Donald A Schön at Iowa State University (Talk Transcript)

When intuitive, spontaneous performance yields nothing more than the results expected for it, then we tend not to think about it. But when intuitive performance leads to surprises, pleasing and promising or unwanted, we may respond by reflecting-in-action.

Donald A Schön, The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action

To read the transcript alongside the video, watch it on Rev.


Dean Galloway:

Guest this evening has been apprised of the context of ISU and specifically the issues with which we in the college are working, as several of us on the 10th anniversary committee visited with him this afternoon and discussed the plans for the culmination of the 10th anniversary celebration in the symposium. We were continually confronted, at least I was, with the opportunities we enjoy in making the linkage between the theme of this anniversary year, interdisciplinary design collaboration and the institutional and programmatic issues with which we are grappling.

As we have this evening’s guest, Dr. Donald Schön, as well as the lecturers Kristoff, Owen and McCoy back with us on campus, May 5th. I think this is really a red letter day and I hope you will make every effort to be with us in this discussion. Many of you have seen the press releases and the various announcements that have been made with respect to Dr. Schön’s lecture, his home background. And I won’t repeat that the awards are international and national, his contributions prolific.

I would just say in a personal note, I first came on to Dr. Schön’s work and he coauthored with Chris Argyris, Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness. That was the first. I came to know in any systematic way, this new exciting direction for the design fields and specifically for the general area of management and planning theory. This work followed closely on his book that he published in 1983, The Reflective Practitioner.

And then third following on to that work and I’m limiting, this is not all he’s written believe me, but these are the three things that have really impacted me and my own thinking about these issues. His work published in 1987, his book, Educating the Reflective Practitioner. I had met, I think casually, but certainly not for any face or name recognition, Dr. Schön in the past. But my first question to him this afternoon as we had lunch and got through the pleasantries, there’s a question I think that most scholars would ask because of his force in the intellectual world in which we live. And that question is what are you working on now? And that is a way in which I think most of us look to him and his work because of his profound impact in the way we view our world and the world of ideas, knowledge, and action. Will you welcome with me Professor Donald Schön.

Dr. Donald Schön:

Thank you very much, Dean Galloway. It is very nice to be with you in such an interesting place and in such interesting times. When I… that was the… I understand that’s the Chinese curse, maybe we live in interesting times. When I signed up to come here, I had no idea that it was going to be so interesting as it is, but I think it’s interesting both from the point of view of opportunity as well as from the point of view of security. I’d like to talk to you about the question as to whether or not there is something that might be thought about as a generic design process. And whether ideas about designing an architecture and the other narrowly defined design professions can travel from their narrow home to other fields. And what the answers to that question may suggest about design education.

And I’d like to set the stage for it by talking more broadly about the professions and suggest to you that every profession, both major and as they’re sometimes called minor profession, is not confronting what might be called a dilemma of rigor or relevance. And one way to conceptualize that is to think about a kind of topography of practice in which you have a first of all, a very high dry cliff and underneath it a swamp. And on the high ground, you can complete the work of your PhD dissertation. You can make econometric models, you can model inventory control systems. The problem is that on the high ground, the problems that you’re working on are relatively trivial. In the swamp below, you can work on what you take to be the really important social and technological problems of the age but you don’t know how to be rigorous in any way that you can name.

And so your choice is to be rigorous and trivial on the high ground or to be working on really important problems but not in any way that you can define as rigorous in the swamp. High ground or swamp. And I think that issue confronts most of my students who’ve entered into professional work. It confronts people on the leading edge of most professions. I think it confronts people in the design professions as well.

If you ask where it comes from, I think it comes from two sources. One is the fact that there has been a rise in what I’ll call the indeterminate zones of practice. And the second is a certain view of what professional knowledge is, which has been around for a long time and it’s still very powerful, a view that I call technical rationality. First with respect to the zones of indeterminacy, they are uncertainty, uniqueness and conflict. And by uncertainty I don’t mean simply not being able to make predictions with a high degree of probability, I mean that experience in some situations of not being able to make sense of what’s going on. I’m having what my friend Raymond Haner used to call, more information than you can handle.

In a situation of uncertainty. The problem that you face is the problem of constructing a problem because you don’t know what the problem is. And the problem of constructing a problem is not a technical problem. In fact, the opposite is true, you have to construct the problem before you can carry out any technical activity. An example is when I first came to MIT and began to do some work on the professions, I see there are people up there as well, heads up.

Dean Alfred Kyle, who was then the head of the school of engineering said, “We know how to build any ship we choose to build, but we don’t know how to choose what ship to build.” And one of the civil engineer said, we know how to build roads. We can go any road you name, but the problem of where to put that road, that’s another issue altogether. And the problem of locating a road is a complicated problem. It’s not only a technical problem. It’s not only a problem of topography and geography and the economics and the transportation systems, but it’s also a problem of politics. It’s the kind of problem that used to be solved by planners in the 50s when they took a French curve, moved it over a map and let it lie in the zone of maximum political weakness. That was how you located the road.

Situations of uniqueness are situations that you’ve never seen before and may never see again. A patient comes into your office, physicians that I’ve worked with, say the following thing, X percent and the X can vary between 30 and 70%, depending on who you’re talking to. X percent of the patients who come into my office are not in the book. By which they mean there is no set of procedures or routine operations that you can carry out with respect to that patient. What you must do is to carry out a kind of on the spot experimentation in which you adapt your knowledge and your repertoire of situations to this personnel, coming up with something, which in fact has no provisional place in the medical textbook. And physicians say that 30 to 70% of the cases are of that time.

Conflict situations are situations where you face conflicting values and where you don’t have a technical problem to solve, because you must make the values consistent before you can solve such a problem. Again, an example for medicine, we face a rising rate of medical costs, well, about 11% of gross national product. Now, where does it come from? Well, one source of that rise is the existence of medical technology, research and development, cardiac care units, the cobalt therapy units, CAT scanners, which keep getting developed and keep generating demand for care. Well, as the mantra care rises above 11% of GNP, we face the issue of who is going to get that care and of rationing that care, and that puts us into terrible conflict. And we have not yet in this country faced the issue as an issue of ration. But in order to solve a technical problem, we have to deal with that fundamental value and ethical dilemma about the distribution and the allocation of medical care.

So problems of uncertainty, situations of uncertainty are not technical problems because you have to frame the problem before you get to a technical problem. Situations in which you’re dealing with a unique case are not technical problems because you can’t apply the rules to them. By definition, they fall outside the rules. And situation of conflict are not technical problems because we have no clear and self-consistent set of ends to try to meet. You have to reconcile ends before you can solve the problem. These indeterminate zones of practice have become more and more powerful over the last 20 years, I think. Now, nevertheless, there are practitioners who are very good at dealing with problems of the unique case. My friend Efram Friedman who’s an ophthalmologist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear, is wonderful at dealing with you as an individual and of working through a diagnostic procedure for you. There are people who are very good at dealing with uncertainty, politicians and some planners even. There are situations where there are people who are very good at dealing with conflict. Policymakers who will deal wisely and well with conflicting situations.

