Abstract

Variously used to describe a branch of knowledge, a system of rules of conduct or a method of practice, or a character trait associated with rigorous and controlled behaviour, the term ‘discipline’ is both widespread in its application and yet considerably under-examined in regard to its expectations and consequences. While the general field of design, or each of the various sub-fields thereof, is colloquially referred to as being a discipline – and unreflectively accepted as such – quite what constitutes and informs this disciplinarity remains unclear. Arguing that design problems are, to a significant extent, personally determined rather than neutrally provided; that, while highly informed in regard to their disciplinary practice(s), design agents are inescapably influenced, driven, and, to large measure, controlled by their specific theory choices and ideological commitments; that, rather than being a knowledge-generating discipline, the field of design generally constitutes a practice-based knowledge-utilization discipline, aimed at providing service to an external world; and thus that design is essentially normative rather than explanatory-descriptive; this paper explores the nature of design’s disciplinarity, and avers that the above factors not only actively contribute to, but promote and prolong design’s undisciplinarity. Design’s very characteristics are thus the roots of its undiscipline, roots that go deep into design’s psyche, and that support and feed an enterprise that is in need of serious self-examination.

Keywords:

Design Philosophy; Design Thinking; Problematization; Ideology; Disciplinarity

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Jul 16th, 12:00 AM

On the Roots of Undiscipline

Variously used to describe a branch of knowledge, a system of rules of conduct or a method of practice, or a character trait associated with rigorous and controlled behaviour, the term ‘discipline’ is both widespread in its application and yet considerably under-examined in regard to its expectations and consequences. While the general field of design, or each of the various sub-fields thereof, is colloquially referred to as being a discipline – and unreflectively accepted as such – quite what constitutes and informs this disciplinarity remains unclear. Arguing that design problems are, to a significant extent, personally determined rather than neutrally provided; that, while highly informed in regard to their disciplinary practice(s), design agents are inescapably influenced, driven, and, to large measure, controlled by their specific theory choices and ideological commitments; that, rather than being a knowledge-generating discipline, the field of design generally constitutes a practice-based knowledge-utilization discipline, aimed at providing service to an external world; and thus that design is essentially normative rather than explanatory-descriptive; this paper explores the nature of design’s disciplinarity, and avers that the above factors not only actively contribute to, but promote and prolong design’s undisciplinarity. Design’s very characteristics are thus the roots of its undiscipline, roots that go deep into design’s psyche, and that support and feed an enterprise that is in need of serious self-examination.

 

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