3. About Reflection

I consider the practice of reflection to be central to my own identity as a Designer. It is the habit that has contributed the most to my growth as a Designer yet is one that I am still refining. Before we go any further…

Buy a journal or a notebook to use as a journal. I personally do not believe there is a substitute for reflection from a journal and pen.

To understand why reflect it may be better for us to understand what reflection is. The philosopher and professor of urban planning, Donald Schön, uses the metaphor of a conversation with a situation to describe reflection. Reflection is the fixing of attention to either something that has already transpired or is currently happening. Donald Schön describes these as “reflection-on-action” and “reflection-in-action” respectively. Reflection often happens involuntarily when there is a surprise or unexpected result. In the process of reflection, or your conversation with a situation, you may question assumptions fixate your attention on a habit that you do without thinking, or try to understand why there was an unexpected result.

This is important in Design because the act of Designing is through the process of reflection-in-action. As a Designer, you make a decision and reflect on it to understand the consequences of the action as well as the possibilities it opens up and closes. Reflection-in-action not only helps you Design but also helps you observe and understand the artificial in your own environment.

Journals are important to Designers because reflection-on-action is just as central to Designing as reflection-in-action. Reflection-on-action is how you process and internalize lessons that you learn from Design whether they are of the “feeling” or “thinking” component of felt rationalism. It is important to set aside time not only as a Designer but also just as a human being to understand what you are doing. If you only take one thing away from any of these lessons, I hope you take the time to step back and ask yourself why you do things certain ways, what you think/feel about things, and how you can change it.

We all exist in social, technical, and political systems. Designers are those who are aware of the systems in play and imagine a different future by shifting and shaping the systems. It is only possible to shape the system if you are aware of the ways it affects you and others.

Many people who are interested in Design tend to already be reflective. There is something about the curiosity that people who want to become Designers that also cultivates a reflective habit.

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