‘Substance without Brilliance’ – Our Education relevant to the Change of Tides. October 11, 2011Posted by @Karen_Fu in change, creativity, design, education, ethics, industrial design, Innovation, Product Design, USA.
Tags: design education, Don Norman, higher education, PhD-Design, Steve Jobs, tertiary education
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