The Contextual Knowledge of Design

DS 69: Proceedings of E&PDE 2011, the 13th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, London, UK, 08.-09.09.2011

Year: 2011
Editor: Kovacevic, Ahmed, Ion, William, McMahon, Chris, Buck, Lyndon and Hogarth, Peter
Author: Linder, Emma
Series: E&PDE
Section: Design Methodology and Education 1
Page(s): 499-504


Current industrial practice requires industrial designers to perform a range of professional roles. In order to prepare design students for a variety of challenges posed by different industrial settings, most design schools mix teaching and training, with context independent knowledge and skills and the application of these to specific cases. Although the examples used are often inspired from real life industrial settings, some design graduates experience a discrepancy between their educational training and their real life practice. They lack the experiential knowledge needed to cope with the contextual characteristics of different industrial settings. In order to design educational examples that prepare design students for the contextual challenges posed by current practices, there is a need to understand what constitutes context-specific design knowledge in different industries, and what industry characteristics may have a bearing on it. In this paper, which is based on an initial analysis and reflection on qualitative interview data collected in three industries, preliminary conclusions regarding the content and need for context-specific design knowledge in different industries are outlined and discussed. In addition, the conceptual strength of activity theory as a framework for making explicit and understanding the contextual knowledge of designers in different industries is illustrated. It is argued that the content and relative weight of context-specific knowledge in different industries is connected to dimensions such as product type and industry complexity, main product value in relation to design, and industry life cycle and competitive climate.

Keywords: Contextual design knowledge, design practice, design education


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