Kairos 22.1



This section has two main components: 1) an analytical framing of the transdisciplinary character of the inquiry, and 2) an elaboration of constituent elements of this framing that connect to the proposal for investigation and definition of a design-centred nomadic pedagogy. Framing this research in terms of nomadic pedagogy opens up a number of issues in terms of research fields, disciplinary boundary crossings, and a move toward shaping a transdisciplinary analytical framework for interpreting, discussion, and problematising ways of going about designing for learning and learning through design, with climate change and sustainability at the core.

Transdisciplinary framings

Developing and supporting pedagogies for design (concerning climate change and sustainability) that engage students and prepare them for professional practice demand understanding of numerous knowledge domains and competencies, educationally, methodologically, and analytically. Much design pedagogy is enacted within approaches to learning that are embedded within the practice and learning cultures of design schools (Benson, 2012). These approaches often embed earlier traditions of the studio as a site for development and expression; the rise of digital technologies and articulations has meant that changing dynamics between pedagogies, practices, tools, and materials have needed to be conceptualized and enacted (e.g., Ehn, 1998; McCullough, 1996, 2004). This has extended to collaboration, the increased use of digital tools in design courses, and the growth of portfolios that mix and cross media and materials. These changes reflect that earlier separations between domains of design knowledge have become more porous as they tackle wicked or indistinct problems (Buchanan, 1992; Coyne, 2005; Rittel & Webber, 1973) and design itself often becomes a synthetic practice across contexts of making and reflecting (Binder & Redström, 2006). It demands shared expertise and a weave of design-oriented multiliteracies.

In developing a fuller, transdisciplinary perspective on design pedagogy and sustainability, we first provide a little more on the context of higher educational transformation. We then refer to research literature and related projects that fall under what we have labelled design multiliteracies. This section draws on multiliteracies conceptualizations and research from writing, rhetoric, and the learning sciences more broadly, while also revealing a lack of design-related views in multiliteracies literatures. We draw on research into communicative and dynamic aspects of interface design and relations between culture, technology, and interaction design.

Learning to design in the context of climate change and the pressures for sustainability means that educators need to engage with a complex intersection of disciplinary and area knowledges, some of which are only weakly connected and some whose linkages remain to be forged. A number of related questions come to mind:

What elements or dimensions of disciplinary knowledges and practice might—or need to—be connected and contrasted? How are design educators to select and layer such perspectives, cases, products, and services that are themselves oriented toward varied needs or audiences? What do design educators need to know in order to devise a flexible, contextualized, situated, and dynamic pedagogy? To what extent are current practices of design pedagogy a help or a hindrance?

These questions all relate to a wider project of curriculum development in design schools where pressure is on meeting real world challenges, yet at the same time propelling our students to be motivated questioners and active agents in working with design futures in the here and now. How then are we to engage students actively in these wicked problems, in emergent dynamics of learning, in seeing the wider scope of needs relating to change connected to climate, community, and consumption? In the context of design education in contemporary and post-apartheid South Africa, such matters are an identified part of a wider national and institutional program of transformation in higher education. This is a context not necessarily familiar to other researchers and educators in writing, rhetoric, pedagogy, and even design. Our webtext is therefore also expressly ethnographic, contextually thick in description, and with layers of discussion and analysis to mediate and problematize this setting internationally.

Transforming higher education in design

The reform and re-curriculation of design pedagogy—one that arguably must be sustainable in and of itself, as well as working for sustainable design practices and futures—also needs to be devised with insights from knowledge domains that it meets and needs to and ought to include.

The key role of design education in creating an understanding of designs’ wider socio-cultural role, and addressing issues related to the totality of its national environment and culture, was articulated by Marian Sauthoff (2004) when she argued for design fulfilling its contribution toward sustainable economic and social development in post-apartheid South Africa. She challenged designers in South Africa “to move from a position that privileges creative intuition, the subjective domain,
self-development, and tacit knowledge to the adoption of a multifaceted confrontation and wider engagement with historical and contemporary circumstances relating to design in this country” (p. 49).

