The Development of Experiential Knowledge
So how do we get from design as it is practiced today to a discipline that is able to create design in which well-being is intrinsic? In focusing on our habitable environment, for example, we know that before we can produce fully balanced spaces we need to better understand what drives human behavior and the effects interiors have on people. A thorough comprehension of the physical, emotional, and psychological impacts of our built environment has to become a foundational requirement for every designer. Building upon the purely formal skills that design education already provides, the interiors expert must master the ability to experience and interpret the world analytically, and express those observations in built form. Shifting the practice toward a balance between artistic and scientific methods will depend upon a deeper appreciation of the social and cognitive sciences.
Design education has long cultivated hand – eye and mind – eye coordination, as reflected, for example, in the teaching and educational philosophy of Rowena Reed Kostellow. Like so many others, then and now, she emphasized the importance of rigorously repeated exploratory sketches. In her words:
We introduce the student to an ordered sequence of purely visual experiences by which an artist may develop his [sic] understanding and his recognition of the abstract elements in any design situation. Our goal is the training of a designer so familiar with the principles of abstraction that he automatically thinks of a visual problem in terms of organized relationships and then feels free to study other aspects of the problem or to confer with specialists in related fields. He is a designer who can visually cross boundaries and suggest new forms for new materials and techniques.28
Kostellow’s method, developed for a particular discipline -industrial design – is similar to what takes place in art education. Kitchen designs The industrial designer J. Gordon Lippincott – who created, among other things, the much celebrated Campbell’s soup can -wrote in 1945 that industrial design education must combine art, engineering, economics, and the humanities. It may have been thought that the designer of industrial and commercial objects needed a diverse and comprehensive knowledge, but artistic skills remained the baseline requirement, and educational methodology was almost exclusively centered on art. For example, Lippincott continues:
Art. He [sic] must understand and have an appreciation for the basic elements of visual design: color, proportion, form, unity with variety, etc. He must have a cultured background in the arts of past eras, an appreciation of the history of art. He must have creative ideas. He must be able to draw and express these creative ideas on paper and in clay. Of all basic qualities, the industrial designer must have art -without this, he is not a designer.29
Lippincott’s statement reflects the post-World War II perspective on industrial design education, which had only been formalized in the United States in the 1930s. But despite the emphasis on art, the artistic component of design education was not viewed as being entirely interchangeable with that of fine art education. Unlike fine art, design is not an open-ended artistic pursuit – l’art pour l’art- which is one of the reasons why early design schools used the term “applied art” when referring to industrial design. If we were to update Lippincott’s description, we would have to add that today’s designer needs to have research skills, a strong global awareness of social and cultural issues, and a general knowledge of the latest technological, material, and scientific advances. To understand the tension between art and function it is important to remember how art and design education evolved. Historically, the two major pedagogical trends in design education have been the art and, to a lesser extent, architectural curricula from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (which existed in Paris from the late eighteenth century until 1968) and Germany’s Bauhaus (1919-1933). While both schools have become almost synonymous with certain stylistic eras of art and architecture, their more salient influence has been educational – and has far outlasted the particular stylistic periods with which they are identified. As with most design schools, the Beaux-Arts and Bauhaus teaching methods had a strong visual bias, exploring form and detail through two- and three-dimensional exercises.30 Drawing two-dimensional orthogonal projects of buildings and objects using different graphic media was common to both. Training hand – eye coordination and observation by drawing three-dimensional representations, whether of plaster-cast or life models, was core training. In the case of the Bauhaus its connection to industry led to more three-dimensional explorations and material studies. While its training may have been far closer to applied art than fine art, it was, nonetheless, based on a similar premise.
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