Peter Lloyd Jones, PhD
“Design has its own distinct “things to know, ways of knowing them, and ways of finding out about them // Scientists problem-solve by analysis, whereas designers problem-solve by synthesis” Nigel Cross, In Designerly Ways of Knowing (1)
"About 1917, I decided that nature did not have separate, independently operating departments of physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, ethics, etc. Nature did not call a department heads’ meeting when I threw a green apple into the pond, with the department heads having to make a decision about how to handle this biological encounter with chemistry’s water and the unauthorized use of the physics department’s waves . . . nature probably had only one department and only one coordinate, omnirational, mensuration system” Buckminster Fuller (2)
Introduction Science uses conjecture combined with logic and existing knowledge of the applied and theoretical kinds to verify pre-existing, immutable truths. Via its intrinsic ability to connect to diverse pursuits and philosophies, including the arts and humanities, traditional crafts, technology, engineering and design, science also acts as an essential partner and catalyst for re-imagining and re-configuring a better future for humankind and the planet. In the field of medicine, for example, such practices in combined prospecting have generated innumerable advanced therapies including big and small pharmaceuticals, bespoke bioengineered treatments for personalized and prescriptive medicine, as well as digital and other engineered technologies that are radically improving the quality of human life from conception until death. Recent transformational efforts in healthcare include artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, data analytics, assistive surgical robots, organs on chips, CRISPR-based repair of genomes, CAR-T cell immunotherapies against cancer, protease inhibitors to prophylactically block HIV transmission, vaccines to prevent HPV-induced tumor formation, plus what seems like a endless array of personal health apps that can now connect our minds, bodies -and even our molecules- to wireless devices ranging from smart watches to intelligent apparel constructed from computational fibers that simultaneously act both as the soft- and hard-ware (-able) (3).
Science also allows us to measure and understand how carefully considered and well-designed products, processes and places can deliver significant beneficial health effects (4). As well, Science uses imagination and conjecture to gather facts that may at first appear to have no immediate value, but which gather meaning over time as the world and its context changes. For the latter scenario, Science often uses the “designerly” tool of modeling coupled with mathematics and computation to predict how individual elements within a chosen system will perform, even though none of the facts underscoring the system may have yet been discovered. Alan Turing understood this perfectly, both philosophically and in practical terms. “The popular view that scientists proceed inexorably from well-established fact to well-established fact, never being influenced by any unproved conjecture, is quite mistaken. Provided it is made clear which are proved facts and which are conjectures, no harm can result. Conjectures are of great importance since they suggest useful lines of research.” (5).
Without speculation and modeling, how else could Turing have produced what is considered his greatest contribution to science; and not in machine learning and early computation, but in theoretical biology? In that work, Turing developed a model which aimed to understand how form is generated during development in multi-cellular organisms, with a specific look at the branching of structures (6). What remains truly remarkable about this work, which sparked the field of mathematical biology, is that although Turing died in 1954 investigators are only now discovering morphoegenetic molecules that drive branching behaviors that perfectly conform to Turing’s speculative models (7). In the very near future, these findings will no doubt be used to fix or repair branching defects that commonly occur during early child development and in adult diseases including cancer.
At the opposite end of the clinical spectrum, however, between 225-400 thousand (K) people die each year while being treated in a U.S. medical facility due to one or more preventable medical errors, making it the third leading cause of death (8). Another 245K US deaths p.a. are attributed to insufficient education, whereas 176K will die due to racial segregation. A further 162K die because of low social support, 133K to individual-level poverty, and 119K as a result of general inequality (9). Also in the US, approximately 41 million individuals face hunger every day, despite the fact that 40% of all food produced is discarded (10). Twenty five to 33 percent of these people are children, depending upon their ethnicity. Tragically, when faced with food insecurity and inadequate nutrition, children may face additional physical and mental difficulties throughout the rest of their lives, including an increased propensity to become obese. Tackling this epidemic through taxes and prohibition appears to be the main response being made by federal and local governments in the US and UK, despite the fact that the solution lies in preventing poverty while providing children with high quality nutrition.
Ultimately, social determinants of population health and disease are largely affected by the ways in which systems are perceived, designed, engineered, prioritized, delivered, maintained and segregated. So much so, in fact, that postcode is now recognized as a more reliable indicator for health and wellness than any detailed high-tech and costly analysis of an individual’s clinical information, including their genetic code (11). Some of these effects can be attributed to the extremely high cost of private health and wellness care that dominates the US system (which received $3.3 trillion USD from privately-insured individuals in 2016 alone, yet a recent study within the UK’s free National Health Service, which compared life expectancy between residents in two adjacent towns in the NW English county of Lancashire, revealed that average life expectancy between these populations differed by a staggering 6 years (12).