So why is it that these situations should make professionals and academics so uneasy? And I think the answer is, because we are unable to explain what we do when we deal with them. Because we have no way of giving a description of the competence that we display in this situations. And the reason we don’t, I believe, is that we are still bound by an old view of professional knowledge, what I call an epistemology of practice. Theory of what professionals know when they’re doing things as well, which grew out of the 18th century and which owes its origins to the philosophical doctrine called positivism. And that view basically is, that practical knowledge consists in adjusting means to ends in solving instrumental problems and that it becomes scientific and professional when it’s based upon science. So the application of science to the solving of instrumental problems is what professional knowledge is taken to be under this doctrine of technical rationality.

Now, just a word about where that comes from, it comes from the modern research university. It’s interesting about the modern research university, that it’s a relevant relatively recent phenomenon. It grew up in this country around 1887, when students coming back after the civil war from Germany, from the research universities of Germany came to one institution in the United States which was hospitable to them. And that institution was Johns Hopkins. And at Johns Hopkins, there happened to be a president who cottoned onto this rather crazy idea that the university should be responsible for the production of new knowledge. Universities should be responsible for research. It was a wild idea that you should actually promote the professors on the grounds of their contribution to scholarship. But the idea spread and it spread to Chicago and to Michigan and finally to the Ivy League and became the dominant idea and we can’t see about what a university was. That it produced a very important problem for the professions.

And that problem is illustrated by the work of a man named Thorstein Veblen who was a brilliant and angry Norwegian economist student was out here in the Midwest. In 1916, Veblen published a book called, The Order of Higher Learning in America. He was angry because the trustees of the University of Chicago wanted to put a business school into the university. And he said to them, in this book, what nonsense? The university is a school of higher learning, it is above the production of basic knowledge. The professions are schools of lower learning. If you bring these professionals into the university, they will put on a show of scholarship and research and will embarrass everybody including themselves, much better to leave them outside. And the basic bargain that connects the lower schools and the higher schools should be from the higher schools, their knowledge, from the lower schools, their problems. And that the knowledge of the higher school should be applied to the practical problems of the professions thereby bringing them rigorous solution.

Now, Veblen lost his battle and the business school went into the University of Chicago and the battle was lost with respect to engineering and dentistry and forestry and medicine. And in 1956, a man named Valensky wrote an article called, The Professionalization of Everyone? But when they went in, they had to pay a price and the price was to buy into the epistemology of practice of the university, and to accept the diabolical they’re blending in bargain, which was that the professions would see themselves as the appliers of other people’s knowledge, not having a kind of knowledge of their own, but dependent only on the application of applied science, derived from basic science.

Now, it’s very interesting nowadays, nobody wants any more to be called a positivist. In fact, there was about five years ago a conference of positivism in Europe and nobody wanted to come. However, the institutions of positivism are still with us, are still all around us. And in the university, they take the form of the normative professional curriculum, which says, first teach them the basic science, then teach them the relevant applied science, and then give them a practicum in which they practice applying this science to the problems of everyday practice.

And this model curriculum is the fundamental curriculum of most professional schools still in the university, in spite of the fact that people continually discover that what they really learned in the practicum was not the application of classroom knowledge. What the doctors learn about medicine they often say is what I learned on the wards, not what I learned in the classroom. And what the lawyers say about learning to be a lawyer is, I didn’t learn it in law school. Nevertheless, we define the practicum in that way.

And a second residue of the blended bargain, is the separation of research from practice. That we must separate research from practice because rigorous research is incompatible with practice. You can’t do rigorous research in a practice situation, which is notoriously shifting, uncertain and uncontrolled. A scientific method can only be acquired in a laboratory or in the privacy of your study if you’re able to look at large amounts of data reflecting past experience. And so the university is seen as the home of research and the schools of the professions are seen as the users and appliers of research. But technical rationality cannot take account of uncertainty, uniqueness and conflict.

And these zones of practice have become central and certain, especially over the last 20 years. When I first began to work with these issues, I would say the only schools that were interested in them were the schools of what Nathan Glazer calls them, minor professions, which is to say time planning, architecture, social work, librarianship and so on. What he called the major professions, law, medicine and business, were not interested. Nowadays, they’re all interested. In my experience, every professional school is in some degree of turbulence and seriously asking themselves the question, what should we teach and how should we teach it?

Now, what I would propose that we need to do about this problem, is to turn the problem on its head. And we need to do that in the form of asking when people do things well, what kind of knowledge do they reveal? And if you’ll grant me a little license here, I’ll come out from behind this microphone and can you still hear me if I… not very well. Okay, we’re going to have to do it this way nonetheless. If I’m riding this bicycle and I begin to fall to the left, in order not to fall, I have to turn the wheel to the? Quickly, how many think right? How many think left? How many don’t know? How many think this is irrelevant?

Okay. Well, if you said, left, you are right. If you said, right, you’re wrong. If you said, I don’t know, you’re puzzled. But those of you who didn’t know, and by the way, I don’t want you to take this on faith or treat it as a matter of authority, what I’d really like you to do is to probably try the experiment. But I assume that those of you who said that, I don’t know, you frequently fall off your bikes. So if you don’t fall off your bicycle frequently, how is it possible that you could not know and yet not fall off your bicycle?

Speaker 2:


Dr. Donald Schön:

Intuition. Anybody got another thought? Intuition and experience. People sometimes say reflex.

Speaker 1:

[inaudible 00:22:12].

Dr. Donald Schön:

Yes. And when you felt how your muscles would have gone and sort of acted without… you then realized that you were turning to the left?

Speaker 1:


Dr. Donald Schön:

Yes, so you gave the right answer, if I’m right and you’ve tested by experiment, and you did it by putting yourself in the actual action situation. Let me give you another example like that one, suppose you’re typing. Do you know how to touch type? Okay. You think about typing. I know how to touch type, but now say, where’s the T? Okay. I can’t tell you where the T is, but I can say, this is the forest primeval, right? This is up here. So it’s up here in my second finger. But in order to be able to tell you that I had to go into the mode of action. I had to begin to put myself as you did into the process of doing it before I could tell you what I knew.

So this kind of knowing is a kind of knowing in action. It’s a knowing that you have in the doing, it is not something that you necessarily know how to say. In fact, you may give the wrong answer and do the right thing. And the question of what in fact it is that you know, that you revealed by your competent performance, is an empirical question and you must actually do it in order to discover. And then you must observe yourself and reflect on what you observe and construct a description of what to do in order to come out with a statement of what you know. The philosopher, Michael Polanyi calls it tacit knowing. Tacit because it is not expressive and it’s not available to you in consciousness. You have to discover by observing what you actually do.

