Enhancing the Reflective Capabilities of Professional Design Practitioners

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According to Schon (1987), professional education should be centred on enhancing the practitioner’s ability to reflect before taking action. This is important to the designer for two reasons. The first of these concerns real world professional situations, which are rarely clear and lack ‘right answers’, the successful professional requires the ability to learn by doing in order to handle complex and unpredictable problems with confidence. The second concerns the nature of the designer’s relationship with design problems themselves. The designer’s exploration of his/her own awareness develops in parallel with problem definition. Dorst and Cross (2001) describe this as a co-evolution of problem and solution and English (2006) argues that we cannot frame the problem without including in that design space the person who designs. Thus the process of engaging with a design problem involves a journey of self-exploration for the designer who needs to be appropriately equipped for unknown terrain. A distance learning Masters programme was validated in 1999, supporting professional designers to develop as reflective practitioners. The course has run successfully for eight years with students based in Brazil, Canada, UK and Ireland, Holland, Greece, Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and China. The author draws on the experience of delivering this programme to describe two approaches that have evolved in parallel to nurture the development of the reflective practitioner. The first of these encourages students to develop an action research process by applying reflective practice models as organising tools and recording templates. The second clarifies direction and focuses action to address fully and precisely the individual student’s aims, insights and motivation. Both these approaches encourage a synergy between practice and theory and involve visual modelling and collaborative reflection through communities of practice. The application of these approaches is shown to generate fundamental insights that positively influence the future actions of students in professional practice. The paper concludes that the consciousness of the expert designer is a critical element of design space and summarises how the disciplined process and clear focus of the approaches discussed contribute to the development of personal confidence and awareness.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009
EventUndisciplined! Design Research Society Conference 2008 - Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield
Duration: 1 Jul 2009 → …


ConferenceUndisciplined! Design Research Society Conference 2008
Period1/07/09 → …


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