Eileen Adams reviews ‘Design: Models of Change’


Design: Models of Change

Anyone who has read any previous writing by Ken Baynes will greedily devour this book! And then they will read it all over again – and again. Everything you wanted to know about designerly thinking – it’s all here! Confused about cognitive modelling? Don’t worry, there’s a full explanation! Trying to differentiate between professional practice and design in education? Think about design as an attitude of mind. The book is reassuring yet challenging, a mass of ideas and examples, yet a clear exposition about design – in the context of learning, in professional practice and in its potential to shape the future.

The book really does what it says on the cover and draws on a lifetime’s research. It brings together many of the themes and ideas Ken has explored before, such as cognitive modelling and shaping the future, as well as, of course, design and design education, but brings them up to date with reflection on the impact of designerly thinking on the way we choose to live and the implications for the future. Ken demonstrates very skillfully how the use of mental models are fundamental to human intelligence, and that modelling systems do not only reflect their times, but help to create them.

The aims of the book are to: …highlight a particular aspect of human intelligence that, for all its imperfections, is going to play an essential role in our efforts to imagine a viable alternative future; also to suggest that we need to recognize the value of designerly thinking and to foster its development more deliberately.

Both the writing and design of the book combine to make ideas clear and coherent. It is easy to navigate the various chapters, the diagrams make sense and the images contextualise ideas, and both are integral to the text. You certainly get your money’s worth from the book’s 238 pages – it is like having four books in one volume. Each theme is developed separately, but they are inextricably linked.

  • Humans use mental models of the world to act on the world.
  • Designers use mental models of the world to imagine the future of made things.
  • Everyone uses mental models to imagine the future of their environment.
  • Media, marketing and design promote models of a high consumption lifestyle.

Ken’s writing, as always, is lucid, the ideas revelatory and the arguments persuasive. Through reference to his experience as a designer, he compares different modelling systems used by environmental, product and communications designers, indicates the range and flexibility of designerly thinking, and shows how he has made use of this in his own work. I welcomed references to his collaboration with Bruce Archer, who was also able to articulate clearly ideas about the nature of design. Designerly thinking, for instance, he saw as one of a number of types of cognitive modelling.

The expression ‘cognitive modelling’ is intended to refer to the basic process by which human mind construes sense experience to build a coherent conception of external reality and constructs further conceptions of memory and imagination. The expression ‘imaging’ is intended to refer to that part of cognitive modelling which constructs sense data and constructs representations spatially and presentational, rather than discursively and sequentially.

I could not find Archer’s definition of design, though Ken perhaps makes oblique reference to it:

Designing is one of a number of areas of ‘intentional activities’ through which humans shape the future. The particular arena for design is material culture in all its complexity. Material culture is not simply ‘practical’, it is the result of beliefs and designs, ideals and values as much as functional necessity.

The book makes compelling arguments about the importance of visual literacy, not as reading and understanding images, but in terms of being able to understand, use and acquire fluency in different modelling systems. Ken spells out links between graphicacy and modelling and acknowledges that computer models have begun to change ways people think and behave. I valued the reflection on drawing and modelling, especially helpful was the prompt to think of drawing not as a window on reality, but as a space in which ideas, emotions, speculations and, of course, observations, might be deployed. This chimes very closely with my own interest in the use of drawing as a medium for learning.

The commentary on drawing by young children reveals their thoughts, and prompts us to see their drawing not as pictures, but as a way of making their thinking visible and accessible. Educators will welcome the view that the capacity for designerly thinking is something we all have, which can be nurtured and developed. Let us hope that some education policy makers will read this book and call into question current initiatives to re-shape the school curriculum, and maybe even develop a vision of education that accommodates design, whose purpose would be … to acknowledge and encourage the big brain’s role as a medium for bringing human imagination to bear on shaping the future.

The scope of the book is mind-blowing. Design is discussed not only in the context of consumerism, science, technology and the media, but also in relation to social history and education. Subjects that come under scrutiny include cooking, neuroscience, designing hospital beds, children’s drawing, the influence of the media, participation – and hundreds more ­– an index would have been useful here! The references identify key texts, ranging from Craftsmen All (Peach, 1943), papers by Archer, Baynes and Roberts in the 1970s and 1980s to Wired for Culture: origins of the human social mind (Pagel, 2012).

The discussion about shaping the future is very exciting and inspiring, but the final chapter brings us down to earth with a bump, wondering if our creativity and inventiveness threatens our survival – is design part of the problem or a means of coming to grips with an uncertain future? Read the book and make up your own mind!

Eileen Adams July 2013


The early pages and the introduction are available as a free download by clicking on the button below:

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View the Book Page for Design: Models of Change


LDP’s recommended supplier is The Great British Bookshop:Great British Bookshop They can also be  ordered from good book stores (eg Waterstones) and online book sellers (eg BOOKS etc).

ISBN References

ISBN: [hardback, colour] 978-1-909671-00-3 … £55.00 RRP
ISBN: [paperback, B&W] 978-1-909671-01-0 … £15.99 RRP
ISBN: [ePub] 978-1-909671-02-7 … £18.99 RRP
ISBN: [Mobi] 978-1-909671-11-9 … £18.99 RRP
ISBN: [pdf] 978-1-909671-12-6 … £18.99 RRP

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