Donald Schön on Design

I picked up an anthology on architecture I bought on a whim a while back. Leafing through it, I recognized the name Donald Schön from somewhere, so I read his text, titled ‘Design as a Reflective Conversation with the Situation’, a chapter from his The Reflective Practitioner. Brilliant! Some quotes:

Herbert Simon and others have suggested that all occupations engaged in converting actual to preferred situations are concerned with design.


[Architecture] is perhaps the oldest recognized design profession and, as such, functions as prototype for design in other professions. If there is a fundamental process underlying the differences among design professions, it is in architecture that we are most likely to find it.

Last one:

In the following pages, [...] I shall consider designing as a conversation with the materials of a situation.

A designer makes things. Sometimes he makes the final product; more often, he makes a representation—a plan, program, or image—of an artifact to be constructed by others. He works in particular situations, uses particular materials, and employs a distinctive medium and language. Typically, his making process is complex. There are more variables—kinds of possible moves, norms, and interrelationships of these—than can be represented in a finite model. Because of this complexity, the designer’s moves tend, happily or unhappily, to produce consequences other than those intended. When this happens, the designer may take account of the unintended changes he has made in the situation by forming new appreciations and understanding and by making new moves. he shapes the situation, in accordance with his initial appreciation of it, the situation “talks back,” and he responds to the situation’s back-talk.

In a good process of design, this conversation with the situation is reflective. In answer to the situation’s back-talk, the designer reflects-in-action on the construction of the problem, the strategies of action, or the model of the phenomena, which have been implicit in his moves.

The chapter also has a very vivid account of a collaboration between an experienced architect and a student. I need to get this book.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on September 23, 2005. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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