ENTANGLED. Design, Education, and Critical Thinking. A manifesto. — Chhandak Pradhan

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A Manifesto

Design, Education, and Critical Thinking Chhandak Pradhan

ENTANGLED Design, Education, and Critical Thinking

Chhandak Pradhan

M.A. Design, Communication / Zürcher Hochschule der Künste Mentors: Prof. Dr Sarah Owens, Dr Björn Franke Zürich, 2019


How to interest design students in critical thinking? Defining it as the ability to unpack assumptions, I present critical thinking as a method of conceptualising ideas. When intertwined with design skills, these ideas evolve into a non-generic portfolio. Entangled is an educational tool that uses students’ desire to stand out as an incentive to circumvent apathy. As its theoretical framework, Entangled uses an interdisciplinary mix of Critical Pedagogy, History, Visual Culture, awareness of Entanglement, Materiality and Discursive Objects. The tool, delivered as a modular and flexible coursework, repurposes existing design curricula and infrastructures. It includes tasks to enhance perception; a card game to question assumptions; moderated discussions to encourage critical thinking; and finally, examples and assignments to integrate with design practice.

Keywords: critical thinking, design pedagogy, portfolio development, entangled history, visual culture, discursive objects

Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers — Josef Albers


Why study history? Communication design students, woefully ignorant about the history of art, particularly Indian art, would regularly pose this question at The National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Kolkata where I worked as a guest faculty for four years. I joined Zürcher Hochschule der Künste (ZHdK), to develop an educational tool that would help me teach the history of Indian art to those disinterested students. At the very onset, my mentors challenged the need for such a project with certain fundamental questions. As I tried looking for answers, I chanced upon even more existential ones: What is the goal of education? What is design for? Who is a designer? How does studying history help a designer? Why should a design student from Europe study Indian history or vice versa? Over the first semester as I tried to resolve these questions, I noticed a change within myself. I was becoming more skeptical of stereotypical narratives and always looking for context. A fascinating web of entanglement would reveal itself when I probed clichés with questions such as who, what, when, how, where, or why. Furthermore, I started to notice the impact of critical thinking on my practice as a designer. With the revelation of a hitherto hidden world of contexts and connections, I began looking at objects and ideas in new ways. These new perspectives, so far unseen to me, coupled with new knowledge, research methods, design tools, and materials I was learning to use, were leading me to frequent epiphanies. Ideas for new projects—the most esoteric part of the creative process for me so far—began to manifest themselves on a regular basis. Hence I became interested in the connection between critical thinking, ideas, and education of future designers.

Table Of Contents




Mapping The Journey

Context | Problematising The Topic | Approach


Unpacking Design

What Is Design? | Reconceptualising Design


Road To Entanglement

Towards Criticality | A Roadmap | Paths Less Travelled

91 CHAPTER THREE An Uneasy Relationship

What’s In A Name | Tempest In A Teacup

123 CHAPTER FOUR Instruments Of Intervention

Insights | Inspiration | Integration




156 162 164

Bibliography Appendix Impressum

Mapping The Journey  C HAPTER ZERO



Fear Of Freedom Ever since childhood, I have been in a complicated relationship with education. Success at a majority of Indian schools rests primarily on the oppressive troika of rote learning, stifling imagination and blindly following the establishment. Uncannily, I was bad at all three. Years later, when a chance opening saw me as a guest faculty at the one of India’s premier design schools, surprisingly even there I encountered the effect of this type of education. To encourage students to be original, creative, and innovative, I purposefully included explorations as part of assignment briefs. Struggling with the freedom given, they urged me for more instructions. Often willing to swap such assignments with more prescriptive ones. This apathy towards exploration, in my opinion, is an outcome of what Paulo Freire, the leading advocate of critical pedagogy calls fear of freedom (2000, p. 46). Elaborating about the fear in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed he writes—

The oppressed suffer from the duality which has established itself in their innermost being. They discover that without freedom they cannot exist authentically. Yet, although they desire authentic exis­tence, they fear it (Freire, 2000, p. 48).


Critical Thinking To The Rescue Unaware of Freire’s seminal work and the dialogical education he proposed, I initially struggled to address this fear. However, by the end of the second semester of teaching, through trial and error, I was able to fashion a somewhat DIY process that used critical thinking to counter this fear.

1. As a compulsory subject in the foundation course of the school, I had assumed that students would already be familiar with the topic.

In chapter one of this manifesto I define critical thinking in detail, but to introduce the idea—“[c]ritical thinking is the process of hunting assumptions—discovering what assumptions we and others hold, and then checking to see how much sense those assumptions make” (Brookfield, 2012, p. 24). My initial approach was to use art history [ 1 ] as a gateway to discuss broader socio-political issues. I planned to use these discussions to highlight various perspectives and create awareness about assumptions. Disinterested students forced me to rethink. The dry, chronological, and non-contextual telling of the history of art that they had previously encountered made them perceive the subject as unnecessary and boring. The fact that the lessons were delivered via unimaginative class lectures and text-heavy powerpoint slides didn’t help either. Also, having never stepped in a European museum in person, the predominantly Eurocentric historiographies of art they had to study were vague and distant for them. Hence I decided to forgo my initial plan of using conventional (European) art history, settling instead on Indian history with which they were more familiar with. In order to make history more engaging, I used anecdotes. To create awareness of distinct perspectives, I consciously chose marginal narratives that challenged hegemony. Using these anecdotes from history to spark debates in class, I tried to contextualise various contemporary socio-political and eco-


nomic issues through moderated discussions. In the safe and non-judgemental environment we created, the conversations of the pupils from diverse backgrounds frequently veered towards personal experiences, often highlighting similar marginal perspectives. We would learn how a woman negotiates patriarchy on a daily basis, how fear of being outed haunts an upper-middle-class homosexual man, how someone from a lower caste faces subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination, or how another from a small town is challenged by the dominance of English as a lingua-franca. Unbeknownst, I had engaged in problem posing (Freire, 2000, p. 79)—a form of learning, which uses questions directed at the problems that students have in their social context. Freire proposed problem posing to challenge the prevalent banking concept (2000, p. 72) of education where a teacher “deposits” facts into the mind of students who are then expected to memorise and recall them.


Our sessions seemed to be giving students certain tools to critically reflect on and eventually transcend their fear of the risks associated with freedom. E.g., Baishali Pradhan, a student from Darjeeling, talked about how she was regularly called “chinki” (a derogatory term for people from Tibet and North East India, who with their Mongoloid features and distinct socio-culturural traits are perceived by many Indians, especially men, as exotic and promiscuous). Over the next five semesters, I saw Baishali use her personal account of marginalisation to formulate a more comprehensive critical thinking process. This culminated in a book titled Beyond Words which she published as her graduation project. Her beautifully stylised portraits of people like her, living in six cities across India used the aesthetics of a contemporary fashion shoot to grab attention. Simultaneously the captions, interviews and her own essay provided context to how she and her subjects negotiated racism on a daily basis.


A Missing Link In a majority of design schools, technical skills take precedence, often at the cost of critical reflection. At the very onset of my tenure at National Institute of Fashion Technology, I had discovered that students focused only on learning software and techniques. Missing was a framework to guide them through questions such as what to create, why to create that, and for whom. Lacking such reflection students tried copying styles and techniques in vogue or what they perceived as “cool.” As a result, plagiarism was rampant. Outcomes of assignments were unimaginative and resembled typologies of Pinterest boards and Google image search. Which is why I decided to engage students in critical thinking. However, even when there is an attempt to engage in critical thinking and reflection, design students seem to perceive it as a colossal waste of time. During my stint at Zürcher Hochschule der Künste (ZHdK), I often heard from classmates as well as B.A. students I taught, how they couldn’t understand the purpose of the more theoretical courses (which were mostly geared towards different forms of critical thinking). “Why are we talking so much instead of doing things” one remarked. “We are here to learn design, so why did we spend time learning about politics and colonialism” complained another. Hence, I decided to focus my research on finding a way that would encourage design students to engage in critical thinking.




Problematising The Topic


Research Question Flowing from this context, the overarching question of my research became: How to present critical thinking as a tool for design processes to students? I chose to break the research question into supplementary questions: What is design? What challenges do future designers face? Can critical thinking help them negotiate those challenges? How is design taught? How is critical thinking learned? How to incorporate critical thinking within the prevalent structure of design education? What could be the components of that learning method?

Relevance   The first step towards actualisation of my theoretical framework, was to identify certain features that would make this learning method practical and timely. After some interviews with former students, fellow teachers, and personal deliberation I arrived at three criteria. First, the tool had to incentivise critical thinking for design students. To do so, critical thinking is presented as a way of generating ideas. Using the ability to unpack assumptions and trace entanglements, critical thinking reconceptualises problems. This fresh perspective of problems leads to new ideas which can then be materialised with design skills that students learn over the course of their studies. Such works may evolve over time into


a non-generic portfolio that shows the interests and personality of the students, making them stand-out. This comes in handy once they graduate and look for jobs. Having become used to thinking critically, these future designers could bring the much needed critical point-of-view even in commercial projects. Second, the tool had to fit within the prevalent academic setup and infrastructure of a design school with minimal changes. This has been achieved by repurposing components of the existing curriculum and knowledge that the students are already familiar with. Thus, it minimises capital investment, does not impose an extra workload on either educators or students, and is less time consuming. Lastly, the tool had to be implementable in varying timeframes and by various design disciplines to accommodate students with diverse needs. The tool has therefore been conceived to be modular and flexible. The modularity ensures parts of it can be used even beyond design education—from learning critical thinking or simply as a teaching aid to make history more engaging. I believe all these features make my research relevant and unique.

Outcome My research has materialised in the form of this book titled “Entangled” which serves as an exegesis text-material artefact hybrid. The hybrid houses two components—this manifesto, and six modules of a teaching tool. The components are interconnected and reside in one another in varying forms. But primarily, the manifesto contextualises critical thinking with respect to design while the modules provide a roadmap for achieving the ideals espoused within the manifesto. The six modules are: first, tasks to improve perception and observation skills; second, a history-based card game that makes students aware of entanglements; third, group discussions that use visual culture and contemporary topics


to unpack general assumptions; fourth, problem posing exercises and dialogues through which students unpack their own assumptions and perspectives; fifth, discursive objects as exemplars in order to demonstrate the process of conceptualising and developing an idea; sixth, design briefs that require students to engage in critical thinking.


Limitations The first limitation of my tool is that it depends on an educator to drive the project. As individuals, we have our own biases, beliefs, and perspectives. Those are reflected in the topics we choose, assignments we give out, and how we assess them. I have tried to address this problem by incorporating critical pedagogy as a general framework as well as marginal narratives from history along with assignments from diverse sources to learn and practice critical thinking. These inclusions hedge against but do not absolve the


1. Check Engaging with Problems in chapter one for more.

The irony of drawing a premise, for a topic which is supposed to question premises, is not lost on me. While all premises may and should be questioned, it is also necessary to have one in order to begin an investigation of any kind. So, I start with my first—that engaging with problems [ 1 ] is a common thread that can connect the diverse universe of design. The second premise is that Freire’s idea of praxis may be extrapolated to design with problem engagement and critical thinking acting as stand-ins for action and reflection respectively. The third is that unpacking assumptions and tracing entanglements [ 2 ] is an effective way to learn critical thinking. The fourth and last premise is that critical thinking, once activated, gets integrated in the cognitive process of an individual. I will justify these premises in different parts of the manifesto.

2. Check Entanglements in chapter two for more.


project of this inherent problem. The other major limitation of this project is time, or the lack of it. Any educational tool has to be tried in diverse classroom settings to judge its usefulness. Moreover, it takes at least a few years to register the impact of such methods on students. Thus, a tool that aims to engage with something as complicated as critical thinking cannot ignore this major limitation. To balance this shortcoming, I have taken three steps. Firstly, I have studied and borrowed methods that were refined and perfected over many years by stalwarts of design education and critical pedagogy. Secondly, my project is a continuation of my teaching process of the last five years. As such, I have incorporated my own methods and observations from India along with the feedbacks of students, designers, and educators in making this current tool. Lastly, I had the opportunity to teach a course titled “Designtheorie I: Wahrnehmung und Ästhetik” (Design Theory I: Perception and Aesthetic) to bachelor students studying Visual Communication at ZHdK during Herbstsemester 2018. I used this course to formulate a key module of the tool. These steps notwithstanding, I am aware of the limitations. Thus, I see the end of the M.A. research as a beginning of testing and improving my tool.






Methods I envision the tool as a permutation and recontextualisation of existing solutions. The interdisciplinary soul of the project and the use of tried and tested methods is meant to counter the limitations outlined before. As such, the methodology is polyamorous with theories scavenged from unrelated sources. To begin with the theoretical part of the project, I depended heavily on scholarly literature. I read books on Design History, Design Process, Design Research, Critical and Speculative Design, and History of Design Education to gain an in-depth overview about the discipline. I followed it up with books about Art and Design Pedagogy, Critical Pedagogy, and Philosophy to inform me about critical thinking with respect to design and education. As a result I developed a structure for the tool based on tasks, discussions, visual and material culture, design practice, and history. In order to conceptualise an engaging telling of history, I conducted a literature review on Narratives and Historiography. I supplemented this with museum visits. Learning from them, I decided to use historical anecdotes in combination with representative images and make them interactive using augmented reality. To further engage the students, I decided to organise the anecdotes in a non-chronological order. In search for an answer how to do so, I attended talks and symposia on design and art education. At one such


1. For details visithttps://another-roadmap.net/intertwining-histories/ blog/unchronological-timeline

symposium, I came across a game— “UN/CHRONO/LOGICAL TIMELINE” developed by Another Roadmap for Arts Education [ 1 ], an international working group of art educators and researchers. I decided to model a dialogical, game based tool—Entangled [Hi]stories—on this and read books on game design to further develop the rules of the game. The game forms the second module of my tool. I initially read about History of Photography, Art History, and History of Graphic Design in order to develop the content for the Entangled [Hi]stories card game. Given the limitations of time, my familiarity with the topic, and a desire to move away from Eurocentric history, I eventually decided to focus on history from the subcontinent for the game. In order to further sharpen my focus, I chose fashion as a “red thread.” It provided an interesting entry point into a broad range of topics and allowed me to expand on global entanglements. I decided to include historical anecdotes that challenge dominant narratives by highlighting perspectives from the margins of society. With these parameters in mind, I conducted more literature review and archival research on Indian Cultural History to find apt anecdotes for the game. While teaching a bachelor course at ZHdK, I had the opportunity to develop and try out some approaches and activities aimed at unpacking assumptions. I have used the content and techniques developed as part of this course to formulate the third and fourth module of my tool. This course also made me realise the importance of motivation as a necessary component for the tool. I therefore conducted interviews with former students from India to get a feedback of what did and did not work in my previous teaching method. I also conducted informal interviews with three previous colleagues to note their observations regarding motivation and critical thinking. I have incorporated their feedback in various parts of the tool. A significant portion of my time at ZHdK was spent attending workshops, symposia,


performances, screenings, and additional courses (both at undergraduate and masters level) at various departments and institutes of ZHdK. At the university, I explored materials (e.g., ceramic, wood, metal, plastic, and resin); experimented with techniques and processes (e.g., laser cutting, 3d printing, volumetric imaging, motion capture, projection mapping, virtual reality, audio recording, risography and image manipulation); became aware of new media (such as interaction, scenography, curation, performance, smell); and gained new knowledge (e.g., history of photography, critical and speculative design, Swiss graphic design, and art pedagogy). I attended several talks at ZHdK and some lectures at institutions outside, such as the University of Zurich, Oxford University, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zurich, and HEAD–Genève. The talks and lectures gave me a broad perspective on various topics such as live coded music, telematic performance, artistic research, transmedia storytelling, immersive design, generative art, intersectionality, and entangled history. These interdisciplinary and multi-sensory encounters have not only enriched the tool, but have also enhanced my practice by showing me ways to integrate art, design, technology, and research.


