In studio, teachers are learners and learners, teachers.
Learning design doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens around interactions that can’t be planned in advance because they respond to the work being discussed.
You can learn to be a designer in different ways: structured and unstructured, expected and unexpected, formal or informal. I believe that studio learning is the foundation of building the general capacity to understand our current challenges differently.
- The studio is a creative space that supports any kind of work you want to do
- It is a space that integrates learning on you own, and learning from your peers
- Studio time is different than conventional time: clock-hours are different than work-hours
Design is a professional field and a way of being in the world. The design mindset enables you to see the same reality from multiple perspectives, when you have to make high-impact decisions.
The studio where design learning happens is a space of unbounded creativity, where you learn by trying. It is a space to seek clarity for work that keeps changing. In design and architecture schools, studio work occupies the full academic semester and the learner has the support of teachers, critics, faculty members, peers, etc. The instructor shows up every now and then, but the day to day struggle with one’s own creative process always happens in the company of peers, who become true confidants, surrogate tutors, co-conspirators, alter egos.
Studio learning is a bond-forming experience.
Much of my work in the leadership area has been to present this model to leaders and executives of different sectors and industries who understand that complex problems won’t be solved by just dictating a solution from the top and then pressing execute.
Busy executives, managers, and supervisors are hard pressed by an outdated sense of efficiency and believe that a few days should be enough time to experience studio learning. They call this speedy version sprints.
While teaching in non-design disciplines may be dogmatic — teaching is imparting — teaching design is inquisitive — teaching is questioning. An eminent scholar or scientist speaks to an audience eager to gain new knowledge from a reputable expert, and the lecture is about the knowledge that (special) person brings to others.
For architects and designers, lecturing is always about the work, because all new knowledge is not in what is said, but in the work itself. Improvisation is key for teaching design because it uncovers new arguments that evolve into critical questions that challenge the work in progress.
A teacher in a non-design discipline can prepare a masterclass in advance. That is impossible to do in studio because teaching and learning happen live, in real time. The studio teacher can’t rehearse her class beforehand, and has to be ready to be in the moment, to be part of open-ended conversations about ideas that may turn into a clash of perspectives. Teacher and learner work together to bridge the gap that separates their own particular understanding of the work in front of them.
Good design teaching requires a sixth sense for knowing when to bring things together and when to take them apart; when to propose subtle changes and when to suggest a radical beginning; when to listen to an argument and when to push a potential solution.
Explaining why something doesn’t work in a project has a subjective side that the experienced design teacher will consider the very essence of her teaching. It is a skill that can’t be taught, it has to be learned in studio.
In a Socratic way, teaching design is not a zero-sum game. You should not be dogmatic, but you can’t be vague; you should not impose your method, but you can’t accept that all methods are equally valid; you should review the work objectively, but should not ignore the subjective nature of a project.
The more you teach design, the more you realize it is about combining channels of thought and action that demand that you keep moving between opposite poles: logic and intuition; strategic thinking and tactical opportunism; individual discovery and collective advancement; clarity and chaos; understanding and application.
I am not proposing that everyone should become a professional designer. But if everybody could experience the studio learning approach and the basics of the design process, our collective understanding of the world’s problems would improve dramatically.
- Design is a basic life skill: you don’t have to be a professional designer to use the design process.
- The design process is an excellent resource to navigate personal and professional challenges in VUCA times.
- Designers combine thought and action and are fluent in moving between opposite poles.