On the Mysteries of the Design Process (Entwurf)
Thesis projects are considered the crowning project of a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree programme.
Students are well aware that their thesis project can be the starting point for their later practical work or further in-depth studies for a Master’s degree or PhD. This expectation is both a motivation and a burden for the examinees, because overly ambitious goals tend to restrict rather than promote experimental work within a design process. Despite this initial situation, which is moreover exacerbated by being framed as part of the final examination – and who would want to fail an examination – students time and again succeed in surprising their mentors, the assessing experts, themselves, and visitors to the thesis exhibition by the results of their thesis projects. In this context, to surprise means to develop an analogue or digital visual-communication product that was not even imaginable, let alone predictable at the beginning of the thesis work and that, by its deviation from the already known, provides the recipients of such a communication with unexpected findings, perspectives, truths, or even insights. How does one deal with the dilemma described above, which arises from being oriented towards and open to goals, which such a free experiment presupposes?
we are looking for answers to this question, it should first be said that practical design processes are so complex because they defy any planning. The German term of Entwurf for design processes is apt because its reference to the activity of throwing (Wurf) addresses the performative aspect of the process that characterizes design practices in art, design, visual communication, and architecture. Throwing consists, on the one hand, in an intended target that is consciously determined (target direction = thesis description) and, on the other one, of letting go of whatever is thrown and surrendering it to forces that are not controlled by the thrower (trajectory = open-ended experiment). Thus, the dilemma between analytical procedure and open ended search-process is already addressed by the very concept of a design and calls into question a further generalization of the patterns of design processes because the open-ended experiment does not follow any preconceived rules. Nevertheless, the result is not random, but emerges from the influence of different forces. The active forces at work in the design process are the designer, the materials, and a broad spectrum of socio-cultural influences that manifest themselves through tools, medium, and designer. This complex interplay of forces represents the potential for something unexpected to emerge that evolves beyond what was initially intended.
question now is: how can education prepare students for the aforementioned search of the unexpected? Without claiming to be exhaustive, a few points can be listed below as theses that allow students to successfully overcome the difficulties of the design processes. These points can also be defined as a logic of practice (Barbara Bolt, 2003).
– Experience in dealing with design processes enables students to not simply stick to a verbally formulated goal, but to refine, revise, adapt, or differentiate it during the actual process.
– The process competence allows a conscious alternation of analytical, goal-oriented phases with intuitive, experimental, open-goal phases.
– Studying in a mixed group of students promotes the students’ recognition of their own socio-cultural and individual conditions and enables students to ponder them. Experiencing the effect of one’s own designs and their reception by a varied public promotes a critical evaluation and questioning of one’s own results.
– The mental archive of images seen from current image and media production and image and media history established during the course supports the critical analysis of one’s own designs and the recognition of deviations from what was seen. The crafts and technical experience gleaned during their studies enables students to vary tools and media and use them in experiments.
present publication of the thesis projects, the publication of these projects on the internet plus the thesis exhibition provide an insight into the variety of processes that the students have gone through in the interaction between conscious analysis and open experimentation. It shows how far the students’ abilities, described as process competence, manifest themselves.
Even by simply beholding these thesis projects, one can assume an analytical point of view or immerse oneself in the presentations and let oneself be surprised. We congratulate the students of the Digital Communication Environments Institute on the various design processes they initiated, and the results developed from them, which this catalogue presents. I am convinced that the competences summarily described here are a good basis to further develop their very own practical logic and, thus, make socially relevant contributions to the future, which manifests them-self as deviations.
Prof. Michael Renner, Head of the Institute Digital Communication Environments