In order to develop the fifth module, I first conducted visual research. This involved visiting galleries, modern-art museums, art fairs, and photo festivals. I also scanned through catalogues of art festivals like Venice Biennial and Art Basel. Finally I decided to conduct practice-based research by making some discursive objects.

Structure The manifesto is divided in five chapters. Chapter one aims to unpack design by critiquing the idea of design as a process of solving problems, especially wicked problems. It then justifies engaging with problems and critical thinking


as key elements of a reconceptualised variation of design, which I call Progressive Design. In chapter two, I consolidate the theoretical framework of the manifesto. I first look at design’s attempts to engage with critical thinking. Then, starting from a history of design education, I formulate essential constituents of Design Education 2.0. Next, I focus on the steps required to learn critical thinking, develop the concept of entanglements, and finally establish critical thinking as an idea generator in order to motivate design students. In chapter three I contextualise design research theoretically. I then present my own research on the topic of sex-education as an exemplar of criticality as an idea generator. In chapter four I use the theoretical framework established in chapters one and two to develop the structure of the tool. Finally, in chapter five I conclude my manifesto by presenting the findings of my research.




npacking U  Design CHAPTER ONE

Everything that can be said, can be said clearly — Ludwig Wittgenstein

What Is Design?


Any exploration of critical thinking with respect to design first necessitates a working understanding of what design is. In the absence of a universally accepted definition of the term, common usage is a place as good as any to start this enterprise. The word ”design” is used ambiguously, both as a noun and verb—to denote an outcome as well as a process. The “outcome” may be anything between tangible (e.g., a phone) and abstract (e.g., a software or interaction). However, the “process” of designing is almost always a veritable black box, mystified by the temperament of individual designers and vagaries of distinct disciplines. Though easily understood, design-as-noun is a cul-de-sac when it comes to sketching out a conceptual framework. In spite of the knowledge housed within designed objects in the form of material culture, using design-as-noun achieves precious little beyond establishing typologies based on the outcome. A taxonomic classification [ 1 ] is useful eventually, but only once an understanding of what design may or may not be has been surveyed. Thus, we must first navigate the quagmire that is design-as-verb to have a better understanding of the scope, concerns, and limitations of design.

Design As A Process… How do I design? Why do I design that way? How to describe my workflow? As designers, we rarely ask these questions our-


1. Check Design Gets Critical in chapter two for more.

The Noun-Verb Conundrum

1. These investigations of the design process would open the doors for other professions to emulate creative thinking techniques, such as brainstorming (Szczepanska, 2017, para. 30).

selves. Design knowledge, learnt at school or during apprenticeship, is generally embodied through repeated practice. Eventually, after a few years, the knowledge amalgamates with experience and turns into instinct. At this stage the designer ideally forgets about the tools and focuses on the task. Thus, for a practicing designer, analysis of the process may even become a distraction. However, reflection on process becomes unavoidable when training new designers or working with multiple teams on large projects. According to design planner Hugh Dubberly, “[d]iscussions about design and development processes began in earnest shortly after the second world war. They grew out of military research and development efforts in at least three fields, operations research, cybernetics, and large-scale engineering project management” (2004, p. 7). Between 1962 and 1972, in what would be known as the Design Methods Movement, academic designers based in the UK, at Ulm in Germany, as well as MIT and Berkeley in the US, took it upon themselves to make design more “scientific” in areas such as industrial design, architecture, and town planning. Heavily influenced by post-war optimism and belief in scientific progress, the likes of Bruce Archer, John Chris Jones, Christopher Alexander, and Horst Rittel tried to rationalise and systemise the design process. This may be considered as the first attempt at comprehending the modern design process. Since then, various models have been proposed to explain this enigmatic “process.” Depending on what kind of solutions were studied (e.g., architecture, industrial design, or software), who analysed them (e.g., social psychologists instead of design researchers), and how they were analysed (e.g. observing designers working alone vs working in teams), these models can vary immensely. Designers have also been put into laboratory-like-situations and their actions and conversations have been recorded [ 1 ]. However, even with such recordings, the act


Of Solving Wicked Problems Among the observational studies conducted some focused on comparing the behaviour of designers with that of other professionals, particularly that of scientists. According to British academic and design researcher Nigel Cross, the results of these experiments indicate that while scientists problem-solve by analysis, the “designerly” (2006, p. 5) way of tackling problems is through synthesis. In his book Designerly Ways of Knowing, he writes—


The designer is constrained to produce a practicable result within a specific time limit, whereas the scientist and scholar are both able, and often required, to suspend their judgements and decisions until more is known - ‘further research is needed’ is always a justifiable conclusion for them (Cross, 2006, p. 7). This inference, that designers follow solution-focused strategy, led to the idea of designers as problem solvers. “Using problems as a lens for design” according to Matt Wade, director of Google Creative Labs, “is convenient because there isn’t a common understanding of what design is” (Peart, 2017, para. 6). But problems aren’t the exclusive purview of design. Other disciplines either study them (e.g., natural sciences) or try to solve them (e.g., engineering). In an effort to differentiate, in the 1960s, design theorist “[Horst] Rittel argued that most of the problems addressed by designers are wicked problems” (Buchanan, 1992, p. 15). Rittel and his colleague Melvin Webber in an article further claimed that in contrast to wicked problems, which are ill defined, malignant, vicious, tricky, and aggressive, “[t]he problems that scientists and engineers have usually focused upon are mostly “tame” or “benign” ones”


(1973, p. 160). Since then, the idea of a designer as someone who is especially adept at solving wicked problems has gained popularity. So much so that designers often present this trait as their defining quality.

1. Hertzian Tales: Electronic Products, Aesthetic Experience, and Critical Design by Anthony Dunne. 2. Critical Vehicles Writings Projects Interviews by Krzysztof Krzysztof. 3. Adversarial design by Carl Di salvo. 4. Designing for Homo Ludens by William Gaver.

Design theorists found this idea of designing somewhat comparable to the challenge faced by an intelligent computer, which had to have the ability to solve ill-structured problems within an open context (Dorst, 2006, p. 11). Thus unsurprisingly, the problem-solving literature, that arose in the 1960s and 1970s out of AI research and developments in the cognitive sciences, became a major influence on Design Methodology. The introduction of these theories not only helped in systemising the existing models of design but also linked them to models of problem solving in other fields, such as business and software development. These links would enable crossovers of ideas, such as economist Herbert A. Simon’s theory on problem solving and the nature of ill-structured problems. This idea, that Simon introduced in his classic paper The structure of ill-structured problem (1973) found much resonance among design theorists. As the conceptual framework of the rational problem-solving paradigm it “still looms large over the field of design methodology” (Dorst, 2006, p. 4).

The Problem With Problem Solving There are several issues that challenge the notion of design as problem-solving, wicked or otherwise. First, it is debatable whether the tag of a problem solver can fully encompass the primary role of the multitude of designers within disciplines as diverse as product, communication, and fashion. Second, the myth of design as problem-solving fails to account for genres that instead of solving problems challenge assumptions (Critical Design [ 1 ] ), incite questions (Interrogative Design [ 2 ] ), provoke the political (Adversarial Design [3 ] ), or are just playful (Ludic Design [ 4 ] ). Third, it does



Lastly, as per the proponents, Rittel and Webber, wicked problems can only have a resolution. “Not ‘solution.’ Social problems are never solved. At best they are only re-solved— over and over again” (Rittel & Webber, 1973, p. 160).


1. Published by British graphic designer, and educator Ken Garland along with twenty others, the manifesto called for a return to a humanist aspect of design. source: www.designishistory. com/1960/first-things-first

not take into account the limitations of design. The problem of poverty or war, for example, cannot be solved by designing a poster. Fourth, a majority of design exists to drive production and consumption of consumer products. As designers signing the First Things First Manifesto [ 1 ] in 1964 observed, “[b]y far the greatest time and effort of those working in the advertising industry are wasted on these trivial purposes, which contribute little or nothing to our national prosperity.” Evidently, much of conventional design does not question which problems are worthwhile for designers or society at large to engage with. In this light, it distracts designers from meaningful problems, possibly creating more problems. Fifth, design as merely a problem solving activity is reactive rather than proactive. In this scenario design begins only when the designer receives a problem statement from a client. Even if we assume that problem statements are generated by designers themselves, it requires a problem to begin with. In the absence of problems, there is thus no need to design. Moreover, “[p]roblem statements are often highly reductive when in reality the problems are more complex and wicked than understood or admitted” (Tharp & Tharp, 2018, p. 36). Sixth, problems which are ill defined or wicked are not the fiefdom of designers. Scientists, mathematicians, and other scholars deal with much more than well-defined puzzles. In fact, a majority of them deal with problems that require them to redefine and even change the given problem with respect to the emerging solution. Creating a straw-man out of the scientists might make it easy to establish designers as wicked problem solvers, but it surely doesn’t reflect reality. Seventh, most designers generally do not work with wicked problems. Usually, the discipline deals with either more straightforward problems (composing a layout for a book) or complex ones (developing way signage for a transportation system).

Design Thinking—A New Snake Oil

1. The earliest example seems to be the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (or TRIZ in Russian) by Soviet inventor and science-fiction author Genrich Altshuller. Recent avatars include Systematic Innovative Thinking and Design Thinking.

No matter how problems are interpreted—simple, open, complex, or ill-structured, it is the act of overcoming or “solving” them that seems to be of most value to design researchers. And in these attempts to reveal a designer’s approach to problem solving, the spotlight seems to be on their ways of ”doing” rather than “thinking.” Yet, a term that generally comes up in relation to resolving wicked problems is design thinking. It ambiguously refers to two things at the same time. First, it is a way of thinking, supposedly unique to designers, which facilitates a particular approach to problem solving. Second, it is a prescriptive process of innovation derived from the previous designerly way of thinking, which can be applied even beyond design. The adoption and proliferation of the second variant necessitates a closer look at its conception. By analysing patterns in solutions, and then codifying standardised steps from them, design theorists have long attempted to form simplified guides. The lineage of some of these endeavours [ 1 ] can be traced back to the periphery of industrial design with adjacent design disciplines eventually trying to adopt them. The focus on actions (which lead to the solutions) rather than thinking bypasses the need to first profoundly “understand design.” This approach makes it easier for non-practitioners to learn and adopt the creative tools to solve their own challenges (Sell, 2018, para. 5). So not just within design education, the step-by-step approach found popularity among those seeking a systematic way to generate creative solutions, particularly in business development. As a result, this prescriptive approach, especially in its latest avatar of design thinking, has become somewhat of a buzzword as a process of innovation. The crossover of a practical tool, which is relevant to certain disciplines within design, to non-design fields necessitated a healthy dose of skepticism from early adopters. Otherwise, the risk


of it being used out of context was quite high. The zeal with which design schools, businesses, and even governments have adopted Design Thinking indicates the foregoing of the much needed proverbial grain-of-salt. Design thinking is often presented as a ready-to-use toolbox that promotes creativity. But being creative is only one part of the designer’s work. Using the boilerplate of creative thinking as a projection of design thus has similar disadvantages as problem solving. Also, presenting design specific methods as tools that anyone can use is misleading. “The person using the tools must have the knowledge and skill – competence that comes with training – to know when to use them” (Johansson-Sköldberg et al., 2013, p. 131).


Furthermore, at the heart of these grand-unified-theories of design process is one crucial idea: that solutions share common patterns. Thus, they focus not on what differentiates them, but on what, if anything, they might have in common. Not only does this approach oversimplify the messy, complex, and unpredictable ways in which designers actually work but also the plurality of competing views and fragmented styles, which are lost in prescriptive steps.


Reconceptualising Design


Engaging With Problems As evident from the previous section, there are several issues with the idea of design as problem solving. Short of ignoring them, we have two choices—either to reject the idea completely, or to reconceptualise, so as to reflect the critiques of the prevalent problem solving discourse. Design educator Armand Hatchuel states, “[t]here is no doubt that problem-solving is part of a design process, yet it is not the whole process” (2001, p. 271). Indeed, most design disciplines and practitioners “engage” with problems in some form, even if they may not be “solving” them. However, this nuance is lost, if we continue to project problem solving as a stand-in for design. Thus, instead of reducing design to problem solving, I propose a new term—engagement with problems. By acknowledging its historic roots, as well as integrating the voices critical to the predominant paradigm, I hope that this term helps to arrive at a more inclusive understanding of what design does. A logical extension of Hatchuel’s statement is that design not only includes stretches of problem solving but also contains other processes. Let us now try to ascertain if critical thinking could be one of these other processes, and if so, one significant enough to merit its inclusion in a reworked design curriculum.


