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SPIRE Committee proposes Center for Design Innovation
SPIRE Committee proposes Center for Design InnovationMarch 04, 2003Patrick Farrellpmfarrel@syr.edu
The Academic Plan defines design as “a fundamental human activity encompassing the creation of products, buildings, and visual and sensory environments.” The plan recognizes that SU can become a world leader in the field of collaborative design, and the Collaborative Design SPIRE Committee has proposed the creation of a new Center for Design Innovation to do just that.
According to the Committee’s proposal, the timing is ideal. The environment is ripe for innovation, and there is a growing public awareness of design. Moreover, the world of design seems to be at what Intel’s Andrew Grove calls a “strategic inflection point” – a time when fundamental principles and practices are about to change.
The University already enjoys a reputation for design excellence; few universities rival SU’s strengths in architecture, engineering and computer science, industrial design, information science, interior design or visual communications. One of the goals of the Collaborative Design SPIRE is to build on those strengths.
To meet this challenge, the Committee’s members — faculty from the University’s design-related disciplines — have agreed on a structural approach that brings together several disciplines under one adaptable, flexible entity.
In Search of ParadigmsHaving decided on an approach, the Committee members have also defined what it means to be a “world-class” center for design. To do this, they set out on a “best practices” benchmarking endeavor, visiting several “model centers” in Europe and the United States. These organizations represent a diverse cross-section of design-related activities, including education, graphic design, engineering, genomic research, computer interface design, architecture, aerospace, manufacturing, entertainment and policy development.
The principal designers at each model center were interviewed by committee members about how their centers operate, where the future of design is headed and what SU can do to have greater impact in the design community.
Setting the CriteriaWhile analyzing the interviews and other data, the Committee emphasized content agenda and work practice.
Content agenda focuses on the issues and trends that drive innovative design projects. Committee members were in general agreement that the trend in cutting-edge projects has shifted from a designer-centered, top-down focus to a user-centered approach to designing services, processes and products, which will provide end users the tools to design products and services for themselves.
The Committee also recognized that designers will depend more on interdisciplinary collaboration as the problems they face become increasingly complex – an approach that raises questions of how design will be taught. For instance, should the Center be organized around a curriculum of classes in interdisciplinary design, or should it be a place where interdisciplinary design happens?
“This question has been a source of a good deal of discussion,” says Donald Carr, professor of design at the School of Visual and Performing Arts and, until recently, Committee chair. “It is my belief that the Center first needs to be established as an active center where interdisciplinary design happens. Once that’s done, the educational component will follow. Our first task should be identifying compelling problems and finding the right people to explore them.”
Carr adds that real-world problems are not hard to find: “Challenges such as affordable housing are right on our doorstep, and the student focus comes from providing opportunities to collaborate on those problems.” he says. According to Carr, the advantage of a design center in a university setting is the ability to bring a wide spectrum of expertise to bear on the most difficult problems.
Work practice awareness acknowledges that the role of the designer is changing. The Committee predicts that future designers will need more than technology training and computer skills to function effectively. Effective design will require a shift in focus from the design of material objects to the design of experiences, and the creation of an infrastructure for user-powered design.
Engineering professor Barry Davidson, a Committee member, sees the Center as a vehicle for a rich, educational experience that can be tailored to a variety of applications. “A design curriculum for the future should include collaborative work practices, interdisciplinary teams, emerging technologies, and virtual work environments,” he says.
In addition, the Committee has identified forces that will influence the future role of designers and how the discipline is taught. For example, designers working in a user-centered world will need knowledge of anthropology and ethnology; human factors and ergonomics testing; cognitive science and psychology; and computer modeling and prototyping.
An Outline EmergesAs the committee has completed its interviews and conferences, a conceptual framework has emerged:
- The Center’s curriculum will provide work environments for research and design innovation. “Virtual” flexibility, enables local, national, or international creation of these environments can be created locally, nationally or internationally.
- The Center will have a signature physical presence on campus, becoming a center for design students, faculty and practitioners at SU and around the world.
- The Center will flexibly accommodate a range of activities, from spontaneous, informal engagements to traditional, structured events.
- As an autonomous entity not dependent on any one school or department, the Center will promote interdisciplinary crosscutting and participation.
Carr envisions the Center as an open forum on design for the entire University community. “Fostering a rich, open dialogue on highly relevant design issues will ensure a steady stream of challenging and rewarding projects,” he says.
As plans become more concrete, specific operational and business practices will be identified and detailed. While the Center will likely be situated within the University, non-academic models for funding and management are being considered.
Next StepsBecause of the inclusive nature of the Collaborative Design SPIRE, the Committee plans to seek feedback from the campus design community and the University as a whole. During the next phase of the SPIRE’s development, the Committee will be co-chaired by Carole Brzozowsky, dean of the College of Visual & Performing Arts, and Arthur McDonald, interim dean of the School of Architecture.