Design for living complexities

An experiment in teaching critical thinking about design

This paper describes the process of developing, teaching, and responding to evaluations of a post-graduate course on critical thinking about design in general, not in any specific arena. Design is construed as being about intentionality in construction, which involves a range of materials, a sequence of steps, and principles that inform the choice of material and the steps. Design always involves putting people as well as materials into place, which may happen by working with the known properties of the people and materials, trying out new arrangements, or working around their constraints. Critical thinking involves understanding ideas and practices better when we examine them in relation to alternatives. In a sense, critical thinking is in design from the start, because design cannot proceed without the idea that there are alternatives to the current way of doing things. The course exposes and explores alternative designs through history (showing that things have by no means always been the way they are now), "archeology of the present" (shedding light on what might have taken for granted or left as someone else's responsibility/specialty), comparison (looking at the ways things are arranged in different organizations and cultures), and ill-defined problems (in cases of real-world "living complexity" that invite a range of responses). The paper will reflect on what happened to produce evaluations like the course “has permeated all of the boundaries of my life and enabled me to take real control over the ways I am teaching, living, and processing my experience of the world.”

Presented by Peter Taylor
at Society for Social Studies of Science conference, Boston, August/September 2017

Visual aids

Practice run of presentation (showing visual aids):

Compilation of plus-delta responses to presentation: see below

Link to course:

Further exchanges welcome via Thanks.

Plus (an appreciation)
Delta (something to be developed further)
Careful thought on the interrelation between creative design and a very personal identity
Try working with phenomenology, classic Heideggerian or post- phenomenology (Don Ihde)
Connections to other presenters; celebrating the learners
Translate text into diagrams
High-level treatment of design, critical thinking, and how you connect the two = neatly between STS and design ed approaches
Taste of audience—who are the students? Class format? Fit of course in the curriculum? (Was it a pilot for the proposed PhD program?)
Very compelling student reflections; interesting diagram [at the end]
Use of font color was distracting
Unique way of tackling the problem
Explaining in simple words the complexity behind this interesting course
Emphasize one aspect of the four bases in the case or in the presentation
Concise definitions of “design” and “critical thinking”
Read James Pierce et al. “Expanding and redefining criticality in HCI”
Look at Design Noir (foundational critical design book)
Phoebe Sengers, “Reflective Design”
Matt Ratto, “Critical making”
Good pacing, accessible language, humorous
Concrete examples: cases and discussion of participants; Context of learners
Inspiring way of thinking about teaching & learning as transformative
Change in relationships between students
Explanation of what is “critical”
Alternative ways of solving things—of designing: perhaps the solutions we have so far can be further worked
Critical design as social commitment
Example of the classical design principles (80/20 rule; ballot) showed what critical design is not. Design principles (e.g., byproducts are products) stimulates thinking
Students brainstorm critical design principles