Stephan Saaltink / University of Derby / Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design // 06.25.18

Where is design going?

first a couple of trends. a possible answer in the bottom. a call for action in the very end:


individual design practice has (almost) disappeared. team work seems to be the ‘new’ the standard.

please be aware, interdisciplinary collaborations – those ‘designer only’ teams of 4-6 students at universities, i have observed them many times – are slowing down and leveling. multidisciplinary teams – real collaborations embedding different disciplines – seems to be much more dynamic and surprising.


why aren’t we promoting and initiating multidisciplinary projects at universities while offering students from different faculties (providing different knowledge and different sets of skills) an ultime learning experience?


the borders between design disciplines are blurring.


breaking down walls in education – in an attempt to develop one robust modular constructive curriculum, which helps students to build different and distinctive profiles based on talent (available compentences), interest, ambition and employement – might benifit us all . . .


meanwhile now and then new subdisciplines are popping up. for instance, in design with intent. how designers can influence behavior, robert fabricant is stating, “new direct ‘design action’ are emerging in the design community. the strategies gaining the most traction are what I call persuasion design, catalyst design and performance design.” fabricant – ex FROG, now DIG – is an expert, he knows. still i am wondering, why those specialistic micro-diciplines? could it be the profession now and then is ‘spreading its feathers’ in an attempt to showcase its ‘relevancy’?


seems designers are trading the eye for the brain . . . do we value thinking above perception? is design becoming a cognitive (academic) practise? is n’t design somehow rooted in the visual? you – we – know design is a sensitive practise.


elsewhere i wrote (please look at ‘what else’) “indeed different! let’s stay a playing young child forever, because that’s exactly what we are stimulating in design education (that is besides ‘thinking’, ‘questioning’ and ‘reasoning’): observing – doing (testing) – adjusting.”


still, already for some years i am advising to reserve a prominent for thinking in our curricula. not only to introduce for instance wertheimer’s productive thinking (1943-5), arnheim’s visual thinking (1969), and de bono’s lateral thinking (1969) but also to keep a close eye on neuroscience, which ‘recently’ revealed for instance ’the plasticity of the brain’.



so what about ‘design thinking’, which by the way seems to be a true ‘container concept’? what if – for discussion – design thinking is not about thinking, but a fashionable practise (or a strategy) to centre the user (WE DESIGN FOR PEOPLE), and a call for action to test and validate the designers thinking in an early stage of the so called ‘design process’, because most (wicked) problems are to complex to solve from behind a desk?


meanwhile design ’democratised’ . . . some critical remarks in this context: let’s not ‘over stretch’ design. obviously design will not save the planet. its because design is driven by technology and often the motor for consumerism.

talking about the future. this designers (?) initiative (or movement) ‘thinking is making’ is in my opinion – i am sorry – a bad concept. first, obviously thinking is not ‘making’.


like spiekermann once stated – thank you erik! – “USE YOUR FUCKING BRAIN”. secondly, we should start teaching our students to practise thinking before they decide ‘to make’.


its because in the future, that is tomorrow – time is really running up – we should question the relevance of OUR production permanently. we should produce – or ‘make’ – less (and slow down consumerism). that is NOT more. should n’t we?


until recently designers have always sold ‘yes’ . . . “hey, that’s an interesting challenge or perspective . . !” in the future this monotony will be non-existent. tomorrow, or maybe a year from now, one of the additional ‘new’ tasks of designers is to suggest ‘no’ now and then. that is, we should not proceed, because there is no urgency, nor reason to waste our resources.


this is a call for action. sure, after first things first, a manifesto (1964 & 2000) –

“we, the undersigned, are graphic designers, art directors and visual communicators who have been raised in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable use of our talents.”

[] – it might be time for something completely different. any support for writing less not more, a manifesto (2018)?

How can design education be more relevant?

To be continued . . .

What are the future skillsets designers need to learn now?

To be continued . . .

What should a design school do to prepare students for transdisciplinary work?

To be continued . . .

What should a design school do to forward equity and inclusion?

To be continued . . .

What other thoughts/ideas would you like to share?

Thank you for having me . . .


Presumably you have had the same experience (recently).

While preparing, while reading another interesting paper, most of the time I marked at least three related, promising titles, like for example in Richardson’s (2014) ‘Approaches to learning or levels of processing. What did Marton and Säljö (1976a) really say? The legacy of the work of the Göteborg group in the 1970s.’


[Show example . . .]


So, because of this exponential rate of increase, there seems to be an unexpected (!) and sudden time management issue in our current temporarely student life . . .

The phenomona is well known. In ‘Serious Creativity’ (1992) De Bono advises to balance reading with ‘productive thinking’ (quote):


“A very important practical point concerns research. It is normal when entering a new field to read up all that there is to read about the new field. If you do not do so then you cannot make use of what is known and you risk wasting your time reinventing the wheel. [. . .] One way out of the dilemma is to start off reading just enough to get the feel of the new field. Then you stop and do your own thinking. When you have developed some ideas of your own then you read further. [. . .]” I will follow De Bono’s advise from now on.


