Design Literacy – from primary education to university level

Format: Papers, RSD3, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Authors: Liv Nielsen, Petter Naess, Janne Reitan, Ingvild Digranes, Arild Berg, Ingvill Maus & Peter Jones

The main purpose for this study is to further develop knowledge of design education. Design has a wide impact on society, seen in a consumer perspective in light of sustainability issues. Design education – from primary to university level – is in this project regarded as a key issue for developing a sustainable society as the choices general public take when it comes to design, touches the core of consumerism. In the Kyoto Design Declaration, The International Association of Universities and Colleges of Art, Design and Media (Cumulus) declared that
…to contribute to sustainable social, environmental, cultural and economic development for current and future generations, the Cumulus members will commit themselves to accepting their part in the further education of our youth within a value system where each of us recognizes our global responsibility to build sustainable, human-centred, creative societies.
Worldwide environmental problems are closely linked to an increasing amount of waste and pollution related to the production, transportation and consumption of artefacts. Designers, decision makers, investors and consumers hold different positions in the design process, but they all make choices that will influence our future environment. In order to solve some of the crucial global challenges, designers and lay people must cooperate; for this purpose, awareness of design qualities from a sustainable perspective is necessary. We include such an awareness of quality, longevity and sustainability in the design process of artefacts and solutions in our understanding of design literacy. It refers to concerns and practices such as democratic participation in the processes, developing and using ethical responsibility, and understanding and supporting sustainable aspects of production and consumption.

We have chosen to use the concept ‘design literacy’ to address the complex matter of objectives and content in design education at the primary, lower secondary, upper secondary, and university levels. In selecting this term, we acknowledge that research on multiple literacies has received considerable debate and redefinition within several areas of educational research (Coiro et al., 2008); it is no longer bound to the understanding of literacy as the ability to read and write verbal text (Moats, 2000). We draw on work in areas such as visual literacy (Stankiewicz, 2003), media literacy (Buckingham, 2003; Erstad, 2010), and ecological literacy (Stegall, 2006). Design literacy in this project is connected both to the creation and understanding of artefacts and images in a broad sense, and is not limited to only graphic design (Heller, 2004). When we use design literacy in this project, we include a wide perspective of artefacts and professions and choose a broad interpretation of design (Simon 1969). There is a move toward understanding design products and processes as composed of symbiotic hybrids between design products, media types, services, architecture, communicative spaces, networks and modes of creation, production, and exchange (Knutsen & Morrison, 2010). We regard design literacy as a competence not only for the professional designer, but also for lay people in their position as users, decision makers, and consumers.

Presentation & paper

Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2017
Title: Design Literacy – from primary education to university level
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
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First published: 28 September 2014
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Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


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