Participating in the construction of the student’s design projects

I sat in the context room and waited for the students, who had chosen me, to arrive. They came in one by one till there were 17 of them. This was the first day of class and we had just done face-to-face balloting, and asked students to go off into the rooms of their chosen tutors. We began talking and I heard about their project areas one by one. Before the end of the class I knew with certainty that I would have a big challenge in front of me in tutoring such a disparate group of students. I made notes and attempted to put the projects into either my research interests or into categories which could be my general competencies. Later that day I was to wonder at where the large number of sustainability projects I had helped students shape had gone, and if they were still doing those projects. To be fair two of the projects I was hearing did look like sustainability projects.

It has since taken me a week to arrive at an understanding of my task of tutoring the fourth year students in my group. In this period I have met the students on two occasions and have read their proposals. I am approaching my tutoring task from a learner centred perspective and this has two key aspects to it. One, I centre the learning process away from the content of the project into the development goals of the student, and two, I work on the expressed intent of the students, as in their proposal text, to clear away the unnecessary or the high-sounding prose to arrive at the core of the interest of the student. The first goal is a focus upon the ability of the student to function as an Industrial Designer in a product development context, and the second goal is the articulation of a project that can sustain the student’s interest and would motivate them to deliver their best. In my reading of the proposals and in the conversations with the students I did encounter a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about the essential nature of the Industrial Design profession, and this became a theme in my communication with the students. Significantly I saw the students privileging the rational, design looks like engineering, and the prescriptive, design looks like policy making, in their articulation of goals. Half the students wanting to do vehicle design seemed to have a cultural cringe about confessing to a desire to do car design, and when confronted with the fact that their text seemed to be going in circles, confessed to the cringe. Similarly other students, whose projects looked like product design projects, were not comfortable saying so in plain terms. This is probably a cultural issue with the program and I ought to address this in the Research Methods course next year.

The crux in essence is that Design has to be reinstated at the centre of the project, and issues of concern for populations, the environment and passion for manufacturing have to relocated to the periphery. The composite design thus looks like an onion with design issues at the core, and the successive rings being the passions and ideologies; corporate greed, consumerism, sustainable transport systems, ethical issues, poverty, war, development, food miles and so on to name few. We need to reinvoke the purpose of design as being the improvement of the quality of life of people.

I have been looking at students who have all come in to the studio to work on areas which are neither about the campaigns I am working on nor do these topics easily overlap with any of my projects. In effect my supervision of these students will be in areas quite different from my current research focus. First there are seven students interested in vehicle design and this is not my area of expertise. I am quite happy to dabble in vehicle design at an upper pool level where the focus was not upon vehicle styling so much as visualizing models of car sharing and designing propositions for vehicles that could fit in car-share systems. Therefore my supervision of these students would benefit from the assistance of an expert such as Bernie Walsh, a former Ford-Holden employee with 20 odd years of experience.

Among the other six students, two did not come into fourth year with a proposal for a project. The four others on discussion turned out to be interested in working on projects that engaged people and their practices with some showing a significant focus upon the home. Reading into the proposal text I kept finding references to individuals and micro-events and there seems to be a unifying interest here. These projects are yet to be completely worked out – but early indications are that they could go in the direction of product design with either a sustainability, or a cultural and aesthetic focus.

Today I spent some time with each of the students and talked to them about their projects. This was a process of cleaning up their intentions and goals. I am keen to ensure that students do not undertake projects where the risk of adequate delivery of outcomes exists. I therefore asked students to write a reflective essay about their skills and abilities in design. Called ‘capability statements’ this was an assignment they undertook after class in week 1. My intention here was to focus the student’s attention upon their own design practice so that they could conflate their dreams – life goals and notions of design practice – with their final projects. Additionally I would use their capability statements to look at their presentations in week 3 where they explain their project plans.

I am motivated by a principle that I can best tutor students and support them in areas I have a depth of knowledge and expertise in. I believe the final year is where the significance of Industrial Design is made manifest, therefore I am focussed in this year not on a solution delivery by students but on the delivery of a sophisticated and refined design. This necessarily means I work in areas where I can claim expertise. This is crucial for the students as they are working upon a project that will last a year – and will have a refined outcome. They will in this period look upon me for guidance that is consistent and deep in knowledge. I am therefore thrown back to reflect upon and list my capabilities for supervision which informed the content of the feedback I gave students today.

  1. Expertise in: (a) Product Design and Development, (b) Sociology of Objects,  (c) Design Theory
  2. For Vehicle Design: (a) Can do research plus strategy, (b) For designing I need external support
  3. For Product Design: (a) Can do research plus project construction, (b) Can do form development, (c) Can do prototyping
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