And I would say it accounts for, well, over 90% of what we know. It is the spontaneous tacit, knowing in action that we can display that gets us through the day. But there are also situations in which we are surprised and the tacit knowing that does not work. And we are not able to do what we intuitively tacitly know how to do, because something happens that tacit or untacit surprises us. And we then have a different kind of capacity, another capacity, which I call reflection in action.

It is the ability to think about what we are doing while doing it. It is the ability to turn thoughts both on the doing and on the thing before us, and it is something that we can do with or without words. My favorite example of reflection in action, short of designs, which I’m about to come you’ll be glad to know is jazz because when you think about jazz, what happens with a jazz band is that you have a well understood framework of rhythm and melody and harmonic progression. And then the trumpeter begins to lay down a tune, plays it a little differently than he did the last time. The clarinet player listens and begins to do an a bagatto that matches what the trumpeter is doing. Trumpeter hears it and now responds to the clarinet. The piano comes up behind. Now, what are they doing? They’re improvising, but in improvising, they are listening, making sense of what they’re hearing and experimenting with action in the very midst of the action situation, having a kind of conversation with the materials of their art.

Now I think that this process of reflection in action built upon knowing in action is what is crucial to professional knowledge. In fact, it’s crucial to any practical competence. It is what enables us to deal effectively and well when we do so with situations of uncertainty, uniqueness, and conflict. And I believe that designing and by designing I begin by meaning the designing of the design professions like architectural design, is a prototype of this reflection and action. What I call it is a reflective conversation with the materials of a situation. It is a different kind of knowledge. It is a different view of what knowledge is. And I believe that the marginal and uneasy position of architecture in the universities and architecture is in my experience university uneasy in the university.

There is no university that I know of where architecture is at home is because at root architecture is based on a different conception of knowledge and on a different tradition, the studio tradition, for how such knowledge is acquired. And the question I would like to put to you and explore with you in the remainder of this talk is to say something about what that is, what designing is. In what sense it is a kind of reflection in action and to what extent it travels, moves across the boundaries of the narrowly defined design profession to other kinds of professions because what I believe is that architecture and the design professionals will broadly have a great deal to teach within the modern research university.

In fact, I think they have to teach exactly what the university needs most to learn, which is how to rethink its research-based professional schools so as to help them become capable of educating people to display competence in the indeterminate zones of practice. All practice I would argue is design-like, and in the indeterminate zones of uncertainty and uniqueness and conflict where you cannot apply the rules or treat problems as examples of a preexisting theory, this design-like activity is exactly what it is you want to learn. And architecture comes from a tradition of learning to do it in a particular way of learning to do it, and that’s what I’d like to discuss with you now.

I’m going to give you an example, a very simple example of designing, and it’s taken from an architectural studio. This example was collected by Roger Simmons, who was at the time a doctoral student of mine and our teachers at Oxford Polytech. And you have to imagine, of course in this place you don’t have to imagine very hard, a studio loft, first year design studio. The students have been there about three months, and there’s a student Petra and there’s a studio master Chris, and she’s working on a school, and he sits down next to her at the drawing board and he asks her what problem she’s having. And she says, “I’m having trouble getting past the diagrammatic stage. I’ve written the problems down on this list.” And she now describes this. I’m going to ask your indulgence here for this drawing.

She says, “I had six of these classroom units.” If you can’t see that, you’re not missing a great deal, but for those of you that can see. “I had six with these classroom units, but they were too small in scale to do much with. So I changed them to this much more significant layout.” And she now makes these three Ls. She says, “It relates two to three, one to two, three to four, five to six grades, which is more what I wanted to do educationally anyway. She says, “What I have in here is a space, which is more of a home base. I’ll have an outside inside, which can be used, and an outside outside which can be used.”

Now I want to begin with that, which is beginning in a way with a most simple thing. Take a look at what’s going on. She said, “I had six of these pastoral units and they were too small and scale to do much with.” So she sets herself a problem, and she sets herself a problem on the basis of a kind of seeing that she does. She sees something. She sees in more than one sense. She sees these objects. She sees a pattern in a shaped L. She also sees that they are too small in scale. She makes a judgment, and that judgment is a kind of appreciation of what’s there. Without that judgment, the whole process would not be able to go forward unless she could make such judgements. The whole process would not be able to go forward. She then says, “I changed them into this more significant L-shaped layout”, and she makes a judgment again about significance. “More significant.” I assume she means more significant in scale, whatever else she may mean.

She has conducted what I would call a move experiment beginning with an intention, which is based upon a problem that she sets too small in scale. She makes a move transforming this to this, and that move another judgment, which is that she’s realized her intention. She solved her problem. One of the things that’s very interesting here is that the judgments may be very subjective, small in scale. Does that look too small in scale to you? I don’t suppose it would have to. Or more significant, you might not find these more significant but that the subjectivity of the judgment is essential for the possibility of the experiment at all. In order to be able to carry out an experiment, she must be able to make these subjective judgements, and as long as she’s consistent about the way in which she makes them, she can indeed affirm the experiment and get data which is objective in the sense that it’s independent of think so. She can find herself to be wrong.

When the experiment is affirmed, it means in the first place that she gets what she intends, but that’s not all she gets. She says “It’s more significant, and it puts grade one next to grade two and grade three next to grade four, which is what I wanted to do anyway.” And she says, “I have a home base and an inside inside.” As I interpreted what she did, she did not have in mind for this move, that it would juxtapose the educational grades that she wanted to juxtapose. And the creation of a home base was something that she had not intended to do originally, but she finds that she has done it. So she gets certain unintended consequence of her designing, and those unintended consequences fall in very different domains than does the intention that she originally formed.

The move experiment is affirmed in the sense that he discovers that she realizes what she intends and in addition to that, she likes what she gets. She gets what she intends, and she likes what she gets. Or to put it another way she likes what she can make of what she gets. That form of experimentation, I think is the central unit of design activity. Design is about experimentation, and it’s about experimentation in a virtual world, which is the world of the sketch pad. And it depends upon subjective judgments, which is what allows designers to be an object of activity. Now, let me just take you a little bit further into this design process.

Chris says as he sits down… First of all, he sits down and puts a piece of tracing paper over her drawing, and he’s about to begin to draw over it. And he speaks in that very peculiar language, which I call the language of designing which is neither drawing nor talking but a combination of both. He says, “You should begin with a discipline, even if it is arbitrary because the site is so screwy. You can always break it open later.” She says, “Yes, I thought of 20 feet.” He says, “You should begin with the discipline. Then he goes on and he says, now drawing over her drawing. He extends the geometry of the L-shaped forms. He says “In this direction, that being the gulley and that the Hill, that could then be a bridge which might generate an upper level which would drop down two ways.”