Critical Thinking, The Other Half? In common parlance, the word “critical” has a certain negative connotation. People are “called-out” as critical when they regularly disrupt set discourses, clichés, or norms. Rather than being dismissive, if we chose to analyse their action, we are likely to discover a certain commonality: evaluation. Critical individuals constantly evaluate everything—from decisions to dogmas. But how do they do it?





As per Stephen Brookfield, scholar in adult education, critical thinking (E) happens when we do four things: hunt assumptions (A), check assumptions (B), see things from different points of view (C), and take informed action (D) (2012, p. 11-12).

According to Brookfield, most of our actions are based on assumptions that we have accepted, sometimes unthinkingly, as accurate. Thus, the first step towards critical thinking involves deliberately trying to find out what these assumptions are. C

The second step is to assess whether or not the assumptions are valid and reliable guides for action. In this regard Brookfield warns that assumptions are rarely right or wrong but they are contextually appropriate. “[A]n important element of critical thinking is doing our best to understand the conditions that are in place when we are deciding which assumptions are more or less accurate” (Brookfield, 2012, p. 21). The third step is to try analyse assumptions from multiple and different points of view. The fourth and final step is to take informed action. The whole point of critical thinking


is to take informed action. The reason I’ll do the first three things I’ve just described is so that I don’t waste energy acting in ways that I think are good for me, and that I believe will have the effects I want, only to find out that the opposite is true (Brookfield, 2012, p. 12).


The lack of this crucial last step from discussions about critical thinking makes detractors complain about the ”pointlessness” of such enterprise. However, reflection, devoid of any action isn’t desirable as it leads to what Paulo Freire has called verbalism. He explains, “[w]hen a word is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection automatically suffers as well; and the word is changed into idle chatter, into verbalism, into an alienated and alienating ‘blah.’ It becomes an empty word” (Freire, 2000, p. 87). Thus, informed action is an essential part of critical thinking. But can problem solving exist without critical reflection? “The essence of critical thinking” according to educational reformer John Dewey “is suspended judgment; and the essence of this suspense is inquiry to determine the nature of the problem before proceeding to attempts at its solution” (1910, p. 74). Educator Laurence J. Peter warns “[s]ome problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them” (1982, entry for September 24). However, a central feature of design activity, according to Nigel Cross, is its reliance on generating fairly quickly a satisfactory solution, rather than on any prolonged analysis of the problem (2006, p. 7). So what happens when we jump in to engage with problems without giving ample time for reflection? To illustrate, I use the development around human-like sex robots as an exemplar. These robots were originally designed to solve the problem of loneliness among a certain group of men. Now they are being peddled as a safe outlet for violent sexual fantasies and thus as a miracle cure for pedophilia and sexual violence against women. To this end, a company


has even come up with a “reserved and shy” sex robot named Frigid Farrah, who when touched in a private area, will not be appreciative (Timmins, 2017). Critics claim that these robots risk encouraging misogyny by subverting the requirement of consent. The incident of severe molestation of a sex doll named Samantha on display at Linz’s Arts Electronica Festival (Norris, 2017) seems to indicate just that. A robot ethicist decided to solve this complex problem of consent by appealing for crowdfunding to build a consensual sex robot brothel. Her solution to the entire debate around consent was to ensure that the guests got to know their robots before having sex via an app (Ritschel, 2018). These examples of techno-utopianism show what happens when we are blindsided by solving problems. Evgeny Morozov, who studies political and social implications of technology, critiques this trend where we try to “fix” the messiness and inefficiency of our socio-political life through interventions of technology as solutionism (2013, p. 5). But solutionism isn’t merely limited to technology. In fact, Morozov borrows the term from architecture and urban planning were it has come to refer to an unhealthy preoccupation with grand yet narrow-minded solutions to problems that are extremely complex, fluid, and contentious (2013, p. 6). Solutionism highlights the pitfall of action devoid of significant reflection, or activism (Freire, 2000, p. 88). Weary of the binaries of action vs reflection, Freire instead proposes praxis (2000, p. 126)—a cyclical amalgamation of critical thoughts and concrete actions, which inform one another. Thus, it is easy to see how critical thinking and problem engagement are natural allies and must co-exist in a holistic approach to learning and practising design.


Mine isn’t the first attempt to associate design with critical thinking. There exist several variations [ 1 ], such as Critical Design, Adversarial Design, Anti-Design, Radical Design, etc. However, they do not quite fit what I want to propose. First, the idea behind this reconceptualisation is not to ferment a revolution. Such a change, though desirable, is beyond the scope of an M.A. project. Even if feasible, it would require a significant restructuring of educational infrastructure and hence time and money—something that is always in short supply. My proposal rather is to mainly reorganise and reinterpret existing elements of design pedagogy and temper it with critique and dissenting voices. While less radical, I believe this is more immediate as well as achievable.


Second, I argue for integrating critical thinking into day-today design practice. The existing variants mentioned before are great for starting debates and discussions in academia and museums. However, they can neither be practiced nor are applicable to regular design projects. Lastly, none of them incorporate Freire’s idea of constant praxis thus falling into the dichotomies of either verbalism or activism. The crux of my proposal is an ideal balance of action and reflection—where problem engagement and critical thinking continuously inform one another to constitute praxis. In order to avoid ambiguity, I propose to call this obvious yet somewhat rare variant—Progressive Design. So, what is progressive about Progressive Design? Design theorist Tony Fry argues, “[u]nambiguously, design is profoundly political. It either serves or subverts the status quo” (2007, p. 88). I share Fry’s opinion and also subscribe to the contemporary political conception of progressivism that believes in positive social restructuring through change


1. Check Design Gets Critical in chapter two for more.

Progressive Design

in public policies. Hence, I choose to call this ideal form of design progressive. To summarise, Progressive Design is the cyclical integration of critical thinking within the practice of problem engagement. This model reimagines design as a constant iterative process where critical thinking actively informs the identification, examination, interpretation, and conceptualisation of problems as well as exploration, selection, and implementation of solutions. One must note that though rooted in reality, Progressive Design’s aspiration for the ideal balance is an asymptote. It teeters on the precipice of plausible and possible. And like all ideals, it is the struggle to achieve it that becomes more important than the destination itself. In the following chapter, I will outline the historical trajectory of how design has become critical as well as past approaches to design pedagogy, before I further define my idea of attaining criticality in design education.




R   oad To  Entanglement CHAPTER TWO

All Oppression Is Connected — Staceyann Chin

Towards Criticality


Design Gets Critical While a majority of design is concerned with the development, manufacturing, and sale of goods and services, not all variants have been limited to the confines of consumption and market. These alternate approaches, critical of mainstream practices, try to challenge orthodox notions of what design is. Such critical approaches have grown primarily out of the discipline of industrial design and have gained popularity with the growing acceptance of design research in academia. Critical approaches to design however is not synonymous to critical design (Dunne & Raby, 2001, p. 58). The latter is a term introduced by Anthony Dunne (2005) to describe a particular form of practice, which results in designs that are meant for exhibitions rather than sale (Malpass, 2017, p. 4). Being situated outside the purview of consumerism frees design practice from constraints of utility and profitability. The design objects thus produced focus on finding problems, both within and beyond design, rather than solving them. Dunne, along with Fiona Raby and other research fellows at the Royal College of Art, London, developed the idea of critical design in the early 1990s. Since then the notion has emerged as an umbrella term for any type of practice that goes beyond the usual solving of design problems (Malpass, 2017, p. 4).


Dunne and Raby however are themselves cautious of such tendencies—

2. The Construction School and Royal College of Art in the UK, andThe University of Florence School of Architecture.

1. e.g. Superstudio, Archizoom Associati, Gruppo Strum, Gruppo 9999, Gruppo G14, Archigram, Alchimia, etc.

For us critical design now is a useful term to describe a practice that uses design as critique. But at the same time, we’re very wary of it becoming a label or a kind of a shorthand. I think the idea of design as a form of critique is really important and special. I’m worried that the label critical design is too narrow a form (Malpass, 2017, p. 5).

Using critical design as a shorthand has two major disadvantages. First, it ignores a rich history. Conceptual and critical practices in design, especially in industrial design, have roots in the Italian avant-garde movement of the late 1950s. The Linea ltaliana or the Bel Design era in Italy as well as the Gute Form in the Federal Republic of Germany, which resulted from post war economic revival, majorly influenced mainstream design. The likes of Dieter Rams, working with large manufacturers such as Braun, championed an idea of good design that was rational, functional, and utilitarian. As a response, counter-movements began to emerge. The dissenters attempted to dissociate design from capitalism and utilitarianism, trying instead to engage with broader political questions. They organised themselves as collectives [ 1 ] and formed or aligned with educational institutions [ 2 ]. Their critical discourse took various forms. Some repurposed readymades from industrial production in order to create unusual experiences. Others embedded objects with symbolism, emotional play, and intellectual values (Malpass, 2017, p. 19). The movement would come to be known by various names, such as—radical design, anti design, and counter design. While pioneering Italian designers Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni may be regarded as the first critical designers,



Evidently, there is a need to move beyond the dichotomies of affirmative vs. critical design. The first step is to use a taxonomy that reflects rather than obfuscates existing practices. Design researcher Matt Malpass proposes an overarching rubric—critical practice of design, and three sub-categories— associative design, speculative design, and critical design to classify distinct approaches (2017, p. 91). But is that enough? Reactionary; design for designers; limited to museums; high brow art—some of these accusations have been leveled at critical design and might be extended to other forms of critical practice of design. While the critiques ring true, they also raise a question—does design exist only in the binary of critical vs. conventional, or are there overlaps? As an example let us look at participatory design. As a movement, it emerged in the late 1960s Scandinavia to critique the top down approach of conventional design. Born out of the ideals of cooperation and collaboration, it attempted to actively involve all stakeholders (e.g. employees, customers, end users) in the


1. Design that reinforces how things are. It conforms to cultural, social, technical, and economic expectations.

challenges to hegemony were not limited to Italy. The Bristol Experiment in the UK by design educator Norman Potter (established in 1964); participatory design in Scandinavia (late 1960s); Neues Deutsches Design or Unikat design in Germany (1980s); and a representative form of design emerging out of the Industrial Design department of UK’s Royal College of Arts (late 1980s and early 1990s) show how challenges to conventional design have not been limited to a certain space or time. Secondly, reducing everything to critical design— from designers operating critically to conceptual design practice—robs the discipline of its diversity. Critical practices in design make use of narratives, ambiguity, satire, and even humour as tactics. However some methods such as design fiction, speculation, and proposition are unique to critical design. Thus, generalising every counterpoint to affirmative design [ 1 ] (Dunne & Raby, 2001, p.58) as critical design, would force designers to adopt methods that may not be relevant to their particular way of critical practice.

design process to ensure that the resultant solution meets their needs (Malpass, 2017, p. 25). While it has been adopted as a standard-operating procedure in contemporary practice by now, specially interaction design, participatory design began as a criticism to prevalent design dogmas. Thus, not only do critical approaches of design overlap with conventional design practices, in many cases that overlapping is necessary and desired. The example also highlights why, as future designers, students should engage with critical approaches to design, even when they may appear niche and non-utilitarian. Beyond merely identifying critical practices, the taxonomy thus needs to also connect such practices to the broader discipline. As an attempt, designer and educator duo Stephanie and Bruce Tharp propose the framework of “Four-Field” (2018, p. 46) whereby design is categorised based on their four primary intents of profit, social good, exploration, and reflection. Thus, we get—Commercial Design, Responsible Design, Experimental Design, and Discursive Design. One interesting aspect of this proposal is acceptance of hybridity or overlap, as a single project may have all of these four motivations in varying degrees. A word of caution though. Any attempt to map design practices, critical or otherwise, should be looked at with a healthy dose of skepticism. For classifications by nature, are usually simplifications of more complex phenomena. Using them as suggestions allows us to explore and learn about various possibilities. But considering them as absolutes could be severely counterproductive. More so, since critical practices in design are still in a state of flux (Malpass, 2013, p. 353). While researching for this chapter I have come across several variants which engage with critical thought—Adversarial Design, Contestational Design, Critical Jugaad, Dissident Design, Guerrilla Futures, Interrogative Design, Reflective Design, Speculative Critical Design, Speculative Re-design, Tactical Media, and Un-Design. I’m sure the list isn’t exhaustive. Educator Susan S. Szenasy writes, “[p]erhaps when we understand that good design is responsible design, we will no


longer need to rely on clumsy, descriptive words. We’ll just call it design—a noble and necessary human activity” (2009, p. 170). Now that I have contextualised critical thought with respect to design, I will move on to highlight the practical need for all forms of design to integrate critical thought.

Design, As It Should Be


As of 2019, populist politics, unprecedented consumption, climate change, and artificial intelligence driven automation seem to have settled in our everyday lives as unavoidable reality. Our attempts to address these realities often raise more questions than answers. For designers, these questions range from ethical to existential. How to avoid being pawns in the hands of corporations or ideologies? How to design objects that walk the tightrope of need vs. sustainability? How to be more creative on a regular basis than codes and algorithms? As is evident from these questions, in a networked world, professional relevance of designers is interconnected with the greater good. Thus, design needs to urgently engage with issues plaguing society at large. In this regard I am not talking just about the various offshoots of design (e.g., Social Design, Impact Design, Design for Good), which redirect design’s obsession with problem-solving to drive social change. Instead, I refer to the everyday, non-crusading variants, such as a majority of product or communication design, and almost all of fashion and game design, which is driven more by profit than social good. Designer and educator Victor Joseph Papanek warns in his influential book—Design for the Real World, “(t)here are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them. And possibly only one profession is pho-


nier. Advertising design…” (1973, p. 14). In the same book, he further adds, “[m]uch recent design has satisfied only evanescent wants and desires, while the genuine needs of man have often been neglected by the designer” (Papanek, 1973, p. 32). A myriad of reasons may contribute to this neglect of genuine societal needs. “I have yet to meet a designer” Alice Rawsthorn, design critic for The International New York Times, claims “who wants his or her work to be dysfunctional, dispiriting, demeaning, or disempowering, but sometimes it is” (Heller, 2014, para. 8). As designers, it is easy to avoid responsibility by using uncontrollable factors, such as fickle consumers, market-driven capitalist economy, and seasonal trends as an excuse. However, educator Kees Dorst points out, “as a single designer you are powerless against major developments like the depletion of fossil fuels. But the fact that such problems are so overpoweringly huge doesn’t mean that the solution may not lie in many small design improvements” (2006, p. 185). Papanek calls this idea “designing for many instead of designing for money” (1973, p. 32). He suggests—

Even if the corporate greed of many design offices makes this kind of design impossible, students should at least be encouraged to work in this manner. For in showing students new areas of engagement, we may set up alternate patterns of thinking about design problems (Papanek, 1973, p. 32).