As part of this challenge, and due to the dearth of literature at the time, she pointed to the important role of research in design education in developing insight and expertise “in relation to theoretical and methodological aspects that enable coherent and sustained research” (p. 48) set against an emergent search for values, understanding, and identity within the broader context of change in the country. Although this was written in 2004, the local context is well described and still holds in our view.

With the broadening scope of design in recent decades, design schools have added to already full programs in a curriculum-by-accrual approach (Davis, 2013) that has led to tension amongst faculty and staff around the issue of adapting curricula to the new demands emerging from post-industrial technological advances in digital media, the social media revolution, and the changing roles required of designers. Meredith Davis, in the ICOGRADA Design Education Manifesto (2011) talked about the structural barriers to interdisciplinary work in design education and advocated that “design educators must develop flexible curricular structures that can respond quickly to changing times” (p. 74).

In South Africa, the Cape Higher Education Consortium (CHEC) exemplifies a move toward regional inter-institutional cooperation and collaboration in higher education. Comprising four public universities situated less than 40km apart in the Western Cape region, the body is responsive to regional, national, and international developments and is sensitive to the historical realities of the country as a whole (CHEC | Cape Higher Education Consortium, 2015).

As members of the consortium, and exemplary of a cooperative approach to sustainability, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and the School of Public Leadership (SPL) of the University of Stellenbosch (SU) follow integrated transdisciplinary approaches to education in sustainability that are underpinned by an ethos of socially and politically equitable economic systems and have recently begun partnering on projects with sustainability as a core field of practice and research.

The faculty of Informatics and Design at CPUT recognizes the need for graduate design professionals to develop literacies that include design for sustainable futures and that design and its associated processes across all disciplines is a powerful catalyst for change. Project-based learning in the faculty considers the deeper social, cultural, economic, environmental, and technological aspects of any product, system, or service development, focusing on design for social development, cultural identities, environmental impact and sustainability, service delivery, medical accessibility, and health and well-being, among others. The SU School of Public Leadership post-graduate studies link disciplines with streams in Sustainable Development, Political Economics, Food Systems, Renewable Energy, Development Planning, and Sustainable Enterprises and, most recently, Transdisciplinary Design for Transformation. The courses together provide a transdisciplinary understanding of the challenges that need to be faced toward achieving transformation.

This research is also set against imperatives defined by the Western Cape Design Strategy (Cape Craft and Design Institute, 2013), where design education is identified as one of three pillars that is key to a thriving design ecosystem, requiring strategic support from the provincial government. This document estimates that 80,000 people work in design-related businesses contributing just €895 million to the countries' GDP, which indicates a sector that is well positioned to be a catalyst for economic growth in the region. The strategy document picks up on current debate that—due to the expansion of design from the aesthetics of product and communication design, toward the design of services, systems, and solutions to social issues—design students as young practitioners need an increasingly diverse skills-set to be able to provide integrated solutions.

This design strategy was influential in 2014 when Cape Town was the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design designated World Design Capital (City of Cape Town, 2014). Research conducted on the officially recognized projects that made up the year-long program found clear evidence of the shift from a neoliberal, capitalist, product-based notion of well-being toward design as sense-making that “requires common and relational goods as lively relationships, healthy environments, safe neighborhoods, [and] trusty institutions” (Manzini, 2014, p. 98). The design education project being analyzed in this study took place within this climate of experimentation and focus on participatory methods in design.

Situated learning, identities and design

Broadly, we adopt a socio-cultural perspective on learning (Gee, 2008; Vygotsky, 1978) that views processes of thinking and learning as not to be contained in individual minds but distributed across and mediated by people, tools, language, and learning environments (Leander et al., 2010). James Gee (2008) framed a situated and sociocultural view on learning as essentially having to do with a “relationship between an individual with both a mind and a body and an environment in which the individual thinks, feels, acts, and interacts” (p. 81). He went on to make the point that people are smarter when the environments that they work and learn in are smart: containing, integrating, and networking “a variety of tools, technologies, and other people, all of which store usable knowledge” (p. 89). This concept is extended easily to the interplay of events and activities that “characterize much of design thinking and practice-based knowledge production” (Morrison & Killi, 2015, p. 749). Characteristics of design and its processes as consisting of groups of activities and skills, such as “‘formulating’…, ‘representing’, ‘evaluating’ and ‘reflecting’” (Lawson, 2005, p. 291), reveal the intensely relational nature of design—where knowing when to reflect on action, we agree, may be one of the most important skills a designer might possess.