He says, “We get a total differentiation potential from the top of one school building to the bottom of the last of 15 feet maximum, right? So we could have as much as five foot intervals which for a kid is maximum height, right? The section through here could be one of nooks in here. Lookness is witness in this protocol. “And the differentiation between this unit and this would be at two levels.” So he begins by saying “the site is screwy.” And what does that mean? It means, I think, that you can’t get a coherent order from the site. The site provides you with no basis for coherence. If you’re going to get coherence, it has to come from you. And therefore, you have to impose a discipline, and you can always break it open later.

Now that move is something that I find with my students, who are oftentimes research students, the single most difficult thing. It’s the idea that the order has to come from you. You have to impose the discipline. It’s not out there. My students often behave as though they felt that if an idea passed through their head, it was automatic false. As opposed to Marshall McLuhan, who used to act as though he believed that if an idea went through his head, it was automatically true. What’s being carried on here is a kind of frame experiment I would say. Chris is reframing the problem. She has said, “I tried to buck these shapes into the slopes, and they wouldn’t fit.”

He says, “Honey, the slope is screwy. Of course they won’t fit. You have to impose an order, and cut that order into the slope.” And then he runs this experiment, and he finds out, well, there’s a 15 foot drop between the top and the bottom of these units. And that divided by three because there are three of these buildings makes intervals of five feet, which is maximum height for a kid. And so he says, you can have nooks, which the interval was 30 feet. You couldn’t have nooks because you don’t want a 10 foot nook. And if the interval was 10 feet, you also couldn’t have nooks because you don’t want a two foot nook. But five feet is maximum height for a kid, and so it works out that you can have nooks. And so the move begins to be affirmed. And then they also said, as he works through the rest of this process, “it works slightly with the contours.”

Which is to say that the form of these L-shaped classroom buildings slightly work with the contours of the slope. In doing that, he’s also softening his criteria of how well they have to work. And again, he solved his problem. What he discovers is that he has set a problems he can solve. He has set a problem he can solve. So I think within designing and so far as designing as illustrated by my very simple example, the design of frames is a problem and conducts a web of moves, discovered consequences and implications, to see whether he has set a problem he can solve and not something else.

Chris goes on and says, “You might can carry the gallery level through.” He’s called this the gallery. He says, “You might carry the gallery level through and look down into here, which is nice. Let the land generate some subideas here, which would be very nice. Maybe the cafeteria needn’t be such a formal function. Maybe it could come into here to get summer sun here and winter sun there.” She says, “Petra”, this is the first thing she says in this protocol, “now this gallery is more general pass through than anyone can use.” And he says, it’s a general pass through that anyone has the liberty to pass through, but it is not a cargo. It marks a level difference.”

Later on she says, “Where I was hung up was with the original shape. This here makes much more sense.” He says, “Much more sense. So that what you have in gross form is this.” And he points to the gallery. “It is an artifice. The sort of thing Alto would invent just to give it some order. He’s done that on occasion. So in a very minor way, that is the major thing. This repetitive thing in an organized way, and then there is this, which is not repetitive. It is very nice and just the right scale. It also has a sort of verbal order that you could explain to someone.”

So that having gone through the experiment, initially designed to show how you can make these forms work with the contour cycle-y and having discovered that you get nooks, something else also happens. And the gallery emerges as in a minor way, the major thing which was not in anybody’s intention, but a kind of what I call backtalk. And that backtalk was something to which Chris listens. And noticing it, it then became that thing on which the entire remainder of the design was based. The implications of that soft back area, the gallery, became the driving implications for the remainder of the design, and meeting those implications became crucial for the effective conclusion of this design process.

The whole thing takes place on a sketch pad with tracing paper, but a sketch pad is a wonderful thing. Imagine if you had to draw and shovel dirt on the site in order to carry out such an experiment. A sketch pad is an example of a virtual world. It is a world that represents the world of practice, but it is not the world of practice. It is a world in which you can practice cheaply. You can do it again and again. You can go back and look at what you’ve done and you can vary the pace, but in order to manipulate this virtual world, you have to learn to let it become transparent to you. You have to be able to see the site through the drawing. You have to be able to see the buildings through the drawing, something I can’t do. Transparent just in the sense that when you read a page of type, you don’t see type. You see words. You may not even see words, you see meanings.

The sketch pad has to become transparent to you in that sense. Every profession depends upon a virtual world. Every kind of professional education requires a virtual world in which you can practice and do it again and again and which you must learn to manipulate in such a way that it becomes transparent to you. Computer is the virtual world, the rise of virtual world today. Role plays and simulations and games are virtual worlds and orchestra rehearsal is a virtual world. Professional education depends upon a virtual world.

One other note about this design process. Chris had undoubtedly seen screwy sites before, and he was able to look at this screwy site in the light of his earlier experience of screwy sites, but he did not mechanically reproduce the solutions that he had devised in earlier screwy sites, which raises a very interesting and paradoxical question. If designing is made up of unique cases, and most of the designers like to think that it is, how is it that you ever bring knowledge of the past, knowledge derived from past experience, to bare on a present case? Since by definition, the present case is unique and doesn’t flip the path.

It depends I would argue on your ability to see the present as the past, but not as a reduction of the past brought as a projected model or variation of the past. A process, which is sometimes called metaphor, which Aristotle describes as the greatest human capability. What Chris reveals in this dialogue is a very full repertoire of past cases and examples and an ability to see the present situation as versions of that repertoire. And the third element of this design process, which I think is crucially important and that is what I call the existential stance. Chris says you have to impose a discipline, and he begins to oppose it. To take the geometry generated by the L-shape forms and impose it on the site. But in the back of his mind, he says, “I can always break it open later.”

Designing depends on being able to be committed to a line of action, but with what my colleague Lisa Petey calls double vision, the recognition that in spite of that commitment, you may change it. But unless you are committed, you’re not going to carry it through in a really full and rigorous way. But unless you hold it loosely, you risk getting stuck with it. So this existential capacity, this ability to have a rich repertoire to see situations as variants of that repertoire and this capacity to manage a complex web of moves and consequences and implications so as to carry out what I call a reflective conversation with the situation.

Now, I would like very quickly to give you a couple of examples of how the design process seen in this way can travel elsewhere, and I’d like to begin with engineering. In the civil engineering department of MIT There is a man named John Slater who did that computer program called [inaudible 00:48:53], and that computer program allows you to grow a structure on the screen and then to load the structure. You can draw a bridge for example, and then you can load it. And then you can run a finite element program in the machine and you can visually see reflections in the structure. You can see how it reflects.

Now, this program was designed to help students learn statics in their basic courses on structure, but it was discovered that what they really like to do with it was to carry out processes of design, designing structures. Students saw it in very different ways. So one student for example, saw it in the following way. He says, “It can simplify my life because it just spits out the answers right accurate. It analyzes it for you. You can’t ask for more than that.” However, other students describe their experience with it in the following way. One student said, “I applied a wind blow and I saw it lean a little and I noticed that because the building was so vast, they cantilevered, only the middle third of it was supported. I saw the continuity of how it would have to behave if it weren’t going to fracture and fail catastrophically. So in that way, just by showing a visual representation and allowing me to change different beam sizes and loadings, I could get more of a feel of how an actual building behaves.”