The polemic of Papanek inspired a generation of designers to use their knowledge as an instrument of social good rather than capitalism. Perhaps as a result we have variants such as Inclusive Design, Universal Design, and Design for All, which try to acknowledge the diverse needs, aspirations, and capabilities of people irrespective of their gender, age, disability,


etc. But have these specialised variants had any significant impact? A quick look at the fashion industry e.g., seems to indicate otherwise—


The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and remains the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil. […] Fast fashion garments, which we wear less than 5 times and keep for 35 days, produce over 400% more carbon emissions per item per year than garments worn 50 times and kept for a full year (Conca, 2015).

Thus, to have real impact, we cannot merely depend on specialised offshoots of design. In order for the everyday, pervasive variety of design to develop social responsibility, all designers have to be analytical, rational, skeptical, inquisitive, empathetic, and flexible. Furthermore, they have to have the ability to contextualise, should be aware of multiple perspectives, and need to be respectful towards differences. In short, conventional designers must actively engage in critical thinking. If we are to use Papanek’s ideology as an argument for how design should be, we have to also acknowledge its problems. The most basic of which is him calling for ‘first world’ designers to design for the ‘third world.’ However inadvertently, he establishes a hierarchy and buys into the colonial idea that technology and innovation flow unidirectionally— from the developed world to the global south. While this idea is quite problematic, it is also sadly true that most schools all over the world still teach design in a way that originated in certain parts of Europe. To understand why design students have not been taught to question hegemonies and be critical of dogmas in the same way as students of liberal arts are, we must figure out why design is taught the way it is.


A Roadmap


How Did We Learn To Design? A conversation about design and particularly design education cannot possibly ignore the Bauhaus—especially in 2019, which marks the centenary of this pioneering school. At the majority of design schools in India e.g., students start with what is known as a foundation year. Details differ, but generally, during this period they study basic composition and forms, explore different materials, and learn to think how these elements are interconnected. The genesis of such a preliminary course (“After 1933,” n.d., para. 5) and various other significant influences on design globally can be traced back to this important college of architecture, design, and art, which operated only for 14 years. Bauhaus was founded in 1919. Its origins however arguably lie in the anxieties of the 19th century. Brought about by the industrial revolution, mass production had led to a general decline in craftsmanship by the mid 19th century. A resultant deterioration of design standards was noticeable at the Great Exhibition of 1851—the first international exhibition of manufactured products held in London (“Wallpaper design reform,” n.d., para. 1). By 1860, a vocal group of critics began expressing their concerns about the deterioration of aesthetics, style, and public taste due to mechanisation and factory production. Leading the charge was poet and artist William Morris. In 1861, Morris founded a firm of interior decorators and manufacturers—Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, & Co. (after 1875, Morris & Co.)—dedicated to


restoring the spirit and quality of craftsmanship. By 1880, the efforts of Morris and his associates (architect Philip Webb, as well as painters Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones) had widened the appeal for craftsmanship (“Arts and Crafts movement,” 2019). This would come to be known as the Arts and Crafts movement by 1887 and would spread to the rest of Europe, America, and across the British Empire. There are several markers leading to Bauhaus from the Arts and Crafts movements, which due to paucity of space I must skip. Following the First World War, Germany emerged as the new Weimar Republic in 1918. Against this backdrop of change, architect Walter Gropius was appointed to head a new art school in the city of Weimar. The school was to be formed from the merger of the Grand-Ducal Saxon Academy of Fine Arts and Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts. The new name—Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar—was chosen by Gropius to signify a break from the past. The school however inherited much from its conventional predecessors. Gropius not only employed former faculty from both schools and used their facilities but also adopted aspects of the School of Arts and Craft’s workshop structure. As a result training in crafts became a central feature of the new curriculum (Desorgueset al., 2012, p. 13). Throughout its short existence Bauhaus would undergo many changes. It would have three directors with different visions—Walter Gropius (1919-28), Hannes Meyer (192830), and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1930-33) (Thöner & Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, 2009, p. 13). It would move its location to three cities—Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin. And a steady stream of artists would pass through the institute, who would leave their marks as mentors. Amidst all the change, the focus on craftsmanship however would remain a constant. In the Bauhaus manifesto, written by Gropius to attract new students, he writes, “[a]rt rises above all methods; in itself it cannot be taught, but the crafts certainly can be”



(Desorgues et al., 2012, p. 13). While the statement shows Gropius’s rejection of the art vs. craft debate—in fact he saw art as the next step, beyond craft—it also shows how craftsmanship became entrenched in design education. Traditionally, to learn craftsmanship, an apprentice would spend years learning and honing his skills from a master craftsman. It would involve unquestionable faith in the master’s teaching. In fact, any questioning would be problematic. Gropius wanted to emulate this model of learning. He was surely not against questioning, in fact students at Bauhaus were encouraged to discuss and question. However when mastering craftsmanship is the primary pedagogic goal, questioning of dogmas and hegemonies is not a priority. Pressure from the Nazis resulted in the dissolution of the school in 1933. However, its ideas continued to spread along with the emigrating Bauhaus members to the USA, Switzerland, Russia, Israel, and many other countries. In the USA, Josef Albers became a respected art teacher at Black Mountain College. In 1937, László Moholy-Nagy founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago. The methodology of the New Bauhaus was adopted and modified by many other American colleges. In addition, Walter Gropius, as professor at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, as director of the department of architecture at the Armour Institute in Chicago, contributed to the further spread of Bauhaus thought in their work and teaching. In West Germany, from 1955, the College of Design in Ulm under its first rector, former Bauhaus student Max Bill, claimed to be working in the spirit of the Bauhaus. The college in Ulm became an internationally important college of design (“After 1933,” n.d., para. 5). Bauhaus introduced the idea of craftsmanship as a pedagogic method. Later design schools, by emulating the Bauhaus model, popularised the idea of learning craftmanship. I believe that this is one reason why critical questioning as a pedagogic method is inherently missing from design education.


How Should We Learn to Design? In all our discussions so far—from design processes to the history of design education—products have been an implicit red thread. It is indicative of how defining and omnipresent industrial design and its products have been to the discipline. However, design in the 21st century increasingly deals with far more abstract outcomes, such as interaction, strategy, service, experience, emotion, and sustainability. We are moving from the design of product categories to designing for people’s purposes (Sanders & Stappers, 2008, p. 10). So how prepared are design curricula to handle such a seismic shift? While trailblazers are constantly trying to expand the role of designers, the education of future designers is still heavily reliant on its early twentieth century crafts lineage. Design, in the classical sense, is an applied form of art. Education in this tradition is geared towards training students in certain skills. The skills include general ones like drawing, visual sophistication, knowledge of forms, materials, manufacturing, etc. along with specialist skill-sets, such as the deft handling of surface geometry for product designers, knowledge of the finer points of typography for graphic designers, and mastery of the interplay between light and space for interior designers (McCullagh, 2010, para. 5). Tim Brown, CEO of design studio IDEO, posits that successful designers possess T-shaped skills. In management theory, from which the T-shaped model has been borrowed, the vertical stroke of the T represents the deep analytical skills. And the horizontal stroke of the T represents a broad empathy toward other disciplines (Brown, 2009, para. 3). The emphasis in T-shaped models is often on the generalist, horizontal beam. These lateral competencies—big-picture perspective, knowledge of other related disciplines, and the ability to facilitate work across organisational silos—are also the ones that may have enabled pioneering designers to edge into new areas (McCullagh, 2010, para. 6).



To counter the weakening of vertical stack, a radical shift within design education is much needed. To do so, weakpoints have to be identified and reinforced. First, with user-centred design and co-creation becoming the norm, design in the modern sense cannot be practiced in isolation. Furthermore, no single person can claim to be an expert in all the relevant disciplines required to address complex problems. As such, designers need to learn how to work in multidisciplinary teams. Thus, design education should evolve to become more interdisciplinary. Second, contemporary design has to deal with complex social and political issues. This forces designers to de facto play the role of applied social and behavioural scientists without actually being trained for either. Researcher and professor Don Norman proposes addressing this problem by further extending the interdisciplinary framework. He suggests introducing design students to subjects from other disciplines that would give knowledge of human cognition and emotion along with


E.g., in social design, besides charities and social scientists, there are now financial institutions making a foray with impact investing.

As designers move into new territories, such as sustainability or service design, the problem of not being the domain expert starts to haunt them. Besides having to compete with rivals [ 1 ], all of whom claim to have the right solution, it results in various nested problems. Traditionally designers have compensated for their lack of certain kinds of knowledge with their expertise in craft skills. Unfortunately, in these new fields this strategy does not work so well. The reduction in value of traditional craft skills in these new areas results in the weakening of the vertical stack. Product strategy consultant Kevin McCullagh points out that a weaker vertical stack forces designers to compete primarily on their generalist horizontal competencies of strategic perspective, cross-silo facilitation, and the ability to synthesise. “But there are plenty of other clever people out there who, in these areas, are just as strong, if not stronger than most designers. After all, designers are not the only ones who can run a workshop” (McCullagh, 2010, para. 9).

sensory and motor systems. Norman also recommends that design students be introduced to statistics, scientific method, and experimental design so that designers can perform valid, legitimate tests of their ideas before deploying them (2010). However, as Norman points out, “[d]esigners do need to know more about science and engineering, but without becoming scientists or engineers. We must not lose the special talents of designers” (2011). Design therefore needs to develop its own courses. Third is the lack of a theory of its own which forces design education to rely entirely on the wisdom of practitioners and theories borrowed from other disciplines. As an example Norman puts forward interaction design, whose theoretical foundations is a patchwork of psychology, cognitive science, anthropology, sociology, and computer science (2014, para. 9). Design therefore needs to develop its own theoretical corpus instead of blindly reusing material from other disciplines. Fourth, artificial intelligence driven automation is poised to majorly disrupt jobs in the near future. So how can we brace for its impact? According to a report on the future of jobs and training by Pew Research Center, “[t]ough-to-teach intangible skills, capabilities and attributes such as emotional intelligence, curiosity, creativity, adaptability, resilience and critical thinking will be most highly valued” (Rainie & Anderson, 2017, para. 49). Indeed, three out of four employers in the US already want schools to place more emphasis on critical thinking and complex problem-solving skills (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2013, p. 5). To prepare kids for this bleak future, political comedian John Oliver recommends training them “to do a series of non-routine tasks that require social intelligence, complex critical thinking, and creative problem solving” (Pennolino, 2019, min. 18:49). Designers do use creativity and claim to solve complex problems. But as extensively discussed in chapter one, complex critical thinking is missing from the curricula. So it would be naive to expect emerging unscathed from the artificial


intelligence onslaught unless we majorly engage students in critical thinking. In short, design education 2.0 should become interdisciplinary, develop its own courses as well as theoretical corpus, and encourage critical thinking. I have already mentioned in chapter one (Progressive Design) that my proposal is limited to reorganising and reinterpreting elements of existing pedagogy to enhance design education. It is with this goal in mind that I now attempt to ascertain the existing cornerstones of design pedagogy, incorporate changes in them to achieve some of the goals of design education 2.0, and try to identify one cornerstone as a medium through which critical thinking can be introduced. Researcher and design educator Alison Shreeve talks about five distinct ways of learning associated with current design education. She identifies these signature pedagogies for design (Shreeve, 2015, p. 85) as the studio, projects and brief, dialogue, the crit, and materiality.


A legacy of its connection to art, the studio plays a prominent role in design education. Without the overshadowing influence of tutors, the studio is supposed to foster student centred learning through exchanges between peers of varying levels of experience. The advent of digital classrooms and reduction in funding might lead to a gradual dissolution of the studio as a physical space. However, the spirit of a shared learning environment should be fostered to cultivate interdisciplinarity. Design courses rely heavily on projects to impart experiential learning and tend to deliver it through a written brief (Shreeve, 2015, p. 85). While convenient, as a supposed simulation of the real world it is quite unrealistic. To begin with, clients almost never hand in a clear and written brief. Designing in the real world is as much a flurry of interviews, negotiations, contracts, compromises, and invoicing as it is a creative endeavour. Not all but some design projects should


thus reflect the open and complex problems students are bound to face as future designers. To design or not to design, that could be the additional question instead of just what or how to design. Dialogue, a key element in critical pedagogy, also happens to be an important aspect of design education. Tutors probe, prompt, and question to encourage design students to consider possibilities and alternatives before settling on a course of action (Shreeve, 2015, p. 88). In countries like India, where class sizes are relatively large, it is hard to sustain a dialogue. As an alternative, dialogue can be enabled by first dividing the class in manageable groups and then involving them in group activities and moderated discussions. This allows for including dialogical activities borrowed from critical pedagogy in design. Seldom carried out in a professional setup, the critique, or crit in design parlance, is the primary method of giving feedback to students (Shreeve, 2015, p. 88). The crit, according to Shreeve, has probably become less of a tutor-centred performance and less traumatic event for students over the years (2015, p. 89, 88). However, the idea of dialogue can be further extended to make crit more participatory. E.g., during my time at NIFT, after assignments were submitted, we looked at the photographs of individual students together as a class. I moderated the discussion and established some ground rules that prevented personal attacks and negativity. Initially, students were intimidated, but eventually it helped us learn from each other’s creative mistakes and strengths. Seeing their work in comparison to others also challenged, inspired, and motivated students. Not only that, the weekly practice helped the shy and meek students become more relaxed about presentation and public speaking. Finally, we arrive at the fifth signature pedagogy of design— materiality. As a theme, it can be seen as a defining factor. In design, experiential knowledge is highly valued. Doing and


making is at the core of most learning experiences. To embody this knowledge, tutors include hands-on training with materials, even when the discipline has shifted to a primarily digital medium (Shreeve, 2015, p. 87). As an example we may look at graphic design—


[A] graphics tutor will make every effort to ensure that his students experience typeface and printing as a physical activity. […] He needs his students to have a physical experience of proportion, letter construction and spacing. Although design may professionally be carried out on a computer, printed artefacts still require an understanding of ink, paper, printing processes and scale. Even experiencing how paper responds to ink and the ensuing cultural signification of such material artefacts is part of the knowledge of a practising designer (Shreeve, 2015, p. 87). Thus materiality is a fundamental aspect of learning design. However, materiality is not limited to just being a signature pedagogy for design. To begin with, not only does our understanding of design stem from a close scrutiny of the material practice of “doing” design, but also the study and classification of the material features of design artefacts. Design practice, primarily constitutes producing representations in different forms, scales, and materials. Design is thus closely associated with the knowledge and use of technical properties of materials. However, designing doesn’t just end in material manifestations of artefacts. It often begins in


materials as inspiration. The sensual properties of materials, such as texture, plasticity, malleability, luminosity, geometry, weight, and density inspire our creativity. So much so that most good design schools have a material archive along with a library for students to draw references form. “Design can thus be viewed as a kind of bricolage, where different materials are brought together, mixed, and configured in various iterations” (A. Telier et al., 2011, p. 54). In this sense, we may reduce design to materiality. Later in the chapter, however, I will integrate materiality with critical thinking.