As this study is geared more toward pedagogy in design education and is less about the specific technical disciplinary skills to be taught within design programs, we focus on the how of teaching and draw on Donald Schön’s (1988) notion of the design process being a reflective conversation with the materials of the situation, where learning evolves through visual and verbal move experiments in an iterative seeing–moving–seeing process. This begs the question of how we as educators pedagogically engender this reflective conversation with a wider scope of materials in any situation, specifically with regard to design for sustainability.

We believe that this means engendering capacities and a disposition toward empathy, meaningful engagement, deep listening, and participatory work that is careful in the way that it intersects with multiple stakeholders in any design context. This goes to Schön’s version of a reflective practicum enabling proficiency in “… various kinds of reflection-in-action” (p. 5), and highlights the tension between thinking and action. Active learning by doing draws attention to the praxis that is so central to design and its education—but the point needs to be made that when engaging new designers in living inquiry within an uncertain world, design ideas are better developed and applied in a thoughtful, ethical, and reflective way if social change is to be achieved (Capeto, 2011; Fendler, 2013; Mott et al., 2015).

The phrase designerly ways of knowing refers in this study to the underlying productive knowledge peculiar to designers as they engage and reflect on the activity of designing, in the artifacts created and inclusive of their manufacturing processes (Cross, 2001; Lawson, 2005; Schön, 1988). Central to this study is how these designerly forms of knowledge may be created in educational settings and, to facilitate this discussion, we turn to the ontological question of “being-for-uncertainty” and how we are to understand “being in such a way that it can help orient pedagogies in higher education” (Barnett, 2014, p. 232) that are better suited to a fast changing world.

Axial to this study is the view of learning being a knowledge-building endeavour with the task of education being to initiate students into a culture of knowledge creation in ways that allow them to find their place in it (Scardamalia, 2006). The notion of learning being situated in a social world, dialectically constituted in social practices that are in constant flux, is well developed by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991), with emphasis that active participation in the social practices of a community brings about the construction of identity (Wenger, 1998).

The question of students finding their place is of particular interest for this study. How do design students locate themselves within a learning space, and what are the constraints that need to be negotiated? This study, in its exploring of a design pedagogy that transports students through the changing places and the spaces afforded by the journey, examines students’ dynamic reading and re-reading of the world as they encounter challenging situations.

Design and multiliteracies

In the burgeoning literature on multiliteracies (Cope & Kalantzis, 2015), design is rarely covered in any substantive detail that draws on pedagogy and research from within the various fields of design inquiry or design studies. Concerning multiliteracies, Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis (2009) presented a critique of traditional literacy curricula being taught to a singular standard and its redundancy in a world of everyday experience where meaning making is “increasingly one of negotiating discourse differences” (p. 166). The authors pointed out that the term “multiliteracies” emerged from the work of the New London Group in 1996 to address the ever-broadening skills repertoire and, in pedagogic terms, an “active citizenship, centered on learners as agents in their own knowledge processes, capable of contributing their own as well as negotiating the differences between one community and the next” (p. 179). The ever-broadening skills repertoire mentioned above is taken further by Mary Sheridan and Jennifer Rowsell (2010), who challenged “those designing literacy curriculum and pedagogy to cultivate the design literacies dispositions so that students are able to understand a greater range of choices and therefore are better able to become competent problem solvers for the 21st century” (p. 112). This extends multiliteracies to digital multiliteracies (e.g., Selber, 2004). Design multiliteracies is mentioned in social semiotic inflected writing on learning, multimodality, new media, and digital tools (Martinec & van Leeuwen, 2009) but is not elaborated from within design education.

