April. 2019

Book Report on “Design Research Through Practice”

The book Design Research Through Practice—From the Lab, Field, and Showroom by Ilpo Koskinen, John Zimmerman, Thomas Binder, Johan Redstrom, and Stephan Wesveen, fundamentally and comprehensively discusses about the design in a contemporary context and a structivism manner. The background of this book is that “design” has dramatically become a critical academic field for years. Authors of this book are intended to bring more tolerance from non-designers. They are recognizing “design” in a more fundamental and yet general aspect. “Design” has been a crucial field within educational institutions and society.  

The book itself demonstrates the basic research methods of design in the beginning. “Constructive Design Research” is specifically introduced to readers. It is a type of design research that originates from constructivists’ perspectives on understanding knowledge and society. Developing on the discussion of “constructive design research”, they argue the importance of the emerging human-centered design as well. “Design” is no longer a simple human approach, but also requires a complex knowledge and experimentations which are related to higher education, prototyping, laboratory, probes, field explorations, art, and others. It is a significant filed that strongly correlate with knowledge of methodology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, engineering, etc. “Design”, in the contemporary context, is not a simple word or term any longer.

Being a graduate graphic design student at ArtCenter College of Design, my personal responses on this book and its related topics focus on my own definition of “design” & “graphic design”, personal commentary on the pedagogy of graduate graphic design, and basic thoughts about graphic design in the next ten years.

In today’s context, the word “design” is not simply describing human approaches on aesthetically creating certain things that serve for the larger audience. It has a broader and almost vague meaning in many situations. People can use the word “design” for “She can design a tremendous poster.” And people may also often hear things like “The company is designing a new banking service and structure.” It seems that “design” has become a word which is about “creating and optimizing things”. “Design”, in my opinions, is a humanistic behavior that creates and optimizes the communication and interaction among people, animals, nature, merchandise, infrastructure, architecture, and even outer space. It is like an automotive lubricant and the society is the engine. The expanding on the meaning and function of “design” can be set into the situation that global society has been generating and normalizing human resource, information and knowledge over the time. The existences of “Uber”, “Lyft”, “Yelp”, “WeWork”, and Bitcoin all share the similar backgrounds. Within this big picture of “design”, “graphic design” is not limited as simple visual communication. It is communicating more complex information and stories today. The “graphic design” has been transforming into a field that using aesthetic to create visual as foundations while communicate with audience through contents and multi-medias. The approach itself carries more complicated visuals through more touchpoints to people, such as prints, books, packaging, banners, digital screen, cellphones, sounds, etc.

With those understanding of “design” and “graphic design”, it is truly grateful to have graduate courses like “Design Research”, “Grad Seminar”, and “Leadership”.  It breaks the common sense and limits on students’ thoughts about graphic design. It is telling them creating decent visuals and deliverables are just beginnings. What students, especially graduate students shall understand that there is always a systematic and yet long progress of graphic design from the beginning to the end. The beginning starts when people approach to designers and the end will stop at the products along with stories are delivered to audience. The “designing” is only one link in this long process. If we see the society as a giant ecosystem, after reading the book and visiting Eames House, students shall realize that as part of this ecosystem, graphic design is somehow non-stopping. Every single element in this ecosystem is operating and keeping floating. In contrast, due to various non-design impacts, students normally fall into the misunderstanding that the due date or deadline represents the end of a design process. However, in various types of design fields, deadline seems to be less important than design’s degree of completion and functions. It is common to see that the duration of designing a typeface, product, and architecture would take dramatic amount of time. The unchangeable of institutional schedules should not indicate students to think that due dates are the end of designing. Similarly, the graduation certainly does not represent the end of learning and gaining.

As the global environmental issues are getting severe and Millennials generations are growing into the nucleus of the society. The future of graphic design will become more diverse in terms of visual. But more notions of conscience and social responsibilities must be involved into the pedagogy and training of graphic design. It is due to the increasing of global population and the decrease of natural resources will indirectly curate more intense competitions among graphic designers. To achieve social survival and success may or may not cost one’s more sacrifices and strength than the past. In the near future, it is significant to unifying graphic designers and educate them with basic ethic, conscience and sense of social responsibility.

A book report/commentary from the Design Reserach course at ArtCenter College of Design MGx in Spring 2019.

Designer: Yi Mao
Instructor: Chris Hacker

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