Paths Less Travelled


Attaining Criticality In chapter one, I introduced Stephen Brookfield’s understanding of critical thinking—presented as “the habit of making sure our assumptions are accurate and that our actions have the results we want them to have” (2012, p. 14). Such an understanding of critical thinking appears neutral and uncontroversial. However, critical thinking is not just a detached process of mental analysis. It is always linked to some action and done for some wider purpose. The link to action makes critical thinking inseparable from our moral values or political commitments. Hence the values that guide us need to be always identified and outlined in order to make sure our resultant actions are not questionable (Brookfield, 2012, p. 14, 17, 24). In the following section I will establish how the ability to unpack assumptions and awareness of different perspectives lead to critical thinking. In order to unpack assumptions, it is first necessary to identify them. Crucial for identifying our own values and assumptions is the awareness of distinct perspectives that allow us to see things from different points of view. Brookfield identifies three categorises of assumptions— paradigmatic (assumptions that frame how we view the world); prescriptive (assumptions about how we think the world should work and how people should behave); and casual (assumptions we have about why things happen the way they do) (2012, p. 24).


Since our paradigmatic assumptions let us perceive the world through a specific lens, we are least likely to even recognise them as assumptions, even after they have been pointed out to us. Instead we are likely to insist that they are objective truth (Brookfield, 2012, p. 17). Assumptions embedded in dominant ideologies, such as democracy, capitalism, patriarchy, and heterosexism are paradigmatic in nature. Assumptions about what we think ought to be happening in a particular situation can be classified as prescriptive. As an example Brookfield states how, if one assumes depression to be caused only by external circumstances, then that person is likely to believe that if external circumstance are fine, she shouldn’t be depressed. Of the three types of assumptions, casual ones are easiest to identify (Brookfield, 2012, p. 18). For example, while teaching a class, I always try to get the attention of the most disinterested students. My assumption is that if I can make my class interesting for the bored, I will also have the attention of the more attentive students. Once assumptions have been identified, the next thing to do is to try and understand the conditions that are in place when that assumption is acted upon. This is important since assumptions are rarely right or wrong in themselves. They are however contextually more or less appropriate (Brookfield, 2012, p. 22). Along with awareness of perspectives, the ability to identify and contextualise assumptions can become a powerful tool for professional designers working with complex social problems. For example, rather than beginning a project with the initial (usually official) definition of a problem, designers can critically assess the definition itself. Such problem posing enhances our understanding of the issue at hand. It involves


unpacking and testing the validity of assumptions, with questions such as—


In whose interests is it that this problem be solved? Who benefits and who is harmed by this problem being solved? Who initially framed the problem as a problem? What evidence exists that says this is the most pressing problem we need to deal with? What other problems would others in the organisation say need to be solved? Is this the right problem to focus on? (Brookfield, 2012, p. 211-212).

There are various books and studies on how critical thinking happens or how it should be incorporated into a curriculum. In the following, I rely on Stephen Brookfield’s five observations about the ways students experience critical thinking, both viscerally and cognitively, as a roadmap to develop my tool. Brookfield’s observations are based on a classroom evaluation tool (The Critical Incident Questionnaire) he developed and has used over the past 30 years of his career (2012, p. 54). The five themes that Brookfield outlines are as follows. First, students seem to discover assumptions and new perspectives when a peer brings it to their attention during a group activity. Critical thinking is thus a social learning process. However, social learning is not idle chatting. It involves students actively listening to and asking each other questions in an attempt to uncover assumptions. Second, students find it helpful when teachers give an overview of the entire process and explain their motives behind the steps taken. They also appreciate when teachers give personal examples of instances of critical thinking. Third, students learn much more about their assumptions when they are asked to explore highly specific experiences. Stating our own assump-


tions is an intimidating prospect. We are often unaware of our assumptions. When asked, most respond with the first cliché that comes to mind. Thus, students find it helpful to ground critical thinking in concrete experiences through case studies, critical incidents, simulation, and scenarios. Fourth, students stress that they experience an epiphany about critical thinking when an unexpected event or idea jolts them out of their comfort zone. The trick is to construct an event unsettling enough yet not so discomforting that students avoid dealing with it. One way to introduce such an idea, according to Brookfield, is for the teacher to demonstrate, using a personal example, how they dealt with something that was equally disorienting. Fifth, critical thinking is best developed through incremental steps. An ideal course, according to students, is one whose initial exercises are non-threateningly impersonal. Then, over the duration of the course, critical protocols can increasingly focus on the direct analysis of their own thinking and actions (Brookfield, 2012, p. 55-74). When is it a good time to initiate critical thinking? I posit that it is possible to introduce critical thinking at the very beginning of or during any course or studies. My argument is based on Ira Shor’s paper in which he explains how he problematised the concept of work to develop critical consciousness in his class (1987, p. 105-121). Shor’s proposal is relevant for teachers in professional programs, such as design. Not only that, he also draws on the methodology of Paulo Freire, on whose idea of praxis my tool is based. To reiterate, as seen in the adjacent diagram, learning to think critically implies an awareness of perspectives (A), the ability to identify assumptions (B), and the ability to contextualise and check the validity of assumptions (C). From now on I shall refer to these three hallmarks of critical thinking collectively as criticality. Let me now try to connect materiality and criticality using the concept of entanglements.







Behavioural scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly and sociologist Eugene Hochberg-Halton introduce their book on the significance of material possessions in contemporary urban life by pointing out how “[i]n Western cultures the broad stages of history are marked by the kind of objects people could make” (1981, p. ix). Thu there are Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods along with Bronze and Iron ages to define times and cultures in which objects were first made out of stone or metal. Eventually, the Industrial Revolution and the Atomic Age mark transitions from materials used to make objects to processes of exploiting physical things for productive purposes (Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton, 1981, p. ix). An interesting aspect to note in their writing is the different usage of the words object and thing. According to archeologist Ian Hodder, we refer to a variety of entities as things— clouds, pianos, thoughts, clocks, sounds, bodies, molecules, institutions, ball games as well as the more everyday items that fill our daily lives (2012, p. 7). However, he points out that, “[w]e are more likely to use the word object for things that are relatively stable in form – so while we might call a cloud a thing, we might be less likely to call it an object” (Hodder, 2012, p. 7). Things seem to transcend the limits of objects. I will eventually rely on the aspect of transcendence to formulate the concept of entanglement. But for now let me stick with objects. The outcome of design processes is often an object. Objects surround us. Yet, we do not always see them. According to Heidegger, objects are not first encountered as visible bulks or pieces of physical mass. In fact he argues, that for the most part, we deal with objects by taking them for granted, by silently relying on them as we direct our attention elsewhere (Harman, 2005, p. 268). In other words, objects recede into the background, invisibly performing their roles. Furthermore, we generally become aware of the objects only when


there is a disruption, such as a breakdown or malfunction. Broken eyeglasses or a malfunctioning phone suddenly makes us aware of our invisible reliance on the object thereby highlighting it. There are ways other than malfunction to make objects appear as well. Marcel Duchamp, by deliberately uprooting a urinal from its invisible context (calling it fountain) and by putting it on display, eloquently showed one such way. Anthropologist Tim Ingold suggests another way. He imagines his room to be suddenly devoid of any object (Ingold, 2010, p. 3). If we are to do the same exercise, we will also become aware of the plethora of objects that surround us. In such a room, where objects have vanished and we are only left with the bare floor, walls, and a ceiling, our actions would be severely limited. There would be no bed to lie on, no desk to sit at, and no computer to work with. In short, the room would be virtually uninhabitable (Ingold, 2010, p. 3). In this sense objects make our lives liveable. Ingold asks us to imagine further, taking a walk outside the room, into the open air, through a woodland thicket. We would be surrounded by trees and branches. If we were to fix our attention on one particular tree, would we be looking at an object? Is the bark part of the tree? Are the lichens hanging from the branches, insects living in the bark, birds nesting on the branches also part of the tree? If so, then where does the tree end and the rest of the world begin? These questions are much harder to answer as compared to the earlier objects inside the room. Reflecting on these questions Ingold concludes that, “the tree is not an object at all, but a certain gathering together of the threads of life” (2010, p. 4). He identifies this gathering of the threads of life as a “thing.” He elaborates, “[i]f we think of every participant as following a particular way of life, threading a line through the world, then perhaps we could define the thing, as I have suggested elsewhere, as a ‘parliament of lines’” (Ingold, 2010, p. 4). According to Ingold, his conceptualisation of things as a gathering of threads of life is also applicable to more ostensibly artificial structures. Not just entities like trees, which may


have grown or formed with little or no human intervention, he argues—


Consider a building: not the fixed and final structure of the architect’s design but the actual building, resting on its foundations in the earth, buffeted by the elements, and susceptible to the visitations of birds, rodents and fungi. […] Indeed not unlike the tree, the real house is a gathering of lives, and to inhabit it is to join in the gathering, […] As inhabitants, we experience the house not as an object but as a thing (Ingold, 2010, p. 5).

This raises a key question. If there are no objects at all, as he postulates, why do we perceive things as objects? To explain, Ingold puts forward the example of a kite. While assembling one—using a square of paper, tape, twine, etc.—it might appear that we are making an object. But when carried to a field, it changes—it leaps into action, twirling, spinning, diving, and occasionally flying. The kite, thus immersed in the currents of the wind, becomes a kite-in-the-air—a thing. Same could be said about a bird-in-the-air, or of a fish-inthe-water. The bird is its flying; the fish its swimming. Cut out from these currents, they would be dead. Hence Ingold argues, things cut off from the flows that bring them to life are perceived as objects. “To think of the kite as an object is to omit the wind – to forget that it is, in the first place, a kitein-the-air” (Ingold, 2010, p. 5). Thus it seems that when we are unable to perceive the flow, we reduce things to objects. Flow of what, we may ask. According to Ingold it is the flow of materials. So to make things appear, he has a simple advice, “follow the materials” (Ingold, 2010, p. 8).


So far I have put forward three arguments. First, life without objects is uninhabitable. Second, all objects can be seen as things. Third, a thing is a gathering of the threads of life. Drawing on these three arguments there must exist a multitude of things or rather there must be a multitude of gatherings of the threads of life. The world we inhabit is thus a meshwork (Ingold, 2010, p. 11) of lines through which material flows. Ingold refers to this meshwork of interwoven lines and flow of materials as entanglement (2010, p. 3). Similar to objects is the idea of materiality, which we have discussed in the previous section. Materiality in our case stems from design objects or artefacts. It conjures an image of entities stable and solid. Looked through the lens of criticality however, the solid world of materiality also unveils a tapestry of things, a “flux and flow of materials” (Ingold, 2010, p. 3). Criticality thus reveals the entanglements that constitute the materiality of design. To visualise, we may think of criticality as the view settings in 3d modelling programs. It allows us to see the meshed bodies that lie beneath and constitute the perfectly rendered creations. So far, I have used arguments put forward by others to establish a theoretical concept of entanglements. But what could be its practical applications? The notion of entanglements allows us to articulate the complexity and heterogeneity of the world we inhabit and has gained popularity amongst scholars of philosophy, social sciences, and particularly intercultural studies and global history (Andersen, 2016, para. 1,2). We may look at Entangled History (Bauck & Maier, 2015, para. 1) for more clarity. Centred on the interconnectedness of societies, it is a concept in history that assumes that nations, empires, or civilisations cannot be the exclusive and exhaustive units and categories of historiography (Bauck & Maier, 2015, para. 1). As an example, let us look at the work of Sidney Mintz (1986) on the complex history of sugar. Mintz shows how the increase


in demand for sugar in Europe in the 18th and especially the 19th centuries, interlocked (1986, p. xvi) the European world with the Caribbean in the circulation of ships and slaves. The transformation of sugarcane to sugar necessitated the industrialisation of labour, boiling houses, and mills in the Caribbean. This in turn led to an increased cycle of plantations, slave imports, and ship building resulting in a heightened consumption of sugar in Europe.


The interconnectedness of the use of sugar as a sweetener, decoration, medicine, condiment, and preservative overlaps with other commodities such as tea, coffee and chocolate. For a cup of tea in Europe sugar from the Caribbean is mixed with tea-leaves from estates in India. The commodity trade involved planters, slavers, shippers, refiners, grocers, bankers, and government regulators (Hodder, 2012, p. 136). Through his perspective on entanglements, Mintz linked the disciplines of anthropology, history, and economics to create a compelling narrative about one of the defining commodities of the modern world (Bauck & Maier, 2015, para. 13). Studying entangled history in general develops our ability to contextualise and see things from various perspectives—key requirements for thinking critically. Entangled history has the added advantage of being interdisciplinary—a requirement for design education 2.0 as discussed earlier. As demonstrated by Mintz, engaging with entangled history can be an effective way to train ourselves to see entanglements. Once we become aware of entanglements, we stop seeing entities as opaque objects and start to perceive them as things. We can trace entanglements by following materials, which in turn reveal a mesh of purposes, users, contexts, cultures, etc. An iPhone becomes an entanglement of technology from silicon valley, African conflicts driven by our need for rare-earth metals, and labour practices in China. I therefore propose to develop a course centred around entanglements as a way to introduce design students to criticality.