Echoed by Alison Shreeve (2015) in Signature Pedagogies in Design, a shift away from a focus on curriculum admits a whole-person approach to learning that is about embodied, experiential ways of knowing and being. She made the point that learning to become a design practitioner is not only limited to knowing facts but is more about a deeper experience requiring a “change in knowledge, behaviours and emotion” (p. 83).

This study focuses on the design of learning environments that engender student dispositions that emerge out of embodied experience. Ronald Barnett (2014) went further to suggest that if educators are to develop “‘adaptability’, ‘flexibility’ and ‘self-reliance’” as commonly valued dispositions in graduates demanded by the corporate sector, then less emphasis on skills is required and more focus placed on traits such as “carefulness, thoughtfulness, humility, criticality, receptiveness, resilience, courage and stillness” (p. 232).

Transitioning toward design for sustainability

Victor Papanek’s (1985) admonition of industrial and advertising design for being reckless, and his call for more responsible design practice has been taken up by many. Joanna Boehnert (2014) stated unambiguously that the design industry is in conflict with design as a practice if it is “understood as a socially beneficial activity engaged with building a better world,” as the industry is largely driven by capitalism and all of its embedded “epistemological, ontological, and ideological assumptions” (p. 120).

With regard to this quandary, Terry Irwin (2012) made the point that “a new mindset is needed; one that enables people to see wicked problems and conceive fundamentally different solutions which incorporate ethics and a deep concern for both the social and environmental spheres” (p. 2). She drew attention to wicked problems having the same intrinsic principles as living systems, that they comprised countless relational strands between “people, the environment and the things that people make and do—a relationship triad” (p. 2), and learning to see the interdependent relationships that comprise a wicked problem is a wicked problem in its own right.

The binary opposition between the given (natural) and the constructed (socio-cultural) was critiqued by Rosi Braidotti (2013) in her critical post-humanism argument in support of nature–culture interaction. These more relational arguments are useful in re-positioning design education as key in bringing about a shift in the way designers are disposed toward the wicked problems of our age, such as sustainability and climate change. The main research question about sustainability-sensitive design pedagogy has previously come to the fore in the work of Håkan Edeholt (2015), who suggested that the inability to tackle such a massive challenge is an issue of discursive disability. He cited Tony Judt (2010), who said that society simply does not know how to talk about these issues anymore. To this point of cultural shift, if stories are understood to be the generator of the rules by which we live, we can then start to tell ourselves different stories that may become true in time (Ehrenfeld, 2009). This requires a speculative leap which is what design can and does do in its process and outcomes, offering alternative future possibilities for society to engage with in the form of products, services, and systems. A speculative design approach, developed by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby (2013), suggested that “socially constructive imaginary futures” proposed collaboratively by designers and others may help society to “participate more actively as citizen-consumers” (p. 6).

Sustainable design dispositions

Curricular change in Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) design programs prioritizes adaptation to an ever more complex and uncertain world with all its attendant practical, moral, and intellectual dilemmas (Barnett, 2012). Cognizant of the creative industry’s leaning toward designers’ roles evolving to include service dominant approaches, CPUT's design faculty have been instrumental in expanding the learning experience for students to include social awareness, sustainability, and the role that design can play in both commercial and non-commercial social settings since 1999.

In more recent years, CPUT faculty have made further explorations into design pedagogy that invite students into participatory roles within challenging problem situations. Design projects have expanded to include learning that is collaborative, enacted, and co-created in multiple spaces within and beyond the confines of the design studio within the Cape Town city centre campus. This resonates with the positive approach taken by others (Leibowitz et al., 2010) who see paradoxical potential in the uncertainty of contemporary times, where educators and learners are able to work collaboratively toward equipping themselves with skills and coping mechanisms appropriate to a particular context. Alumni are now actively engaged in practice that takes design beyond "business as usual" mindsets and are also playing educational roles in their own right (e.g., Yiannakaris, 2016). Pilot projects have been run in the design school at CPUT that, among others, have introduced biomimicry as a lens and methodology that finds its application through imitating or taking inspiration from natural strategies as a tool for attaining sustainable design (e.g., Futerman et al., 2012).