And then he went on, “If I wanted to get rid of some distraction, a floor girder, I could stiffen up the wall paths. I understand that bending moments go around the soulless joint, and then I saw that by making some of the columns a little bit wider without necessarily changing the weight or even longing the weight, I could make the building stiffer.” And all the while he kept saying, almost apologetically, that theoretically he knew and it should seem obvious and that he’s after [inaudible 00:51:08] basic statics.

But then, what he finally said was this, “I had learned them all right and I knew them to be facts but I didn’t know them to be actual and true, and so I saw them working in this structure.” For these students, the ground type of program was a vehicle for conducting experiments in which they were able to be surprised and puzzled by the outcomes of their experiments, and then to reflect on those puzzles, building up a feeling for the way this structure behaved, which was very different from the equations that they had learned in their basic statics courses. The development of a field for the structure was the design knowledge that they really needed in order to design and they could get it through this experimental interaction with the form, and they couldn’t get it to their basic theory courses. And for them, the designing process was a process of discovery as well as a process of design.

Another example, there was a student named Victor, and Victor is a computer programmer, and in his interview, this is an interview about the uses of computers in undergraduate education. He says, “This is how I program.” He says. “I have to come up with this value.” He’s a very good programmer. “And to do that, I need to make these functions, so I do that just in my mind. I guess I pretty much just start writing like you have all your variables. I write and then as a variable comes up, I’ll stick it in there. I just try to organize it in my mind and then write it out.” He describes all this as working backwards. He says, “For example, I have a problem, okay? I need to solve it. It’s just not ready for you to put on the computer. You have to transform it to a computer code which sometimes is not very easy to do because you have to think, this is how we understand it, but the computers can not understand it this way or this language has to be in this format.

So you write it so there’s some certain flow of logic in it, so that you have to think step-by-step how the computer is going to interpret this thing and you have to put in the format your problem will program.” So he begins by framing his problem, working backwards from the functions that it’s going to have to perform this program, and also, how he’s going to translate it into a language the computer can understand. Then, he says, “And I think, I think while I swim, and when I decide to do a program, I just do it. I just go there. Now, basically what I do first is try to write it as quickly as possible without thinking. When I do it, I just write the steps it would take my brain to do it, that’s very crude, and I don’t usually keep those programs for the most part because they’re very inefficient.

And then I go, I go swimming or bicycling or skating, and while I do that, I think about the program, how can I make it more efficient? And I say, how can I make the computer do this in such a way that it will take me 10 minutes to write a program that the computer will not need that much information to do its data. Then I think, how can I make sure that the computer doesn’t overwork because of computer time? So I try to make it more efficient, computer wise. Then finally, how can I draw possible bugs? And I think also where the point is, where can I make mistakes? And I try to be careful in those places or just not do them at all, just go around them, and then I come back and I rewrite a program and it’s usually done. That’s how I do it.”

And he says, “This is what I call catching the program, just the first catch. I don’t think anybody has told you that, but that is basically what I’ve learned by doing. Most of the things I do are like that. I first do a sketch. I like architecture, and the first thing that you learn there is just draw a sketch, so that’s what I do in everything. The first thing I did was, I learned to just write crudely and then I perfected it, so, basically, maybe I had that before.” Meaning in his architectural education. “Maybe the way I understood that was the way for me to write a program was by doing it. So this is the first time,” he says, “In the course of the interview that I realized how to write a program. It just comes to me naturally.” He just does it and then reflects on what he does.

He makes a sketch and then realizes the sketch. He sets himself first the task of achieving these functions, and then later, poses himself questions about efficiency and debugging. His process is a design process, and it’s interesting to watch Victor do it because he’s an architect who started the computer program. Software design is software design. Now, I would like to just take a few minutes because this has gone outside longer than I had intended. To ask the question, how do people learn this kind of thing? How do people learn this process of reflective conversation with the situation, which is designing? And I’m talking, I assume, to people who are in the midst of that process now. Architecture and other design professions have a tradition which is the studio tradition, and in the seventies, I spent several years studying architecture studios. And in the course of that study with others at MIT, Bill Porter and [inaudible 00:57:22], I came across a very interesting finding which is, the universality in the first months, and even year, of design education are the feeling of confusion and mystery.

For example, a student named Lauder said, “Unless you can begin to think of the problem architecturally, you aren’t going to find any way to perceive.” And she then said, “I began to realize that my approach wasn’t architectural at all.” And her professors had been talking about metaphor and the importance of metaphor in designing and finding great frustration. She said, “I decided to put in some metaphor.” There was a student named Lauder and a professor named Leftridge. Leftridge said, “Lauder is the hardest guy to deal with. He’s intelligent, he’s articulate, he comes up with something that works, but architecturally, it is horrible. Now, what can I do? In a way, it’s the kind of case which precipitates the weakest responses because he has not internalized some of the covert things. I think he should do something else. He is bright, but totally unvisual. within the frame of reference of a practicing architect, he is totally misplaced. I wouldn’t know what to do with him.”

And Lauder says, “I think that at times, Leftridge assumed a greater awareness on my part than I had. I wasn’t doing it around my own standards. My standards were far surpassed.” And then he said this remarkable thing. “I want to go out and learn first. I want to go out and learn what it is we are actually arguing about.” And another student, a very good student said, “What we have here is a very [inaudible 00:59:22] situation where you really don’t know where you are and you have no basis for evaluation. You hang on the inflection of the tone of voice in your crick to discover if something is really wrong.” I also, later, I discovered, by the way, something quite extraordinary about the experience of students in design courses which is that most of the students I talked to said that the real question they were asking themselves for that first year was, and the whole meaning of the experience for them was, do I have it?

That mysterious something that nobody could describe. The sense of mystery and confusion, I think, makes a great deal of sense. It is because you are being asked to design, to engage in designing from the very beginning, because that’s what the studio is about. It’s about learning by doing it. It’s about project activity, you start designing right away, but you don’t know what designing is, and your instructors can’t tell you. Maybe you feel they won’t tell you. They know but withhold it from you. But in fact, from the instructor’s point of view, the dilemma is you have to be as great as [inaudible 01:00:49] because they’ve learned by hard experience that they cannot pay you in any way that you’re not going to understand until you actually begin to design.

But, of course, you don’t know how to design. Now, the paradox we’re dealing with here, it is a paradox, was beautifully described with a dialogue of Plato called the Mino. A dialogue that I believe firmly will be with us long after the word its artificial intelligence had been for [inaudible 01:01:23]. And in this dialogue, Mino, who believes that he knows what virtue is, is talking to Socrates who’s notorious for being able to show you that you don’t know what you mean, and, of course, Mino begins to get more and more angry as he discovers he doesn’t know what virtue is, and finally, he bursts out with the following, he says, “But how will you look for something when you don’t, in the least, know what it is? How on earth are you going to set up something you don’t know as the object of your search? To put it another way, how would you know that what you have found is the thing you didn’t know?”