Ideas As Incentive As educators we often assume that our students are equally interested in topics as we are. Having made that rookie mistake early on, I am well aware of the power of motivation. Motivation is neither vague nor a passive force; functionally, it is as significant as intellectual knowledge and practical skills. And it can be understood and developed (Garner & Evans, 2015, p. 70). So what motivates design students? While teaching at NIFT, I noticed a recurring phenomenon during the sixth semester of the four year long degree course. Students would miss deadlines, fail to submit assignments, and hand in sub-par work. Exasperated faculty members realised that it stemmed from a compulsory internship slated at the end of the sixth semester. The impending internship would trigger an urgent need for a portfolio among students. (They would not consider most of their class assignments good enough to be included in their portfolio. A variety of factors such as inordinate amount of course work, uninspiring assignments, lack of motivation, etc. were at play.) In the ensuing panic, regular assignments would be ignored and all creative energy would be channeled towards making the portfolio. This yearly occurrence made me think. How could I give my photography students an edge over others? I observed that students with more conceptual works in their portfolio always managed to get lucrative internships. Photo editors and creative directors I spoke to also confirmed my inference. They were indeed more likely to select a student for an interview if the portfolio revealed thought and personality. I therefore took two steps to help the students. First, I encouraged them from the beginning to explore their interests in order to keep them motivated. Second, I guided them to conceptualise photography projects, which reflected some critical thought. This way, they could compile a portfolio, which not only contained conceptual works but also reflected their personality.



The anecdote highlights the importance design students place on a portfolio. Rightly so, since this assemblage of work is the “physical manifestation of their passport to design practice” (Tovey, 2015, p. 37). The desire to stand out is a professional necessity and powerful motivator for design students. In order to do so, a non-generic portfolio is essential. With students across design schools receiving similar technical instructions, the uniqueness of their ideas is often the only feature that distinguishes portfolios. Designers’ portfolios, similar to that of the photographers, are typically visual. Lacking any detailed text, which can demonstrate critical thinking, designers are limited to conceptual work to represent their capacity for critical thought. In that sense, a good portfolio is nothing but a visual realisation of strong ideas. Yet, in my C experience, students struggle most to come up with ideas that not only showcase their skills but also criticality. Design students, are already familiar with materiality (B). When equipped with criticality (A) they are likely to be able to follow the flow of materials (i.e., entanglements). By tracing such entangled threads, students may explore their interests (C) to come up with conceptually strong and unique ideas (D). Thus, I propose incentivising criticality to design students by presenting it as an idea generator. In chapter four I will use the theoretical framework established here and in chapter one to develop the structure of the tool. But before doing so, I will take a detour and look at research in design. “The requirement for undergraduate students to ‘research’ in order to proceed with project work is extensive in design” (Shreeve, 2015, p. 89). An attempt at restructuring design pedagogy, hence cannot ignore research. In chapter three I will first theoretically contextualise design research. I will then present my own research as an exemplar of criticality as an idea generator.





An Uneasy  Relationship CHAPTER THREE

If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? — Albert Einstein

What’s In A Name


What Is Research? Since the very beginning of the course, nay even before, while applying for it, I have constantly been confronted by the word research—What is your research proposal? What is your research question? What is your research methodology? Absence of any previous research experience was challenging enough. Added to that, the ambiguity surrounding design research made these questions even more confounding. The esoteric permutations of the two words design and research linked by a range of prepositions, seems to underline an uneasy relationship between research and design. Demystifying design research is impossible without understanding what research is in the first place. On the face of it, the word research might appear to be an act of searching and “re” searching again. However, etymologically research originates from the French “re-chercher.” Translated, research is to seek deeply, and with intensity, reliable, and new knowledge (Glanville, 2015, p. 11). So to understand how one can conduct research, we must gain a holistic understanding of what constitutes knowledge. Humans have long acknowledged the existence of different kinds of knowledge. Aristotle for example, talks about “sophia” and “phronesis.” To put it roughly, phronesis is practical knowledge. Sophia on the other hand is theoretical knowledge, which is based on phronesis and must refer back


to it. This division between theory and practice, albeit in differing forms, has continued and still exists. Thus we have distinct educational institutions—university and vocational college, which both seek and impart knowledge, but only a certain kind. Due to their inherent differences, the teaching, learning, propagation, and communication of these different kinds of knowledge also vary. Perhaps due to their propensity for theory, universities have led the charge in investigating and theorising knowledge. Hence, the methods of enquiry practiced at universities (particularly scientific research), has come to dominate discussions regarding research in design. At the same time not surprisingly, knowledge that stems from practice has largely escaped the deep and intense scrutiny of research. An added disadvantage for a variety of practical knowledge is the difficulty to communicate it via written language. Cyberneticist and design researcher Ranulph Glanville explains—

There is a type of phronetic knowledge that exists in, for instance, the hands in use – as with a highly skilled potter or physiotherapist. This knowledge cannot be explained or expounded but can be shown and learnt (2015, p. 12).

Practitioners in various disciplines have been trying to coin terms to identify this experiential knowledge. The most frequently cited among them—tacit dimension or tacit knowledge is accredited to polymath Michael Polanyi who famously stated “we can know more, than we can tell” (1966, p. 4). Whatever we call it, this kind of knowledge has some common features. First, it is gained and applied via practical measures; second, to a great extent, it is person and situation-oriented; and third, aspects of it resist verbalisation. (Mareis, 2012, p. 64, 62). It is thus evident that in order to research experiential knowledge, different methods of


investigation are required. Moreover, these methods need to ignore the dichotomy of theory vs. practice and look at practice as an integral part of research. Perhaps due to their familiarity with experiential knowledge, artists, designers, and other practitioners of related fields have emerged at the forefront of an organised inquiry about experiential knowledge (particularly tacit knowledge). But before I jump to the new research types and methods they have been arguing for, we must get a historical bearing to contextualise these conjectures.


Design Research—A Brief History The academic endeavour of design research gradually began to establish itself after the Second World War. In the post war optimism, science emerged as the unquestioned and universal means of answering almost any question. Against this backdrop, researchers noticed that design lacked any scientific theoretical base. Attempts were made to correct this apparent “flaw”. The first major intervention came out of a 1958 conference on architectural education. The other major one was the rise of the design methods movement. Both attempts tried to “reduce the arbitrary in designing, rationalising the activity so outcomes would be less wilful and more scientific” (Glanville, 2015, p. 13). The urgency for design to have a theoretical framework stemmed from a practical need. Due to the increasing mechanisation of the production process, design had become too complicated to practice through intuition alone. This called for a more systematic method of learning and practicing. Organisational methods, operational research, and computing, all of which contributed to the Allied success towards the end of the Second World War, seemed the perfect way to solve the framework problem. Eventually, some researchers started to question the idea of linear causality favoured by early design research. One of the reasons being that the messiness of actual design processes


is difficult to rationalise. The likes of Horst Rittel and John Chris Jones turned to chance processes and the random, which challenged the dominance of rationalisation. Another significant aspect of early design research is that it was primarily carried out under “the aegis of system theorists, computer scientists, operations research specialists, and mechanical engineers, whose categorical and conceptual systems bypassed industrial and graphic design” (Bonsiepe, 2007, p. 27). With no or limited experience in graphic or industrial design, the researchers primarily trained their gaze on architecture and engineering as representatives of design. This exclusion of genres led practitioners to largely ignore design research as a purely academic exercise which had no bearing on actual practice. But what explains the greater prominence of design research in contemporary discourses? It may be due to two reasons. First, the acceptance of human-centered approaches to design as a norm. Human-centered design attempts to actively involve all stakeholders in the design process to help ensure their needs and usability are incorporated. Multiple stakeholders are likely to generate complex problems which necessitates prior and even parallel research. Second, the acceptance and consolidation of design education as an academic discipline next to vocational practice (Stappers & Visser, 2014, p. 1). Housed within the structures of universities, design education has had to conform to the traditions of academia. An interesting byproduct of this imposition has been the shift in demographics of the researcher. From other disciplines researching about design we now see a rise of design-trained academics who engage in academic research within and even beyond the domain of design. This trend not only marks the maturing of design as an academic discipline, it also pushes certain designerly ways of doing research to the forefront. However, this category of research has handicaps similar to tacit knowledge. Namely,


“it can be difficult to communicate, or be sure, which of their activities should be labelled ‘design’, ‘research’, or a combination of these” (Stappers & Visser, 2014, p. 2).

A Curious Case Of Prepositions

The terms may be traced back to British educationalist Christopher Frayling, who first introduced the idea of three different forms of interactions between research and design—research into art and design, research through art and design, and research for art and design (1993, p. 5). Frayling got the idea from a book—Education Through Art in which the author Herbert Read distinguishes between teaching to art and teaching through art. Frayling says, “teaching to art is the professional procedures of the artist—the technical skills, [and] the craft skills of the artist. Teaching through art is the things you learn through the medium of studying art” (Durrant & Price, 2015). Frayling argued for the three types of research in a 1993 Royal College of Art Research Paper and in an interview [ 1 ] during the 2015 Research through Design Conference. According to him, research into design (or research about design), is the most straightforward research practice. This constitutes social, historical, technical, and material research conducted by historians, psychologists, or economists looking at design from outside the discipline. Research through design (RtD), also termed research by design, is about taking design as a particular way of thinking and using it to under-


To see the interview visit— http://rtd2015.herokuapp.com/ programme/


A cursory reading of the subject of Design Research is more likely to confuse than to inform. A reader is faced with a baffling array of terms—comprising of the words “design” and “research,” joined by different prepositions. Thus we have—research into design, research through design, research for design, research about design, research by design, along with design as research, and research as design.

stand and address things that exist outside design. According to Frayling, most often during interdisciplinary research is design used as an add-on to get extra funding or to make a project look smarter. RtD for him is all sorts of research that is led by design and powered by designerly thinking. Research for design (or design as research) is the most ambiguous of the three. It is research in which the end product is an artefact. In this type of design research, knowledge is embodied in the artefact. The artefact is thus not just an instantiation of the idea, it is the idea. And this knowledge is communicated primarily through visual, iconic, or imagistic communication rather than via verbal means. While they are good for instigating debate, the categories (specially the last two) are quite ambiguous to begin with. The problem is that design theorists have taken these categories as starting points and have either added their own explanations or postulated variations. Other factors add on to the persistence of confusion. First and most obvious is the lack of either a historical roadmap or a contemporary consensus regarding what all could be considered methods of organised inquiry in experiential knowledge. Second, is the adoption of Herbert Read’s pedagogic distinctions (of Teaching To Art and Teaching Through Art) in a research framework. “The failure to distinguish between pedagogy and research is a significant weak area in the argument for the concept of research by design” (Friedman, 2008, p. 156). Third, while aspects of experiential knowledge are difficult to put in words, research demands explicit communication, often through written words. With this in mind, if we start probing the wordplay, considering them as conjectures rather than established canons, we gain some interesting insights. The first interesting aspect that emerges is the position of the researcher relative to the field of study. In this regard, there are three possibilities—an outsider (e.g., a historian) studying


design; a designer researching another discipline (e.g., cognitive neuropsychology); and a designer studying something within or related to design (e.g., a designer researching the impact of design on propagation of knowledge via layouts of academic publications). As we can see, this loosely maps onto the three categories proposed by Frayling. Furthermore, it becomes obvious that the position of the researcher with respect to the discipline impacts both the nature and outcome of the study. This brings us to the second revelation, regarding the nature of research. When it comes to design research we often hear the term tacit knowledge and a myriad of practice-research categories as ways to access it. Thus, one might read about— practice and research, practice as research, practice led research, practice based research, and practice related research. These categories, similar to the design research permutations are confusing.

To explain the humanities tradition, he first distinguishes between the practice of the arts [ 1 ], scholarship in the arts, and research into or for the purposes of arts activity (Archer, 1995, p. 8). This distinction is quite revealing. Not all practice or scholarship can become research. He explains that research in a discipline “consists in finding new things to know, or in identifying new ways of knowing them, or in refuting previous commentary on existing material” (Archer, 1995, p. 9).


The Arts, as defined by Archer, comprises of language, literature, drama, history, architecture, art, music, etc.


Bruce Archer, a pioneer in the field of design research, talks about three broad traditions: research in the science tradition (1995, p. 6), research in the humanities tradition (1995, p. 8), and research through practitioner action (1995, p. 10). He outlines categories of research in the science tradition as fundamental research, applied research, action research, etc. These are the ones we are most likely to come across while looking up the word research.

He suggests applying this same framework to the third tradition of research through practitioner action. Only a practice, which involves an enquiry undertaken with the aim of producing knowledge, qualifies as research. Archer elaborates—

Undoubtedly, in some, circumstances, a striking art work or a radically new product or other innovation can itself constitute new knowledge, tacit or otherwise, that can be highly significant leading to major changes in people’s perceptions, circumstances and values. Clearly, too, a great deal of practitioner activity entails some research, of orthodox or unorthodox kinds, in support of the main thrust of the practitionership. It is not quite so certain, however, that the practitioner activity itself is quite the same as research activity, however much research it may have been supported by (1995, p. 10). We can see that depending on what is being investigated, and to what end, we have different ways of conducting research. So instead of being confused by esoteric forms, a design researcher should take a hard look at his question and ascertain which type of research would lead to new and useful knowledge. After all, as Archer puts it, research is a “systematic enquiry whose goal is communicable knowledge” (1995, p. 8). This definition of research by Archer finally leads to the third and perhaps most critical aspect of design research. How to communicate the knowledge gleaned from research? The debate seems to be which—text or artefact—should become


the predominant method of communicating research results. Both have their own advantage. According to Wolfgang Jonas, professor for design theory, “scientific writing can better describe, explain, contextualise, validate and convey knowledge to a wider scientific community” whereas artefacts can become “thingly modes of communication” (2016, p. 70). According to Jonas, the text vs. artefact debate is moot. I agree with him. For a text, written and published in the form of a book, is also an artefact. Against this backdrop, the question of text vs. artefact in design research looses significance. What emerges is the ‘beauty of grey’, of various hybrid forms of text and artefact and other media, between the pure extremes of the written (scientific) text and the non-textual (artistic) artefact (Jonas, 2016, p. 76).


Hence there are three possibilities of communicating research findings—a traditional thesis in the form of a standalone text, a combined material artefact-exegesis text hybrid, and only an artefact that supposedly embodies knowledge. In the following section I will show how I conducted research on a topic of interest. On one hand, this can be described as meta-research, where I try to understand the possibilities and limitations of design research by actually doing it. On the other hand, it also serves as an exemplar for the theoretical framework of the educational tool I am developing through my master’s research.


