In 2003, I introduced ManyWaysOfSeeing (MWOS), a pilot project on perception and design to three schools in Singapore. Since then, many schools have also participated in this project (through the Singapore Polytechnic) and one has a permanent MWOS base: St Andrews Secondary School. Here is the original MWOS ‘blueprint’:
MWOS is a design appreciation project positioned in between the troublesome extremes of design “form” and “function”. It uses hands-on exercises to reveal the exciting processes of enabling students to imagine possibilities and to gain insights into how form and function are negotiated and integrated into designs. As an open exploration of design concepts, it does not primarily aim to make students into designers. Instead, it aims to provide participants with a lasting experience that is scalable and transferable to other lifelong skills and attitudes whether or not the participants become practising designers.
Students collaborate with a teacher, a designer and a mentor in small project groups equipped with digital cameras and multimedia computers. Groups prepare video clips and posters to express their observations and insights of the world around them. Their design collaborators then take these material and come back with sketch designs inspired by the many ways of seeing.
The ManyWaysOfSeeing (MWOS) project is inspired by the work of the late Nelson Goodman, the Harvard Philosopher who started Project Zero in 1967 “to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels”. In one of his most famous writing, “Many Ways of Worldmaking”, Goodman argues that much of what we presume as the “real world” is made up in our minds through a complex process of perception, postulations and concept formations; the world as we know it is not ready-made or to be taken as given. Much of reality depends on how we decide, or are conditioned, to see. Our future reality depends on the emergence of new insights — new ways of seeing.
Early modernist thinking from the early 20C debunks decoration and embellishments as “untruthful” to the purity of material and function in design. “Form follows function” has been a compelling and dominant dictum that guided generations of designers. An extreme interpretation of this view relegates human and cultural factors below those of technical and even economic functions. Not surprisingly, this attracted some equally extreme reactions. From the 70s a vibrant “Post Modern” movement attempts to reconnect contemporary culture to historical forms and symbols. “More is more” is touted as the anti-minimalist slogan to “less is more”. By ascribing totally new and sometimes conflicting uses for old forms, Post-modernism reopened the agenda of “function follows form”.