And I would put it to that the paradox of the Mino is also the paradox of the design studio. You don’t know what it is you’re looking for. You’re not sure how you’ll recognize it when you find it, but you know that you have to begin to do it, and it must begin to do it before your instructors can actually tell you what they know. My experiences or my experience with students is, some students, not all students, make a discovery and the discovery is that in the first instance, they have to educate themselves, but nobody can do it for them.

And then when I caught a letter from a man named Thomas Powers, he’s an old friend of mine, and he was a lawyer and a philosopher, and he says, “I like [inaudible 01:03:08] you don’t invest on education. You know that unlike [inaudible 01:03:13] for whom psychoanalysis is a branch of the healing arts, [inaudible 01:03:17] always insisted that it is a proper duty, a branch of education. For him, education is what one does to and for oneself, hence the universal irrelevance of all systems of education. This view forced me to distinguish education from training. Education, the self-learning process, training, what others make you do. What are educational systems, so-called, really doing? For example, law school, I discovered, primarily train students to listen, to think and to talk the way the rest of the profession does.

What is this educational function then? To drive you mad, whether it [inaudible 01:04:01] to educate yourself. The process is or appears terribly wasteful, yet some do get educated. If the teacher had a big stick and hit you over the head every time you tried to get them to educate you, the thing would be done in less than a semester. It seems to me that this is the Zen method of education, so, of course, I can’t claim to have invented it.”

Well, this paradox which begins the design studio leads to a predicament, which is that students must begin to swim in those unchartered waters, and with a sense of a loss of control and confidence and competence, how could it be otherwise? Since they are trying to do something and they’re not sure what it is and they’re not sure how to recognize it when they do it. And that predicament, that learning predicament, the predicament of learning to design, I think, factorizes the early months, or even year, of design education. But when you return at the end of the year, when I return at the end of the year or at the end of two years, I often find that students and design master are talking fluidly together, finishing one another’s sentences, talking in ways that to an outsider like me, is entirely understandable. And many of them appear to have achieved a kind of convergence of meaning.

So this beginning predicament and paradox ends for some, and the convergence of meaning, how is it possible? And I think it’s possible because of a form of guile that takes place between studio master and students, a dialogue that requires not only words but actions, and that is a process of reflection and action in its own right. The artistry of conducting that dialogue was crucial to the coaching functions that some really good studio instructors are able to achieve. The entire studio experience, which I will not try to go through it at this point, [inaudible 01:06:22] response to your questions, if you have them, can be generalized, I think, into something that I call the reflective practicum. Effective practicum is a situation in which you learn by doing, you engage in projects with peers before you understand and can describe the knowledge that you’re trying to achieve.

You do so in the presence of others who function more like coaches than they do like teachers, and you conduct with them a dialogue of words and actions which becomes an object of reflection in its own right. This reflective practicum, I think, is what needs to be invented in the university-based schools of the professions, and many sub schools are in the process of trying to invent it, and what they are trying to invent, for example, in the design institutes of the schools of engineering or in something like the new pathway program at the Harvard Medical School is what architecture already has. What architecture needs to do, in my view, is to reflect on what it already has. For architects and design professionals to become not only confident performers, but competent reflectors on their performance so as to engage the other professional schools of the university in this crucial learning which, if I’m right, all research-based universities are now engaged in. Thank you very much. Get this out of the way. And if you have questions or if you have comments or things you’d like to say, I would be very happy to hear them.

Speaker 3:

[inaudible 01:08:36].

Dr. Donald Schön:

This gentleman says it sounds like what I’m talking about is experiential education, and am I aware of programs like the one in Boulder, Colorado and elsewhere. I think if you’re talking about programs, in this particular instance, programs that take you out into nature and ask you to think about or reflect upon the experiences that you’re having [inaudible 01:09:15]. I think that’s an example of what I’m talking about. What experiential education sometimes is, is nothing more than the experience, and not that the experience can’t be very powerful [inaudible 01:09:36]. Have you ever done that before? But reflection and the experience, in the attempt to describe what it is and to learn [inaudible 01:09:49] and putting that description to test goes beyond the experience [inaudible 01:09:56]. And my own sense is that we have in this country two systems of professional education. The research base for the schools of the university, and the [inaudible 00:20:10].

Athletics, I think, is one of the great [inaudible 01:10:21]. Think about what alerted your basketball coach [inaudible 01:10:28]. Helping them to learn, to become very good at doing something. This is a tradition or a set of related traditions, and it’s a tradition that I think designing has some real [inaudible 01:10:45].

Speaker 4:

What is the design education [inaudible 01:10:50].

Dr. Donald Schön:

Yes. I think that’s a wonderful question. This gentleman says, how does the design and innovation that I’m talking about differ from the education of a graduate student learning to do basic research? Well, I think in some important ways, it doesn’t differ at all, but only if you pay attention to the process of learning to do research. If you ask physicists, for example, do you teach what you do? Something I’ve also tried it with my team. Sometimes they’ll say no, but sometimes they’ll say, “Of course, I want to try that.” How could you expect me to teach [inaudible 01:11:38]? I teach physics. I don’t teach what I do.

But the process of… The before the fact process of doing science, not what you read in the learning journal, is about what the person who’s carrying out the research actually does. How that person really thinks about the phenomenon, how that first experience is uncertainty, how that person makes sense of anonymous data and learning to do these things. That process is very similar to the design process, and there exists no adequate theorem. Just as there’s no adequate theorem to design, and for the same reason, there can be no [inaudible 01:12:22], but there’s a terrible temptation and, I think, people usually [inaudible 01:12:31] use physics with [inaudible 01:12:33] and they are quite remarkably different. So one of the reasons that physicists don’t recognize themselves in relation to you, [inaudible 01:12:47], for example, designers, is because they don’t think from their own [inaudible 01:12:53] processes, when they do so, normally they see yours. Its on the word conspiracy among schools to hide from one another the processes, the generating processes, so that you recognize each other only by your products. Products are remarkably different. Those [inaudible 01:13:16], but the processes are [inaudible 01:13:23]. Yes.

Speaker 5:

You create the impression that the studio master of student [inaudible 01:13:39] when you started out at the beginning.

Dr. Donald Schön:

That’s right.

Speaker 5:

I don’t… How does this reflecting on the [inaudible 01:13:59].