Tempest In A Teacup


A Conspiracy Of Silence

According to a 2007 report by the Government of India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development, 53.22% children in India have been subjected to one or more forms of sexual abuse and every fifth child suffers severe forms of assault including rape and sodomy. These are important and disturbing findings, particularly as 41 percent of Indians are below the age of twenty [ 1 ] and India has the world’s largest youth population (356 million) (Das Gupta et al., 2014, p. 5). Responding to these findings, I started a project to raise awareness about child sexual abuse (CSA) in 2009. It was easy and difficult at the same time. The sheer scale of the problem meant every second person I asked had experienced different degrees of CSA. However, the taboo surrounding it meant they didn’t want to publicly talk about it. While working on this project, I realised that there was no way to talk about sexual abuse of children without addressing the elephant in the room—sex itself. In India public discussions about sex are a taboo. Some legislators think sex education leads to promiscuity and irresponsible sexual behaviour (Vishnoi & Thacker, 2009,


1. Source: http://censusindia.gov.in/2011census/ censusinfodashboard/index.html

Learning-by-doing has been a central tenant of design pedagogy. As a means of learning about design research, I decided to conduct research using my long-term interest in sex-education as a starting point.

para. 1). Even proponents of abstinence-only education fear that students would become too curious about sex. In the state of Karnataka e.g., teachers complained that the books being used for sex education were provocative and oriented towards increasing the sales of condoms (Tripathi & Sekher, 2013, p. 2). Such discourses have led to six of the 29 states of India banning sex education altogether. Moreover, studies show that a majority of parents do not accept the responsibility for sex education (Ismail, Shajahan, Sathyanarayana Rao, & Wylie, 2015, para. 6). Mothers especially believe discouraging pre-marital intercourse to be it’s most important objective (Tripathi & Sekher, 2013, p. 3). Parents, schools, and the state keep passing the buck and generations of children suffer as a result. In my opinion, conversations that inform children about sex should start within a family.

3. www.pornhub.com/sex

2. www.omgyes.com

1. https://tv.nrk.no/serie/newton-pubertet

Brewing A Tempest My first impulse was to design an app or a web platform that would provide relevant information for users. I started my research by searching for existing solutions and selected five which I studied further. First I looked at Newton [ 1 ]—a Norwegian television programme that chronicles the changes in human anatomy in teenage years using live models showing ordinary, average bodies. Second, I explored OMGYes [ 2 ]— an interactive app which aims to demystify female pleasure. It consists of explicit videos of diverse volunteers demonstrating different methods, as well as touch-screen tutorials through which users can practice and improve their own technique. Third, I studied the Sexual Health Center [ 3 ] run by the adult entertainment website PornHub. Launched as an education service in Feb 2017, the site offers responsible advice and information on sex and sexual health provided by sex therapist Dr. Laurie Betito. Topics covered a range from more conventional information on STDs and safe sex practices to “What is consent?” and “Top Erotic Positions for Lesbians”. Dr. Betito also hosts a weekly Q&A session, taking



After this preliminary research, my interest shifted from access to sex-education to finding a means of initiating conversations around the topic of sex itself. I found the five examples discussed before quite handy in starting discussions. They afforded me multiple entry points to diverse groups of people. As a result I became more interested in developing discursive objects which could initiate dialogues around the topic and hopefully break the conspiracy of silence in a family that I know best—my own. Using the framework developed in the previous chapter, I tried to come up with ideas for a discursive object that would facilitate conversations around sex in a Bengali family. In order to do so, I started to unpack the assumptions around the words—facilitate, conversation, sex, Bengali, and family. This process threw up relevant questions such as—Does provocation aid in facilitation? Explicit or subtle—which provocation could be more effective? What is a Bengali family? When does such a family engage in conversation? What language does a Bengali family converse in? How do Bengalis circumvent the taboo around talking about sex? The questions lead me to conceptualise the discursive object as a tea-set. In a majority of Bengali families, children are served warm milk as part of their breakfast. Drinking tea is a reserve of the grown ups. Thus, starting to drink tea is a


1. https://lovematters.in

2. www.channel4.com/programmes/ mums-make-porn

and answering questions from viewers. Fourth, I looked at Love Matters [ 1 ], a global program, which aims to provide information on relationships, sex, and love. Since the platform was originally launched in India it, was of particular interest to me. Finally, I watched a Channel 4 TV show called Mums Make Porn [ 2 ]. It is about a group of five mothers who direct and produce their own porn film with the aim of showing it to their children. The women “were so disgusted by porn they found online they decided to make their own X-rated film that they would be happy to show their children” (Nikolic, 2019, para. 1).

right of passage from childhood to adolescence, exactly when conversations about sex should start. Moreover, in Bengali society there is a culture of discussion, known as adda, that is centred around drinking copious amounts of tea. Furthermore, an elaborate Sunday breakfast or jawlkhabar is a norm in most Bengali families and is usually preceded by tea drinking. During such breakfasts families gather and talk about diverse topics. A tea-set is uniquely placed to start a conversation at such gatherings. Furthermore, the entanglements of sex and tea in the subcontinent may be traced back to the British colonial project. Indians were introduced to tea when botanist Robert Fortune, under the employment of the British East India Company, stole tea from China and transported it to India in the mid-1800s (Lies, 2011, para. 1). Moreover, the colonisers imposed their sense of Victorian morality through their laws – a significant portion of which India still follows. One such law for example, is the Indian Penal Code (IPC), introduced in 1864 by the British. According to section 377 of the IPC, sexual activities “against the order of nature” used to be illegal. This law was being used to harass the LGBTQ community until it was finally annulled by the Supreme Court of India in 2018. Simultaneously, I explored different materials (such as ceramic, wood, metal, plastic, resin); and processes (live sketching, risography, volumetric imaging, CAD modelling, virtual reality, image manipulation, data visualisation and photography). The explorations are displayed as Fieldnotes later in the chapter. In this regard I must note that lacking any previous design degree, my level of knowledge (barring in photography), was comparable to an undergraduate freshman. While working with ceramics, I came across a unique feature of the material—clay memory. Clay retains the impressions of stress it has been subjected to when it is wet and pliable. E.g., a flat slab of wet clay, if picked up by one end will get



bent in the process. Even when it is smoothed out and made flat again, the bend is likely to reappear to a certain degree during the drying or firing process. Clay memory could be conceptually related to trauma. The taboo around sex often manifests as violence against women, children, and members of LGBTQ community which also results in trauma. The survivors often try to suppress memory of such trauma, yet it remains till they seek counselling. Due to this conceptual link, I decided to use ceramic as a medium for the tea-set. Inspired by the entangled history of tea with China, I narrowed down on porcelain which evolved in China as the ceramic of choice. I initially thought of making the cups in the form of a kulhar—traditional single-use, and handle-less clay cups that are popular at roadside tea-stalls in India. However, upon discussion with family members I realised that the disposability aspect of such cups made them appear cheap. Such everyday objects could not house the required gravitas of the discursive object. In an attempt to find unique forms, I tried exploring abstraction—both geometric and free form through the materials and processes. As a result, I came up with the shapes of the teapot and milk jug by way of abstraction of erotic temple sculptures from India. In India, sex is always referred to in euphemisms. Bollywood films from the 1960s and 70s for example, show the act through the visual metaphor of two flowers coming together. In Bengali popular usage, sex is referred to via the use of often alliterative, gibberish words. I asked friends and family to collect some of these words. So far I have—into pintu, poka pok, tepa tepi, phosti noshti, thoka thuki, taon taon, thapa thapi, ding dong, chuma chaati, rogra rogri, khape khaap, lotor potor, chudur budur, phurti pharta. These words add a dash of humour, which I feel is necessary while talking about such a sensitive topic. As of now, the project is still a work-in-progress. I am yet to finalise the shapes of the cups. Other relevant details such as colour of the tea-set; how to make the pieces (e.g., throwing,


1. To see the completed project visit— https://chhandakpradhan.com/ tempest-in-a-teacup

slip casting, or ceramic 3D printing); the glaze to be used; and finally how to incorporate the words (e.g., screen printing or writing directly on the objects with a brush) are still pending. I have decided to name the project Tempest in a Teacup [ 1 ] and intend to finish it before I leave ZHdK. Despite being unfinished, this meta-research demonstrates the efficacy of combining materiality and criticality to reveal entanglements—a key tenant of the theoretical framework. Furthermore, it also shows how a combination of design research and critical practice of design can help in learning and embodying design-specific critical thinking. I propose including both as elements of progressive design pedagogy.

Fieldnotes While conducting the M.A. research, I kept a detailed logbook of my activities. I also documented my experiments with materials and processes. The previous section was written as a reflection after revisiting these notes. In the following pages I will give a brief glimpse of my exploration before I finally move on to the nitty-gritties of the tool.


1. Details of an unglazed, slip-cast

2. Detail of a porcelain cup, layered

bowl in porcelain before second firing

with different coloured clay, sanded


down and drawn on after first firing


3. Ceramic exploration. Detail show-

4. Experiments with porcelain. Crack

5. The crack mended with different

ing experiments with typography on

produced intentionally by drying

coloured porcelain to highlight the

leather dry porcelain bowl

the shape overnight on a styrofoam

repair. Inspired by kintsugi and




6. A porcelain cup shaped as an Indian

7. Details of a ceramic cup showing

8. Results of explorations with forms

kulhar with the kintsugi inspired

the typographic exploration of the

for the tea cup


euphemistic words collected during




9. Plaster and epoxy resin broccoli

10. A tray made by moulding plexi-

made from silicon mould

glass, presented with replicas of broccoli in plaster and blue epoxy. Part of a critical design project highlighting the usage of plastic in food packaging



11. Gender neutral jewellery made

12. Experiments with wood and gen-

13. Man following bird. A rendition of

from brass that can be worn as a

erative art. Details of 20 MDF pieces

the Sculpture Generator

pendant and a broach

which make the Sculpture Generator


14. Exploration of volumetric imaging

15. A game using a black chart paper

using photogrammetry

and 3D shapes made with styrofoam. It uses permutations and pareidolia to visualise multiple perspectives.

16. Macro photography showing crystals of white musk ambroxide


17. Image manipulation created by

19. Visualisation of location data

running the statistical function of

collected using my mobile phone over

mean on my photo archive. Displayed

a period of two years

as a VR exhibition


18. Scan of a risograph


20. A portrait made on an iPad with

21. A portrait made with brush pen.

an apple pencil. From a series of quick

From a series of one minute sketches

sketches during long commutes


22. Rendering of a 3d scan of mine.

23. Sketchbook showing one minute

24. Single line portraits, from a series

The project questions the efficacy of

nude studies done at ZHdk

of one minute sketches


posture as a gender marker


25. Sketches of a teapot and milk jug

26. Attempts to generate possible

inspired by erotic temple sculptures

shapes for the teacups through combi-

from India

nation of basic geometric shapes

27. Sketches to further develop the shape of the milk jug


28. CAD explorations of different shapes for the components of the


tea set


I  nstruments Of I  ntervention CHAPTER FOUR

The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes — Marcel Proust



Practical Considerations During my time at NIFT, I had noticed three recurring themes that acted as barriers to implementation of new pedagogic ideas. The first and most important was cost. The school management was always hesitant in implementing programs that required any capital investment. The second barrier originated when faculty and students perceived any program as addition to their existing workload. The third barrier was structural, as the existing curriculum didn’t leave much time for addition of full courses. In order to counter these challenges my tool had to be cheap, could not overburden students and faculty, and had to be flexible. To keep costs low, I decided to use the prevalent academic setup and infrastructure of a design school with minimal changes. I have therefore sourced the tasks and assignments from among the ones being taught at design programs across the world. Furthermore, the tool itself is mainly paper based. Outputs require standard A3 or A4 sheets as well as technologies that are existing in most places (mobile phones, black and white desktop printer, etc.) and free (Artivive app for augmented reality). In order to avoid burdening students and faculty with extra work, I decided to repurpose components of existing common knowledge (Indian cultural history for Indian students) and subjects (such as history of design, art history, and visual culture). Moreover, I decided to use contemporary topics


familiar to students and faculty to instigate discussions and dialogues. Lastly, to keep it flexible I decided to make the tool modular. It allows for the tool to be implementable within varying timeframes and by different design disciplines according to their needs. Not only that, modularity ensures that parts of it can be used even beyond design education— from learning critical thinking to making history more engaging.

Essential Elements The next logical step was to incorporate essential elements identified in the previous chapters. As discussed in chapter two (see Ideas as incentive) motivation is an essential component of pedagogy. Educators Steve Garner and Chris Evans have formulated five principles for fostering motivation in undergraduate design education. They are as follows. First, students’ curiosity is aroused when they perceive a gap in their current knowledge. Thus, motivation is enhanced by challenges and intellectual risks. Second, the knowledge to be learned has to be perceived to be meaningfully related to students’ goals. Third, students have to believe that they can succeed in mastering the learning task. Fourth, students have to anticipate and experience satisfying outcomes to a task. Fifth, students have to develop self-regulatory strategies to ensure that their motivation persists in spite of distractions, obstacles, and competing goals (Garner & Evans, 2015, p. 7378). The other essential elements that have influenced the tool are—the idea of praxis, interdisciplinarity, the use of entangled history, social learning through group activity, and finally learning critical thinking in small incremental steps. In the last section of this chapter, through a visual map, I will show how these essential elements along with the inspirations mentioned in the next section led to the formulation of the modules.


The Architecture Of The Artefact The first design challenge of the book was to establish the uniqueness of the two elements—the manifesto and the modules—while maintaining continuity. To achieve this, two steps have been taken. First, the elements have been housed in a single book. Second, the entire book uses the same pair of fonts. To highlight the distinct nature of the two elements, instead of one after the other, I have placed them on opposing ends of the same book. So, as one reads through one element, one also symbolically approaches the other. Moreover, the layout as well as the hierarchy of fonts change between the two elements making the distinction clearer.


