The Writing on the Studio Wall

In Creative Culture, Creativity, Design, Policy, Strategy on 2010/02/23 at 10:27 pm

For a long time, I championed along with many the design studio as the heart of design culture. This was — and to a large extent, still is — the common wisdom of design and architecture schools the world over. No question. It is assumed that the studio is the best rehearsal of the “real world” of practice where the apprentice students were all headed in a beeline; it’s like the moot court to train lawyers. This is the logical “no-brainer” if (big if) practice is all that there is to design culture and design education. But the universe has changed.

Studio Drawings and Models -- means or ends?

In the post-industrial economy that we are arguably already in, the desired outcomes of markup from end-product cost, and fee for service are still relevant but seriously dated. The new value propositions and business models for design are subtlety shifting to a knowledge-based economy, where the value of design is in the intrinsic value of ideas rather than commodity pricing or professional fees. If, by contrast, the pursuit of design is in knowledge terms, what goes on in conventional design studios and practice is extremely wasteful: projects are done to clear hurdles rather than for collective knowledge. Studio projects have no value and are unceremoniously trashed at the end of each exercise. What an unsustainable shame.

A Schema of Strategic Design Culture Copyright 2010 Milton Tan.

The design studio is typically “active” and “propositional” in nature. For a more self-sustaining design culture of the 21C, these top-level attributes need to be augmented by the “reflective” and “representational”. This means that the venerable studio needs to be repositioned away from the spot light and re-grouped with 3 other key components in a 2-by-2 matrix of “Active- Reflective” and “Propositional-Representational” axes.

The Active-Propositional component is the Design Studio, the Active-Representational the Design Conference, the Reflective-Propositional the Design Museum, and the Reflective-Representational the Design Library. Collectively they form the “Strategic Design Culture” that I believe is the new structure for 21C design education, research, practice and culture.

The writing is on the wall for the standalone studio.

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