Also, please don’t worry about your appetite to read more – you are on the right track! – it is what Ference Marton in ‘What does it take to learn’ (1975) described as [quote p. 125] “[. . .] the grasping of what is signified by the sign (i.e. understanding what the discourse is about)”.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“A written or spoken discourse (the sign) can be considered as a medium for the expression of what the discourse is about (i.e. what is signified).”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

This ‘understanding what the discourse is about’ is according to Marton one of the main characteristics of ‘deep level processing’. [quote p. 128] “[. . .] it appeared, however, that there was also a variation between individuals in attention in what we may call a vertical dimension (i.e. variation as to depth). [. . .] Some subject had the discourse itself (the sign) as the object of attention, and others were more concerned with what the discourse was about (what is signified). [. . .] there is thus also a variation in depth in the process of learning (levels of processing).  The two levels (deep and surface) identified are [. . .].”


Alas there is today not enough time to present the fuzzy, but intriguing story of the academic transformation of deep-level and surface-level processing (1976), via a deep or surface approach to learning (1985), to (in short) deep and surface learning (1995). Besides the time line which I am preparing as part of ‘Why is a deep approach to learning not always visible in active design education in Derby?’ is not yet finished.

But, please be aware that nor Marton nor Säljö coined ‘deep and surface learning’ and that the influential papers (1976a & 1976b) ‘On qualitative differences in learning’ most often are miscited.

Like Richardson (2014) is stating [quote] “Citing Marton and Säljö’s article as the source [of the notion of approaches to learning] is not only inaccurate but obscures important aspects of their methodology”.


As you will understand by now Ference Marton’s (1939) thinking is my main subject of the 3000 words which I am preparing. He became my hero when I stumbled upon his attempts to include ‘meaning’ (1975) [quote]  “We argued that the crusial question in non verbatim learning is the grasping of what is signified by the sign (i.e. to find out what the given discourse is about.) To grasp what is signified is simply to discover (or to create) meaning.

In our opinion this is exactly what it takes to learn! And – we may add – to teach is to facilitate this learning.”


You know – its not a coincidence – to create meaning is exactly what design is about.  And within contemporary design, its probably not a surprise, there is a separate discipline – Strategy – concerned with ‘value’ creation.


Besides Marton was quite early (in 1975) to express his concerns “about the failure of many students to appreciate that academic work is rooted in reality. An inability to discern links with reality, and the tendency to concentrate on the words in a book or to indulge in blind question spotting rather than looking for the underlying meaning intended by the author or the lecturer, leads to ineffective learning strategies which may have far-reaching educational consequences.”

Recently during the module Visual Problem Solving we experienced once again how difficult it is for young adults – our students – to initiate, record and transcribe a ‘dialogue with a stranger’ when we asked them to.

I was aware that students are not really interested in the future,

but for some kind of reason most of them seem to be afraid to encounter reality nowadays.


Finally Marton (1975) helped me to understand why design education differs from Academia. [quote, p. 125] “There are, of course, different forms of learning. In early childhood, for instance, learning by direct experience is predominant. Learning takes place by doing and by observing. By far the most common form of learning, however in formal schooling and in adult life in a literate society is of a different kind. Learning takes place through reading and through being told, and it is this type of learning with which we were mainly concerned in our investigation.”


Indeed different! Let’s stay a playing young child forever, because that’s exactly what we are stimulating in design education (that is besides ‘thinking’, ‘questioning’ and ‘reasoning’): observing – doing (testing) – adjusting.


Meanwhile I will introduce Productive Thinking (Wertheimer, 1945) besides Visual Thinking (Arnheim, 1969), and Lateral Thinking (De Bono, 1969) to support my last “PO” (= opposite catylist [De Bono]) while completing Why is a deep approach to learning not always visible in active design education in Derby?.


For now, thank you.



De Bono, Edward (1992) Serious Creativity, HarperCollins.

Marton, F. (1975b). What does it take to learn? In N. Entwistle & D. Hounsell (Eds.), How students learn (pp. 125–138). Lancaster: University of Lancaster, Institute for Research and Development in Post-Compulsory Education.

Marton, F., & Säljö, R. (1976a). On qualitative differences in learning: 1. Outcome and process. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, 4–11.

Marton, F., & Säljö, R. (1976b). On qualitative differences in learning: 2. Outcome as a function of learners’ conception of task. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, 115–127.

Marton, F., & Säljö , R. (1984). Approaches to learning. In F. Marton, D. Hounsell, & N. Entwistle (Eds.), The experience of learning (pp. 36–55). Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.

Richardson, John T. E. (2014). Approaches to learning or levels of processing. What did Marton and Säljö (1976a) really say? The legacy of the work of the Göteborg group in the 1970s. Interchange, 46, 239–269.

Säljö, R. (1975). Qualitative differences in learning as a function of the learner’s conception of the task (Göteborg Studies in Educational Sciences No. 14). Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.

Stephan Saaltink

University of Derby

Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design

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