The design of the book further embodies Freire’s idea of praxis. The two elements start on opposing ends, yet they cannot be read on their own without referencing the other. Half of the fifth module is housed in the third chapter of the manifesto under the section Tempest in a Teacup. At the same time, one has to turn the book and refer to the modules to finish chapter four. I envision this constant back and forth as a physical manifestation of praxis. The cyclic aspect of praxis is conceptually introduced through the use of an old modern font and a modern old font. At a glance, the book appears to be a square. The shape is meant to represent the rigidity of the parameter that I set myself to work within an existing understanding of what a design school is and how it functions. However, if inspected closely, the book reveals itself as an almost square, yet not a perfect one. This deliberate imperfection is a critique of the Eurocentric cannons of design pedagogy which, like the book’s dimensions, are perceived as ideal, yet in reality are far from it. Industrialised Britain remains important In relation to design, since an entanglement of various socio-economic, technological, political, and cultural contexts can be traced to


that time and place. As a nod to this aspect, for its headings the manifesto uses P22 Underground, which has been derived from Edward Johnston’s classic typeface—Johnston Sans. The original not only kicked off the genre of humanist sans-serif typefaces but also as the ubiquitous corporate identity of the Transport of London has become a subconscious cultural clue for the London Tube and Britain by extension. The body copy of the manifesto demanded a delicate balance of old and new. As a modern alternative of old-style types I use the typeface Calluna by Jos Buivenga. It retains the charm of classic typefaces and merges it with the clean-cut appeal of modernism. The typeface also had to be functional as a display font for the module. In the designer’s words, Calluna strikes a “balance between robustness to function as a text face and refinement to look good as display font.” A central theme of the project is the concept of entanglement. A hitherto hidden world is only revealed when a special lens in the form of criticality is applied on materiality. To push this idea through the design of the book, I have used augmented reality (AR). The AR elements are Easter eggs scattered throughout the book. This is to encourage the reader to play—an essential element in design exploration. Besides play, exploration benefits from systematic survey and meticulous record keeping. Over time, these rigid steps render a detailed map and help us decide which blind valleys to revisit or which open roads to avoid. The manifesto’s layout, through the rigidity of a modular grid, attempts to reference this initial adherence to rules, which counter-intuitively assists exploration. The underlying grid, revealed at times through design elements, is also a reference to the modular nature of Entangled—the tool. The overall layout however remains asymmetric to reflect the manifesto’s proposal of disbalancing and restructuring of the traditional elements of design academia. The layout deliberately uses a lot of white space. It is not only meant to metaphorically represent space that may be filled up with ideas, but also the actual space



for educators—the target audience—to write notes on. But I hope the use of asymmetry and white space makes it evident that Entangled is more of a suggestion than a strict guideline. It aims to share courage for that very difficult first step required to get off the beaten path.







Perception Constraints



Five criteria which I used to look for inspiration in varied disciplines


1. An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in

2. Japanese boro textile that have been

4. Designing Programmes by Karl

Paris by Georges Perec

mended or patched together


3. Graphical Notation (Variations II. by John Cage)


5. Be a Malevich Game

6. The flavour thesaurus by Niki Segnit


7. Islamic geometric patterns


8. Fluxus event score (Conversation

10. Galapagos Game by Felix Salut

11. Ikebana—Japanese flower arrange-

Piece, from Grapefruit, 1964 by Yoko

ment (drawing from the Sōka Hyakki


by the Shijō school, 1820)

9. Kumiki—Japanese wood joinery


12. Kintsugi—Japanese art of repairing

13. Conditional Design

broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver,

14. Haiku—a very short form of Japa-

or platinum

nese poetry in three phrases (A Wilder Way, 10 April 2013 from Times Haiku


by New York Times)


15. Cabinet of curiosities (Engrav-

16. Mnemosyne Atlas by Aby Warburg

ing depicting Danish antiquary Ole Worm’s cabinet of curiosities)



17. Ikigai—a Japanese concept trans-

18. Shojin Ryori—a form of Japanese

19. Lipogram (La Disparition—French

lated as the reason for being

cooking that is made with ingredients

for The Disappearance—is a 1969 nov-

containing five elements, and uses five

el by Georges Perec, written entirely

preparation methods to create food

without using the letter e, following

with five flavours and five colours

Oulipo constraints)


20. Origami—Japanese art of paper

22. Tangram—a Chinese dissection

23. Wabi-sabi—a world view in Japa-


puzzle consisting of seven flat shapes,

nese aesthetics centered on the accep-

called tans, which are put together to

tance of transience and imperfection

21. Lego (Lego tetris from the project

form shapes

Minimal Lego by Jaime Sánchez)


24. 4’33” is a composition by John

25. Life: A User’s Manual by George

Cage which instructs the performers


not to play their instruments during the entire duration of four minutes, thirty-three seconds. The piece consists of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is




The 25 inspirations with overlapping search criteria


Image Source:

1. Perec, G. (2010). An attempt at exhausting a place in Paris (M. Lowenthal, Trans.). Cambridge; New York: Wakefield Press; Distributed Art Publishers. 2. https://helmn.co/products/ boro-futon-cover 3. http://janacek.unibe.ch/european-musicology2/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/20032.pdf 4. Gerstner, K. (2007). Designing programmes: instead of solutions for problems programmes for solutions (3. ed). Baden: Lars Müller. 5. www.beamalevich.com/architecton.php 6. Segnit, N. (2010). The flavour thesaurus: pairings, recipes and ideas for the creative cook. London ; New York: Bloomsbury. 7. El-Said, I. (1993). Islamic art and architecture: the system of geometric design (T. El-Bouri, K. Critchlow, & S. S. Damlūji, Eds.). Reading (UK): Garnet Publishing Ltd. 8.www.swanngalleries.com/news/2017/06/grapefruit-yoko-ono-guide-living-art/ 9. Seike, K. (1977). The art of Japanese joinery (1st English ed). New York: J. Weatherhill. 10. www.felixsalut.com/Items/Galapagos-Game 11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ikebana 12. https://i.etsystatic.com/12871077/r/il/ bd2a66/1847414894/il_1588xN.1847414894_ aj66.jpg 13. Maurer, L., Born, J., & Reijnen, L. (Eds.). (2013). Conditional design workbook. Amsterdam: Valiz. 14. https://haiku.nytimes.com 15. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabinet_of_curiosities 16. https://curatorialexperiments.wordpress.com/tag/aby-warburg 17. https://uxdesign.cc/why-ux-design-is-my-ikigai-8d45da3ab84c


18. Chu, D. (2017). Shojin ryori: the art of Japanese vegetarian cuisine. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Cuisine. 19. http:// bibliotheque-ville-montluel.fr/produit/la-disparition 20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Origami-crane.jpg 21. https://jaimesanchezart.com/minimal-lego 22. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Tangram-man.svg 23. Koren, L. (1994). Wabi-sabi for artists, designers, poets & philosophers. Berkeley, USA: Stone Bridge Press. 24. https://www.kylegann.com/Miami-CageTalk.html 25. Perec, G. (2018). Life, a user’s manual (D. Bellos, Trans.). David R Godine.


Integration Learning

A. Materiality

B. Criticality

C. Entanglements D. Design Specific Critical Thinking E. Interdisciplinarity

1. Craftsmanship 2. Studio 3. Project and Brief 4. Dialogue 5. Crit 6. Materiality 1. Observe Different Perspectives 2. Identify Assumptions 3. Contextualise and Check Validity of Assumptions 1. Follow the Materials 2. Entangled History 1. Critical Practice of Design 2. Design Research 1. Collaboration

F. Own Courses And Corpus

1. Design Research 2. Collaboration

G. Motivation

1. Idea Generation




Bauhaus Model Signature Pedagogies

Design Pedagogy

Unpacking Assumptions

Critical Pedagogy

Object vs. Thing

Design Education 2.0 Entangled Pedagogy

Portfolio Development


Progressive Design Pedagogy

The diagram on the adjacent page

As discussed in chapter two (Attaining

As discussed earlier (Essential Elements

shows how the tool (X) combines the

Criticality pg. 81), learning critical

pg. 128), motivation to learn is pro-

preferred criteria for learning critical

thinking requires: Social learning  (1),

moted when: Perceived gap in current

thinking with motivation

Overview and explanation of the  en-

knowledge arouses curiosity (A),

tire process (2), Specific experiences (3),

Knowledge is meaningfully related (B),

Venturing out of the comfort zone (4),

The task is achievable (C), Satisfying

and Incremental steps (5)

outcomes are anticipated and experienced (D), Self-regulatory strategies are in place to ensure continuity of motivation (E)






2 X







1. The tool is made up of six modules.

2. When approached in a linear way,

To access the modules, flip the book

the modules introduce critical think-

and read from the other side

ing in incremental steps







Six Modules A B C D E F

Tasks to improve perception and observation skills Game with marginal narratives from history to make students aware of entanglements Discussions that use visual culture and contemporary topics to unpack assumptions Exercises which help students to unpack their own assumptions Exemplars of discursive objects for demonstrating the process of critical design practice Briefs that require students to integrate critical thinking with design practice


3. The modules can also be used independently of one another and in different sequences. Non linearity ensures the flexibility of the overall tool









Conclusion Critical Thinking pg. 48 Praxis pg. 50

Progressive Design pg. 51 Problem Engagement pg. 47

Progressive Design Pedagogy pg. 145


Criticality pg. 79-82 Entanglements Materiality pg. 74-76

Design Pedagogy pg. 145

Critical Pedagogy pg. 145

Entangled Pedagogy pg. 145


pg. 86

Journey So Far To recapitulate, I began my research with the question of how to present critical thinking as a tool in the design process for students. In order to resolve the question I undertook literature research and archival research; participated in interdisciplinary workshops; attended talks, conferences, and symposia; attended additional master and bachelor level courses; taught a bachelor level course; conducted visual research by visiting museums exhibitions, and fairs; conducted interviews; and finally explored and experimented with materials processes. In the manifesto I argue for a reconceptualised idea of design—Progressive Design. It is an integration of critical thinking with problem engagement inspired by Paulo Freire’s cyclical amalgamation of action and reflection or praxis. I also outline interdisciplinarity, need to develop its own subjects and corpus, and critical thinking as the essential constituents of Design Education 2.0. I establish criticality as awareness of perspectives, and ability to identify, contextualise and check the validity of assumptions. And finally establish following the materials as a way of tracing entanglements.

Research Findings The findings of my research so far are as follows. First, working with new materials (ceramic, wood, metal, and different kinds of plastic, etc.), new techniques (laser cutting, risography, volumetric imaging, virtual reality, projection mapping, etc.), and engaging with other related and unrelated disciplines (interaction design, sound engineering, curation, history, and anthropology) stimulated the conceptualisation of new ideas for me. Second, critical thinking helped me search, formulate, sort, and settle on ideas that were relevant. Third, since such ideas were based on arguments


rather than personal preferences, it was easier to present them. Also, they were less likely to be dismissed. I noticed I had more confidence in my ideas when they were conceptualised through critical thinking. Fourth, my critical thinking skills developed much faster than technical design skills that need to be embodied through repeated practice. Hence, I could conceptualise ideas faster than I could execute them. Not only that, I could also conceptualise ideas involving materials and techniques I barely knew about and had no skill with. As an advantage it inspired me to learn the techniques, kept me motivated and excited about the learning process, and pushed me towards collaboration with practitioners and experts. The faster pick up speed through critical thinking should add to the flexibility of the tool. As a disadvantage, however, it sometimes led to unrealistic goals and deadlines not being met. This shortcoming could be easily mitigated by mentor interventions during a regular study course.

The Road Ahead


In conclusion, I view my M.A. research as a component in a bigger project which began in the summer of 2014, when I started my career as an educator. With the culmination of the M.A. I begin the third phase of this project, which involves trying out the tool at design schools in India; getting feedback from students and fellow educators; incorporating their feedback to improve the tool; developing more India specific content for the Entangled [Hi]stories game; and lastly working on a collaborative web platform that would allow other educators to access, develop, and customise the tool for free.


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Scan the QR code to see the detailed logbook organised thematically and chronologically

A. Logbook Highlights £ £ £ £ £ £

Conference and Symposia attended—three Archives visited—two Visual Research (online archives)—ten Additional Seminars attended—three Departmental Workshops attended—thirteen Festivals and Fairs visited—three


Interdisciplinary Workshops attended—narration and smell, risography, embodied storytelling, actors and avatars, ceramic, wood, kunstoff, metal, and av experiments


Talks and Lectures attended at—ZHdK, HEAD Geneva, University of Zurich, ETH, University of Oxford, and Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology


Museums visited—Museum Rietberg, Zürich; Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich; Kunsthaus, Zürich; Museum of Digital Art, Zürich; Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; Ethnographic Museum, Zürich; Museum Strauhof, Zürich; Museum of Kommunication, Bern; Kunstmuseum, Basel; Design Museum, London; Tate Modern, London; Museum of the History of Science, Oxford; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Landesmuseum, Zürich; Lenbachhaus, Munich; Kunsthalle, Munich; The Albertina Museum, Vienna; Kunsthaus, Vienna; Sigmund Freud Museum, Vienna; Leopold Museum, Vienna; Museum moderner Kunst, Vienna; Nedbalka Gallery, Brtislava; Zentrum für Kunst und Medien, Karlsruhe;


B. Interview Questions £ £ £ £ £ £ £


£ £ £

Do you think critically as a designer? How, if at all, has critical thinking helped you as a designer? Do you see any advantages you have over other designers who do not think critically? Did my teaching help you in any way to think critically? During the course was it evident that you were learning critical thinking? If not, then when did you become aware of your critical thinking ability? Given a choice, which one would you choose— a theoretical course that helps you to learn critical thinking or a practical course that uses critical thinking as a component? If you chose a practical course that uses critical thinking as a component which one do you prefer—a learning method that explicitly lists critical thinking as component or a course which uses critical thinking implicitly without stating it? What did you like and dislike about my teaching? What could be improved in my teaching? Are you also critical when it comes to other aspects besides design e.g., society, politics, etc.?


To Kabita and Dilip Pradhan The first critical teachers I have suffered

My sincerest thanks for the significant contributions: Prof. Dr Sarah Owens, Dr Björn Franke, Dr Sandra Bärnreuther, Dr Sneha Banerjee, Dr Nikolay Kamenov, Jonas Voegeli, Patrik Ferrarelli, Reinhard Schmidt, Priscille Jotzu, Lousia Goldman, Jit Chowdhury, Abhijit Pal, Alisha Dutt Islam, Carolin Siebeneich, Ankita Das, Rajshree Saraf, Siddharth Kumar, Avina Stiftung, Artivive, Another Roadmap School

Design: Chhandak Pradhan Paper: Lessebo 1.3 Rough Ivory 100 g/m2 Typeface: Calluna P22 Underground Printing: OK Digitaldruck AG