Open Conference Systems, National Conference on the Beginning Design Student

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Building a Bridge to an Interdisciplinary Foundation and Agency through Kaleidoscopic Inquiry
Kory Alan Beighle

Last modified: 2016-12-13


The beginning design student of the 21st century is buried by the swell of knowledge, information, opinion, bullshit and any number of other forms of lived content.  At such a rapid pace of evolution our disciplinary tools come and go faster than we can learn to critically implement them; technology gets more agile, social and cultural mainstreams ebb and flow, modes of communication are created and then outpaced, environmental disaster licks at our literal and metaphorical shores and all the while we remain poised, as Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus blown by the winds of the past toward the future which we are blind to.  Design education must search out and adopt new, more kaleidoscopic models of educating for this condition; precisely, models that empower students, not to trudge forward within disciplinary silos, but to develop resilience and agency outside of disciplinary safety nets, both individual and collective, within the landscape of uncertainty.

In response to this imperative, this paper will argue that design foundations can ground itself in philosophical concepts such as John Dewey’s notion of inquiry, Dominique Janicaud’s concept of partage and Graham Harman’s philosophy of objects and their relations; by establishing this grounding the paper will develop a theoretical basis for a kaleidoscopic pedagogy of risk and potential failure.  Subsequently, the argument will build a speculative project to enact this pedagogy as one track in a broader first year curriculum.  This proposed project must be built on personal and collective experiences and will be driven by critical student reactions to these experiences that will occur within inter-, cross-, trans- and even non-disciplinary frameworks and questions.

What do I experience as I undergo these minor acts: visiting an art gallery, voting, participating in community service?  How can I enact or embody my experience and share it with the world within loose constraints? How can I communicate things which cannot be communicated?  How can I translate these experiences into a spatial problem?…and so on.

This paper only presents one part of a larger pedagogical structure designed and implemented within a design school whose purpose is to foster personal and collective evolution and to offer students an outlet for criticality and deviance, but these ideas can go well beyond this constraint.  The speculative project sequence, executed within a standard studio environment and taught alongside more “traditionally” disciplinary projects offers the potential beginning step toward reinforcing agency, which is not simply a cognitive ability or even some form or capacity of rational thought, but rather, an embodied phenomena tied to human capacity for growth.

From one perspective, this paper could be summarized as asking the question: how does a design educator foster agency and a willingness to be a critical risk-taker out in the world?  In addition to this or as part of it, the same question should be asked of design educators: how do we and should we foster environments for risky pedagogy?  Should we not be willing to build in a space for epic failure and possibly epic learning.