Redesigning D&T: Practitioner Theory

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Front Cover for Redesigning D&T ... Talking ... Thinking

The commonly held view of knowledge creation is that research leads to new knowledge that influences practice. Practitioner theory suggests an alternative model, namely that it is practice that can lead to new knowledge, which can subsequently be researched and refined. One model is essentially the reverse of the other.

In the book we edited, Redesigning D&T: … talking … thinking, Alison Hardy and I suggested that the next step in the process should be to draw up a specification for ‘Design and/or Technology 2.0’. I still hold that view, but it is easier to discuss the meaning of practitioner theory in relation to an example. So, although it is probably ‘in the wrong order’, I’ll start by suggesting the kind of approach I might be advocating in order to create the necessary step-change in design and technology practice.

A useful starting point in my view would be the curriculum developments associated with online and blended learning that were necessary as a consequence of the recent pandemic. Research relating to these has recently been reported in a special issue of Design and Technology Education: an international journal, which was guest edited by Derek Jones and Nicole Lotz of the Open University UK.

Any step change would create major requirements for Continued Professional Development, so why not look to a blended approach of national online curriculum resources developed by experts and local activities and design tasks in studios and/or workshops depending on the resources available in particular schools? The Open University, with its experience of teaching design online could lead the development of nationally available resources, supported by primary and secondary education specialists and experts in particular design areas. Loughborough Design School offers degree programmes in areas such as experience design, graphic design, industrial design, product design and textile design, which would be a useful start. There would be many other areas to cover of course eg architecture and environmental design, engineering design, food and fashion, and universities around the UK have experts in all of them. So a team could be brought together.

The advantage of such an approach would be that teachers are not put under unreasonable pressure to acquire new knowledge and develop the curriculum simultaneously. For example, I am aware that Loughborough Design School runs an interdisciplinary course on design thinking that it might be possible to adapt. Teachers could enhance their understanding of design thinking alongside the students and develop studio and/or workshop tasks and activities relevant to their local needs and situation.

So, how do such suggestions help with the discussion of practitioner theory? Consider this quotation from the Editorial to the recent Special Edition.

‘Distance Design Education

Of course, there are a few institutions already teaching at a distance and using online and blended methods. The Open University in the UK (OU) is one of these and has taught design remotely since its inception in the early 1970s. During this time, the OU has developed many ways of approaching this mode of learning and teaching across a number of diverse subject domains, including design.

It might be assumed that it would be a relatively straightforward task to share this knowledge. But, the full richness of praxis that exists in studio and the myriad of tacit and implicit knowledge it requires (regardless of mode), makes this a very difficult task. What is particularly hard to do is to simply transfer aspects of complexity and richness from traditional to online settings: what works in one may only do so depending on particular conditions in another, and these are not always obvious.

The lesson for those of us already teaching at a distance was to realise just how much we, too, embody our own practice as tacit and implicit knowledge. Design is an inherently embodied practice where the unseen and hidden processes are just as important as the final proposal, and this is just as true in design education. The unseen and hidden, the tacit and implicit, the informal and unplanned, all turned out to matter far more than anyone thought.’

    (Jones and Lotz, 2021: 4-5)

So knowledge of distance learning relevant to design education exists in practice, but because it is not fully articulated, it is not easy to share. And here is the essence of practitioner theory. Practice embodies new knowledge and researchers must strive to capture and communicate its nature.

So a suggestion of the kind I made earlier must build on practice of both design and design education, and it would be challenging to implement … even if it was decided that it was a direction worth pursuing. And that brings me back to the point I made earlier about such a suggestion being too early in the redesigning process. How could you discuss whether such a suggested strategy was a useful direction if you have not decided what it you seeking to achieve?

In my experience drawing up a specification is not the most popular design activity, but it really needs to be done early in order for the development of proposed resolutions of the task to be evaluated in a meaningful way.


Vol 26 No 4 (2021), Design and Technology Education: An International Journal. Special Issue: Teaching in Crisis, December 2021

Design and Technology Education: an International Journal (

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