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Designers are generalists who need to consult specialists. For Don Norman, one of the foremost design thinkers, this is the future of our domain. On November 9th, he held a Lecture at the Design Academy Eindhoven through the format of an open discussion. His main goal was to address the changing role of design, the dialogue it shares with art, and how both are implemented in education. 

The afternoon began with a short presentation of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum’s Nieuwe Energie (New Energy) exhibition by one if its chief curators. As the backdrop to the subsequent open-mic debate held by Norman, this pitch talked about the changing role of design not only in contextual form but also in terms of production, sustainability, and user centricity. This current exhibition shows the slow shift from design purely for the discussion of design to a new social focus. The examples this curator presented arguably did not manage to make that shift strong enough and truly remained in flat one-liner so called poetic value. Aesthetics seems to return to the now dogmatic notions of material experimentation and anecdotal gimmicky transformations of everyday ‘mundane’ objects.

The potential for the slow shift into deeper manipulations cannot rely on quick cutesy references. One example, Dunne and Raby’s post-nihilistic 1980’s adapted utopias where highways are reclaimed by nature, pushes the bar the most. Chandeliers built from small randomly placed solar panels formed as butterflies does little aesthetically to communicate its message, be it didactic or not, let alone reflect the substance of ‘new energy.’ Designer are certainly becoming extreme in trying to get their points across, like in Mike Thompson’s Blood Lamp, where the user needs to drop blood to gain light, the statement is undoubtedly of personified technology. The curator did ask an important question, “do we change to suit the world or does the world change to suit us?”

Don Norman began his introduction in a perhaps theatrical manner, walking through the audience, to the back of the room, and seeing how he could turn the lights on. He subsequently asked the question, “Is this space designed?” Highlighting the problem of this space’s efficiency, he went on to raise the issue of our education at this academy. Before Anne Mieke Eggenkamp, the school’s chairwoman joined the debate, he prefaced by looking into the difference of art and design. The provocative nature of art is not relevant in design as simple objects work best. Alluding back to the previous exhibition presentation, he questioned weather or not some of the work could just simply be called conceptual art, as it would still convey the same message. “You don’t solve problems with smart technology on a personal level.”

The Design Academy Eindhoven has always been known for its more artistic approach to design but is that still viable in this domain’s changing climate? The change towards service, life changing, design can only occur in the day-to-day education. He resolved by saying, “nobody can teach design.” In such an institution where the ‘artists’ sole is in their hands,’ how can the balance of essentials be taught in four years? What are the essentials? This question provides a good challenge to the academy’s everything goes policy. Norman mentioned ‘classical training’ that referred to drawing, modeling, rendering, and a studio class format with much less materiality. Norman is in favor of facilitation rather then being taught and studio classes; designers are the worse judges of their own work. Eggenkamp asked the students weather or not they need more lectures. An initial response of wanting to only work by hand was quickly refuted with a claim that we are too introspective by doing so. This returned to something Norman said earlier, “The program needs to kick us out into the world or bring the world in.”

He concluded the discussion by bringing his performative exercise to a close. If I would teach I would give an assignment, bringing it home, it would be multipurpose, spatial, empathetic, all players considered, the viewer, user, technical, and structural. He was referring to the re-design of the Witte Dame Zaal, the space in which this debate was held.  A student stood up and offered his skills to Eggenkamp in doing so. Norman replied, “It will require a multi-disciplinary team. The question remains, how do we learn how to operate in such collaborations, what skills can we learn and be taught in this new method?

  • Conversation: Don Norman, Anne Mieke Eggenkamp
  • Report by Adrian Madler, student Design Academy
  • Projectmanagement, copy-editor eindredactie Danielle Arets
Published: 01-Dec-2011 12:34


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