Dr. Donald Schön:

Right. What you’ve said is that… Dr. Shen says is that oftentimes in the studio there’s conflict. I’m sure not here, right? No [inaudible 01:14:13]. In some studios there’s conflict, and in fact, all [inaudible 01:14:20]. I think what sets the stage for conflict, and it’s a complicated subject, but what sets the stage for conflict is the starting predicament that I was describing because in order to put himself in a situation where he’s trying to learn, or she’s trying to learn, the student has to become very vulnerable. Vulnerability is in hearing that this process of trying to do something before you know what did you do it or even how you recognize when you’ve done it, and in that vulnerability, you become very vulnerable to defensiveness, you become easily defensive.

The studio master is also vulnerable because, although it’s not so apparent to the students, it’s his impotence that contributes to the student’s vulnerability. The studio master cannot tell him, you see? And that’s a weakness, often times he wishes he could. Can’t tell them because he doesn’t know? Much is unsayable. Or can’t tell them because he has no way of understanding what he can say. In either case the studio master is caught in a dilemma. And what he depends upon is that the student will agree to what Coleridge called a willing suspension of disbelief. That the student will not say, “Okay, I salute you.” As one of my students said to me the other day, “Mon capitan.” Not that, but that the student will suspend disbelief, will say, “Okay, I don’t believe or disbelieve, but I’ll give it a try. We’ll see.”

If the student feels defensive, it’s very hard to suspend disbelief. If the [inaudible 01:16:13] defensive, it’s very had to suspend disbelief. I think defensiveness is the great unrecognized nothing, because it’s not totally unrecognizable. It was that educational problem to which we give least importance comparable to its merit. Defensiveness is the great problem. For me, as well as for you, and for me as well as for my students, because it stands in the way of the ability to carry out this sort of experimental searching of activity, which is absolutely crucial to the process of learning to design.

In the situation of mutual defensiveness, what you can in our culture so readily get is polarization and self-[inaudible 01:17:01] attributions. So [inaudible 01:17:04] says about [inaudible 01:17:05], “I wouldn’t know what to do with him, he’s totally unvisual.” Without being able to say what unvisual means. And [inaudible 01:17:11] says, “[inaudible 01:17:13] were far beyond my own.” Or Judith says about her faculty members, “They’d had their day. They have nothing to teach.” And they say about her, “She is totally incapable of thinking architecturally.”

I have a beautiful protocol of an interaction between Judith and her studio master. Beautiful and sensitive, beautiful case of [inaudible 01:17:39] where they … It was so obvious to you as the reader that they mean different things by design. For example, she says, “Here’s my decagon, how do you like it?” He says, “Is it drawn to scale?” She says, “No, but how do you like the idea?” He says, “There can’t be any idea until it’s drawn to scale.” She says, “But how do you like it?” And they drive each other around.

I think defensiveness has to become, and is for some very good teachers, an experimental subject in its own right. In other words, to think about how do I deal with defensiveness? That becomes the subject of instructional management. There are many different ways of doing it, I don’t think there’s only one way to do it. For example, the neighborhood basketball coach who yells at you, right? He yells at you, but he yells at everybody. “Get your foot out of the box.” But everybody does [inaudible 01:18:47] the same way. That guy can be a wonderful deflater of defensiveness.

Or a wonderful violin teacher, Dr [inaudible 01:18:58], whom I observed at Aspen, who joins her students. She’ll listen to the student playing the violin, and all of the prodigies, of course, and she’ll say, “That was wonderful, sugar.” Then she’ll say, “Okay, what theme did you-” if she heard a Brahms Sonata, “What themes are there?” The student says, “Well, here’s a theme, here’s another theme.” Dorothy says, “Okay, what would you like it to be like?” The student says, “I want it to be lively.” Dorothy says, “Okay, how can we make it lively? Let’s think. We try different things. We can do duh, dum.”

The student tries that again. She says, “Now what about the second theme, how would you like that?” “That should be very serene.” Dorothy says, “Okay, now how could we make it serene?” The student says, “Well I could play it very softly.” And she plays it again. Dorothy says, “Okay, but you could also play a very restricted bow movement.” The student tries that, she says, “Oh, that could work too.” Dorothy says, “Well which way are you going to try?” The student says, “I don’t know, I have to think about it.” Dorothy beams, because that’s exactly what she wants. That the student would see practicing as a form of experimentation.

Dorothy sitting next to the student, side-by-side, jointly working on a problem which the students has set. “I want it to be lively. I want it to be serene. Let’s think how we could do it.” There’s another approach to defensiveness. I can join you in solving the problem that you set.

A third approach is to be able to talk with your students about what’s going on. Which in some ways is the most demanding, to talk about the experience, what it was like. About what’s happening. About how that crit went, about what she made and what she heard. To be able to reflect jointly on the experience of trying to learn what you’re learning.


Speaker 6:

You’ve given a description of the design process in teaching, do you see a parallel in what [inaudible 01:21:10] could call the planning process of teaching.

Dr. Donald Schön:

The question is you’ve been given the description of the design process, and you see a parallel description of the planning process.

Speaker 6:

In the context you described the design process.

Dr. Donald Schön:

In the same context that I described the design process. We could go on this way, would you like to say something?

Well, as you know, probably as well or better than I, planning came out of architecture. So one way to talk about planning, and one kind of planning is that it’s architecture writ large. Urban design, environmental design. In that sense, the description of the planning process is the description of the design process. However, there are many other forms of planning process which are not like this. So for example, the planning of a city may take place through a series of interactions of individuals who represent institutions in a political context, like developers and planners and regulators.

In that case, the planning process has to be understood as a negotiation among these institutions, these agents and institutions within a framework which is set. Now, that’s kind of designing by proxy. Designing is an outcome, but the activity by which it’s done looks very different than the activity I was just describing. The planner says, “Whatever developer comes to me with a proposal, I see an opportunity to get something good for the town.” What does he mean? Well setbacks, more parking spaces, more open spaces, for example. Planning processes happen at very maybe different levels of aggregation, and I think in many different ways. Some of the variation of the process is up to the planner who has options as to how he frames, or she frames the role. Being able to play it in different ways.

So I have devoted some effort to trying to describe these processes by studying what people do, and talking with them about what they do, as have others. I think we could sort of make a typology of these kinds of processes. Some of them would look very much like my design description, some of them would not. All of them, however, make room for surprise, and for the unexpected, for uncertainty, for ambiguity, as central to them. And therefore, for reflection and action. The form of reflection and action is of a different order. I don’t know how helpful that is.

Speaker 6:

There’s a common thread.

Dr. Donald Schön:

The common threads, yeah. Yeah, common threads of different sorts, but one of the common threads is the existence of reflection and action as a process, the presence of surprises, that lead to responding surprises. I’ll stop there. Yes?

Speaker 7:

Are you available to help present [inaudible 01:24:40].

Dr. Donald Schön:

Yeah, am I available to help present the design project to the General Assembly? I’ll take it under advisement, but if I do, I’ll set some conditions. The conditions would be how do you understand your mission? Can you formulate it clearly enough that I can understand it? How do you define it in relation to the rest of the university? [inaudible 01:25:14]-

Speaker 7:

No, that’s [inaudible 01:25:20].

