own because that is the
most beneficial and the easiest way to go through. This inertia if
done with authority could stifle creativity. Fortunately, such
establishments do not stay healthy for very long and they will be
‘auto-renewed’. Steve Jobs is a good example that a superior mind is
not taught by education. He had his own mind. And he did his own way.
Who would have thought that the brand ‘ Apple ‘ had any bond to
computers, and nevermind the bite of an apple could do wonders to our
way of living? In terms of graphical metaphor, it is irrelevant; but
he turned the world around. Thats revolution. Other great minds had no
direct education when they do something. Examples are many. In the
product and servies innovation front, Jobs is a great strategist at
work but ironically a thorough failure in designing his personal life
— he neglected both his family and his health.
> Are we maybe missing something here? Jobs was undoubtedly a creative manager, with vision. But what did that vision lead him to do? Hire educated designers of both software and hardware. In the case of hardware, first a range of outside consultants, and latterly of course, Jonathan Ive.
> Andrew J King
The Late Steve Jobs appear to hire people out from the usual. Most
hired under him tend to be from modest backgrounds with sound
education qualifications though not necessarily from the tip pf the
top schools. His vision of hiring is itself farsighted and different.
Everyone has fundamentally 1 education in a lifetime. Few lucky ones
may get 2 or more. We can’t learn everything in one education, or even
in 2 or 3. But what I can say is a fine education (excluding degree
granting colleges) will set you the foundations for thinking. The rest
of the education after High School or Senior High School (Pre
University) will really be focused on skills and advanced knowledge in
specified fields. Apart from this, if one had not formed the right
matrix for thinking; the chances of exceptional thought will not be
possible. Nevermind expanding on what that has been assimilated
In this aspect, college edication has little help. But what it could
do, I think, would be to allow individual students of learning to be
able to retain their own styles. And with that in mind, the culture of
teaching and curriculum has to change to fit the students creative
mind frame than to set a kind of rule of culture. The essence is the
knowledge learnt —- whether one has been keeping up with learning.
It has little to do with the level of Degree certificates one has
Hope I’ve made it clear. Perhaps not many are interested in my post.
Mine do look odd when it is compared to the usual post graduate
intellectual debate posts. But I always believe that learning takes no
specific form so as long as the fundamentals of learning with an open
mind & enthusiasm is concerned.
Innovativeness comes from a keep learning mind that knows no
boundaries. Education should always stay in that form and not in
affect of any kind of irrelevant influence.
Right I’m late again.
PS: adapt to grow; confine to perish.
Don Norman has always been provocative. I like the guts. But there are certain areas that I find it quite perplexing especially on the areas of sketching not seen as part of thinking; which I think its not quite true. But on the areas of design education failing to offer hard core study areas in humanities and technologies, yes. On the account of teachers who may in a way set a culture that confines the students, yes. I think there are plenty more that is to be done on a human level. The reality is that people are stubborn and resistent to change. How to handle the spear without getting speared in this case, would depend on how one handles the spear. The target of changing design education starts from people. I believe a sound education depends on logic. The kind that sharpens the mind to evaluate and form ideas very quickly. That actually needs more than an education. — Karen Fu