Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Is technical knowledge a prerequisite for designing?

One of the foremost questions that I do try to answer myself, and at times still searching for answers to, is the question above, on whether having a technical knowledge of sorts is a necessary prerequisite to designing! Having had just a short design teaching experience of about 5 years, my short answer to it is that it depends! Yup, it is very much dependent on what you hope to achieve with your design, whether it is conceptual in nature, or something ground-breaking, or of something that is so technically efficient in its design, that it is almost flawless!

2 years back, I had this experience of being a technical consultant to a group of students who were supposed to be involved in some design competition to come out with a gadget that would help to solve a certain predefined problem situation. The students were naturally drawn from the better upper level classes, and of which design and technology is not one of their subjects. Their idea was what I call, a classic case of 'dysfunctionality in multifunctionality', a reference to a situation whereby students have this tendency to overdesign something with a lot of features, which can lead to inefficiency and redundancy. And to top it off, having 'nice-to-have' features that are simply impossible to be technically viable and produced. This is where I feel that at times, when the overall need is to come out with a feasible working idea of a particular product, one must at least have a basic technical grounding of things in order to at least make the concept design look realistically plausible! Lest it becomes an exercise in theoretical endeavours and becomes just a concept.

Alternatively, I also do subscribe to the belief that at times, one really need to challenge the technical norms in order to break away from the mould, or from the 'box' of possibilities, and try to push the limit to that boundary whereby the technical reality of things can be deemed to have gone into the 'grey' zone, a zone where technically, things might just be possible! This is where, in actuality, having that prerequisite knowledge of things might actually be a hindrance of sorts to breaking out from the mould, from coming out with that earth-shattering and ground-breaking design! I mean, who would have thought that flight was a possibility a 100 years ago, or that a laptop can be had for only US$100 per piece! I dare say that if humankind is made up of only engineers, perhaps, just perhaps, things wouldn't have moved at as fast a pace that we would love too, seriously. In fact, technical wizardry in this instance is actually a curse!

Which then brings me back to the point of my question. Is it a necessary prerequisite? I do feel its a NO, but it is still something that all designers must at least have an AWARENESS of, in order to bring forth their 'THINK to THING' (the last being the quote that I got about what design is all about in a recent design seminar that I attended)

Happy designing then.

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