Dr. Donald Schön:

I think I’m about to get uh-hired as a [inaudible 01:25:23] advisor. You know, politics is a gen category, right? Of course it’s politics, but it’s also a substance. Or there’s politics of the substance. So I would think it’d be really of some importance to you to think about the question, how would you like to see your activities connect to the computer scientists, the engineers, the physicists, the agronomists? What are the nature of the connections you’d like to see, and on what basis?

Speaker 8:

I was going to say part of it is the paradox for they don’t understand [inaudible 01:26:19] we do.

Dr. Donald Schön:

They don’t understand what?

Speaker 8:

They don’t understand [inaudible 01:26:19] our discipline as well.

Dr. Donald Schön:

They don’t understand that they can benefit from your discipline, right. On the other hand, that’s not hard to understand since they haven’t the faintest idea what your discipline is. They only recognize you by your products. You see, that’s the sort of … What is it? It’s a kind of reciprocal blindness, since you probably don’t have the [inaudible 01:26:38] for their discipline either, in the sense of what it’s really like to do the things that they do, and come up with the artifacts that they come up with. Well, how do you get it?

In my experience, there are two interesting ways to get it in a university, which I will admit, I will grant you, university is the single most difficult organization to work with in the world. But, given that, I would say there are two ways to think about how you might get it. One is that you teach with them, and the other is to do a project with them. Either of those can be a very illuminating experience. When you put yourself before the problem. The problem of working with the student, or the problem of working on the project. So I would think it’s of some importance for the people of this school to explore those sorts of relationships.

And of course, in doing it, of course, and having to ask yourself what is it we really know how to do? As you heard my say, my view is there’s something extremely important here for the university, but I didn’t say that it was well described. Yes?

Speaker 9:

[inaudible 01:28:03]. How do you distinguish between when to be reflective, and when to be inarticulate? Listen to that conversation [inaudible 01:28:17] seemed like at least half and half [inaudible 01:28:21] describe it as exactly [inaudible 01:28:26].

Dr. Donald Schön:

How do I distinguish between being reflective and being inarticulate? Because listening to the [inaudible 01:28:36], a lot of what was going on had to do with the inability to describe the qualities … Michael, could you illustrate a kind of quality that you felt that he wasn’t able to describe, that was obviously operating here?


Well there didn’t seem to be anything that he said [inaudible 01:29:06] that it was not possible to express that [inaudible 01:29:06].

Dr. Donald Schön:

Yeah, yeah.


What was the kind of reality [inaudible 01:29:15].

Dr. Donald Schön:

The gallery was a pass-through, it was the soft back area, it was in a minor way the major thing. The sort of thing [Alto 01:29:22] would invent, he’s done that on occasion. All these things, what you’re saying about this language is this is not a very good description.


[inaudible 01:29:31] internalized [inaudible 01:29:40].

Dr. Donald Schön:

Yeah, it could be gobbledygook, right? In her case, I think much of it was not. She revealed that it wasn’t by what she actually did, which is the great thing about the studio, which is that what they make and what you say you have an opportunity to observe. But of course, it could be gobbledygook. I think what distinguishes very good studio teachers from ones that aren’t so good, is that they are very sensitive to that issue. They’re very interested in the question of what the student makes out of what they’re saying, and of what they do.

So they observe what she draws, they observe how she goes on. They infer what she understands about soft back areas, and summer and winter sun, and the gallery being in a minor way, the major thing. How she goes on with her designing. Then responding to that. They have the ability to particularize and to carry on a dialogue in which the performance is crucial. The issue of articulateness is complicated by the fact that performance is a kind of communication. So that when you draw for student, as I … Do you draw for your students? So when you draw for … I find that some studio masters always do it, and some studio masters never do it. There’s strong evidence on both sides. But when you draw, you’re of course also communicating.

The combination of drawing and talking is very powerful. The combination of drawing and talking. As you can see whenever you take one of my protocols and try to pull away either the talking or the drawing. The drawing makes no sense at all, and the talking is, as you say, sheer gobbledygook. But when you link the drawing and the talking online, then it becomes more powerful. But always open to this understanding. That’s not the [inaudible 01:31:48] to designing, right? I mean if you try to tell somebody how to get to your house by car, you say, “Take the second left.” They come to the second road, and it’s unpaved. So they ask themselves, “Did Michael mean the second road, or did they mean the second paved road?” And you didn’t say.

But you didn’t need to say for you because it’s perfectly obviously, you know what you mean, but it’s not obvious to the other person. So my sense is every time you make an instruction, what you do is you generate opportunities for [inaudible 01:32:24]. It’s inherent in the process of making instructions. Design instructors have this special version of the problem. The question is, does it interest you, that problem? Is it something you want to work on? Do you think about it? Do you try to get better at it? Is it an object that inquires to you in its own right? That’s the crucial differentiator, the teacher.

Speaker 10:

Don, would you comment on research and design. Much in the context of the common [inaudible 01:33:06] difference between research in the physical sciences, research in design. It seems to me what you’re saying and your interest in the phenomenology of design is that if it can be articulated, and if it can be communicated more effectively, then that would be informing to not only the design fields, but all fields that are tied into the university.

Dr. Donald Schön:

That’s right. I think that’s absolutely true. I think research on the design process, which has to take place with very close observation of designing, is very powerful, and its potential impact on design education. But also it’s very potentially powerful to effective design, further design. Because it’s so crucial to other forms of practice, it is also potentially powerful for other professional education. As I told you over lunch, at MIT we have a group of five or six faculty that have been working together for five or six years on this kind of thing. I think that there are groups, small groups in other places.

Carnegie Mellon has made a major commitment to this kind of activity under Herbert Simon. Some people in the design research business strongly believe in the possibility of computational models of the design process. Such people would consider me, and do consider me, a mystic. That has inspired my interest in trying to get explicit descriptions, the fact that I leave room for art, in the sense that I talked about, [inaudible 01:35:06] and mysticism. So their aim is the aim of being able to write a computer program that does what you do, what an architect does.

But on the way to that objective, they nevertheless are interested in actually observing what architects do. Very closely observing how they draw and what they say, about what they do. Then using that as a basis for their own research.

Speaker 10:

I thought your comment last year about the fact that it is not just one designer, but we’re talking about design organization, design teams. That the product coming out of that, it may be incidental or accidental.

Dr. Donald Schön:

Yeah, when you push up the level of aggregation in the design process, so you’re looking at the design of a building which is coming out of the work of an organization, of multiple organizations, then architectural design [inaudible 01:36:07] look more like planning in the form that you’re talking about. What you were saying before. It becomes something that can only be understood as an interaction of institutions, and not only what goes on in somebody’s head and hands. Okay? Thanks [inaudible 01:36:30].

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