Science coupled with design could likely co-solve or many of these problems, yet these disciplines do not communicate or collaborate with one another in any formal way, and even when they do, they still seem to be missing the details of how the other “discipline” works. This historic lack of communication between science and other so-called disciplines also exists between science and medicine. For example, only 1% of US physicians now choose to make basic and translational biomedical research a part of their careers, with many physicians now preferring digital heath tech as an alternative focus (13). Given that a lag period between discovery and launch of a life saving product can take decades, these knowledge gaps may ultimately result in treatment deficits. Once again, this is where design can step into a collaboration to act as a bridge between science and medicine. Before describing ways in which that might occur, and prior to providing a recommendation for the future of design education, it is worth taking pause to debunk some of the myths that exist between science and design, some of which appear to prevent science from co-functioning as a natural partner with design and vice versa.
Designerly versus Scienc-y Ways In the 1982 article titled “Designerely ways of Knowing” (1), Nigel Cross spelled out the unique nature of design, and subsequently why design ought to be considered a bona fide discipline unto itself. This is a laudable task and it represented an essential undertaking at the time, and one that to a large extent involved comparing and contrasting design with science (Ref). Unfortunately for both design and science, the report also delivered a series of scientific smack-downs and prior perceived failures between science and design. This included a number of statements about science that do not reflect its reality, either then or now. For example: (a) Scientists try to identify the components of existing structures, designers try to shape the components of new structures; (b) The scientific method is a pattern of problem-solving behaviour employed in finding out the nature of what exists, whereas the design method is a pattern of behaviour employed in inventing things...which do not yet exist. Science is analytic; design is constructive, and (c).The natural sciences are concerned with how things are...design on the other hand is concerned with how things ought to be.’
By failing to embrace these overlapping features of design and science, “Designerly Ways of Knowing” and it’s ilk continue to inhibit design from entering environments where it’s value would be nothing less than revolutionary, if not life-saving. In this regard, scientists from the fields of neurobiology and psychology are already providing reasons to help make this happen.
An S-TEAMM’D Collaborative Future for Design + Science? Science and the humanities indicate that we are not Homo sapiens-wise, but rather Homo prospectus, a more optimistic and forward-moving species (14). Since prospecting is a uniquely human survival factor that allows us to imagine and navigate our way to a better place or state of being in the future, I posit that Design must be the way by which we make our way there. All of this supports the widely discussed notion that to design is to be human (15); a fact so fundamental that it predates any conceit of a design discipline bearing multiple names. Regardless of the myriad reasons and labels assigned to it, logic dictates that if design exists in the future, that neither the space used to focus and deploy it, nor the names used to currently frame it, are real either. By extension, if we accept that design is a nameless, non-discipline that exists in the future within an imagined, but currently unknowable space, where it is made real, then it’s plausible to speculate that design is boundless and pre-disciplinary. In this sense, design is fundamentally similar, but not identical to science.
If Science and Design exist on the same footing, then it makes sense that teaching of design should begin in primary school, alongside science and other universal elements. This would maximize the development of innate prospecting skills, as well as for these other practical and world-affecting reasons alone: (i) It would help build awareness and/or counter the potential negative agency of advanced technologies and existing human-made problems (i.e climate change, pollution, loss of other species, racism, hunger, war, healthcare) which current models of design and science have been unable to tackle or solve alone, and (ii) It’s presence, together with science, will be essential in aiding in the proper development of other advanced inevitabilities, including the generation of synthetic life, where code, matter and science will be increasingly used together, in and for design and beyond.
.DESIGN SCHOOL: The Future of the Project Based upon the aforementioned idea that design is as important to humankind as sciences, I suggest that the future of the project for design should be one of expansive and inclusive growth. The soon-to-be revised Finnish model of primary and secondary school education, which is already the most successful in producing highly-educated and prepared students, has recognized that disciplinary borders can also act as barriers. Many other systems are using STEM (i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and STEAM (i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) education as a type of re-balancing act, but this is insufficient. I propose that General Education now needs to become S-TEAMM’D (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts/Humanties, Mathematics, Medicine and DESIGN); with Design school stretching backwards from Graduate school to First grade, and reaching forwards into Continuing and Community-based Education programs. This multi-generational diverse approach is an imperative as we enter the second digital turn, which promises to bring future employees and industries even closer together, as those things become increasingly automated.
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14. Martin E. P. Seligman, Peter Railton, Roy F. Baumeister, and Chandra Sripada. In Homo Prospectus (2016).
15. Papanek (1984). In Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change.
16. Roosth S (2017). In Synthetic. How Life Got Made.
17. Carpo M (2018). In The Second Digital Turn