The most critical leverage point in any design process is the point where the problem is framed and the parameters are set, as these parameters will hold all the paradigmatic currency of the present moment (Irwin et al., 2015; Meadows, 1999). Similarly, we as authors and educators see the education of young designers as a key leverage point in bringing about a shift in paradigm engendered by wider literacies and mindsets that are critical of the “short-termism of market economies” (Tonkinwise, 2013, p. 218). We are conscious of having developed evolving curricula and pedagogic approaches that engender the dispositions conducive for students to work in the realm of futuring. Cameron Tonkinwise (2013) referred to design education’s turn toward this notion, describing learning that entails “visualizing rich pictures of future scenarios where both material environments and lifestyles co-evolve” (p. 218).

John Ehrenfeld (2009) suggested that we need to "hold onto two opposing models of reality and beliefs about ourselves while we use our intelligence to design the new tools and institutions that sustainability requires" (p. 215). We are reminded to think beyond the human world considering ourselves as one of many subsystems making up the vast ecological system of nature. Key scholars such as Richard Buchanan (1985), Ezio Manzini (1992), and Victor Margolin (2007) cited this stance in relation to the designer’s role in facilitating social change.

Design, nomadicity, and re/presentation

The design of a spatial interface and the selection of content from an extensive learning journey is clearly beset with questions of identity and representation (Hall, 1997), choice, and the appointment of views and interpretation in a wider context of post-colonial mediation. This is especially the case when concerning climate change as a complex and dynamic domain where there is a degree of resistance to its significance and materializations. Southern Africa is also highly politicized concerning matters of land, ownership, history, and futures (Kloppers & Pienaar, 2014). Design pedagogy concerning sustainability is far more than critiquing greenwashing, the promotion of apparently leaner and cleaner options for environmental preservation and survival still lodged within a model of resource extraction and expansive consumerism. It needs to engage actively and constructively with students' productive designs in these contexts of change, contest, and consideration.

A nomadic pedagogy therefore needs to be carefully designed to account for these features and the very likely continued contest about actual material resources, such as land and water. That design itself also may extend to being careful and critical about how learning is communicated—its selectively shared components, narratives, images, and mediated content. These too bear concepts and values and also travel themselves (Bal, 2002). They are dynamic and they are cultural: They gather force, leave traces, evaporate, and may reappear revised.

Design pedagogy, therefore, needs to approach nomadicity as more than traversing a landscape; it is about growing a culture of criticality that can move both productively and interpretatively. A nomadic pedagogy is about learning that is locative or sensitive to place and space; it is about being speculative or attending to the emergent unknown and requires flexibility; it is ultimately about being performative or exercising and sharing knowledge and products and services in a wider interactional and systems view.

Interface, interaction, and spatial rhetoric

The account we have devised needs to be seen in relation to research literatures concerning a travel narrative (e.g., Pratt, 1992) and spatial rhetoric. Influenced by anthropology, ethnography, and accounts of qualitative processes, thick descriptions championed by Clifford Geertz (1973) and realized further through the construction of situated accounts of research (e.g., Marcus, 1998; Van Maanen, 1988) have been discussed and realized in terms of trustworthiness rather than replicability (Lather, 1991), seen as evocative and nuanced rather than mimetically representative.

These shifts into reflexive textual accounts that involve context and articulation (e.g., Hall, 1997) are apparent in rhetorical moves in print to digital discourses concerning contextual learning environments and their communication online. For example, the metaphor of a journey, taken up in the early CD-ROM From Alice to Ocean (Davidson & Smolan, 1992) and in representations of timelines and histories of ideas, products and interpretations in award-winning museum websites and electronic arts archives, we draw on research into communicative and dynamic aspects of interface design (e.g., Eikenes, 2009) and on relations between culture, technology, and interaction design mediation (Martinussen et al., 2015). In this journal, we see evidence of spatial metaphors and visual rhetoric (Handa, 2004) in the shape of project and multi-perspective analyses and social semiotics of image layout and content kinetics (Skjulstad & Morrison, 2005), including multimodal production and visual design (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996). Our webtext has been designed to allow presentation and reflection of a multilevel, sensory, embodied process of learning in and across spaces.