The boffins from The Obligatory What Do We Call It Dept have sent in today’s question: What is design?
We’ll have a reading for you that’s specific to instructional design, but this morning, consider the idea of designing in general. Is it an art? A science? A craft? Maybe something else?
Administrators would really like it to be a science, I think. If you could have a process that you follow and it always yields predictable and replicable results within some envelope of variability, then planning becomes much easier. If you know three people can reliably design a good course in twenty hours using a particular process then you have a recipe for success.
But even recipes have flaws–variations in ingredients, errors in measurement, and even mechanical breakdown in the equipment. Your bread won’t bake very well if your oven is broken. In theory, a recipe would be a good thing, but the problem is generalization. It’s all well and good to make a recipe for bread. You have the general wheat flour recipe, modify it for specific conditions, and you can get relatively reliable results. Notice I didn’t say “quality results” but rather “reliable” ones.
I think many educators believe design is a craft. The process combines technology, experience, knowledge, and inspiration to create a useful entity. It doesn’t matter if you’re creating a vegetable peeler or a geometry class. In this idea of craft, we find the cook. A cook takes the things he or she knows and is able to combine them using familiar techniques and tools to create meals that are pleasing to the palate and nutritious. Certainly there is a workman’s ethic in this ideal of design–even as we apply it to instructional contexts.
Personally, I see design as art. Art is an expression of the human. In the best design we go beyond the mundane craft and explore inspiration. No longer are we talking about a cook, but rather the chef–that individual who, through science and craft, creates an inspiration. In the world of instructional design, many people are willing to settle for craft, but those who understand it best know that an educational experience needs to be–by definition–transformational. The students who experience the design need to leave the experience fundamentally changed from where they began it and for that, I maintain, one must go beyond the predictability and replicability of science, beyond the product of craft, and seek the inspiration of art.