Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hand-Head-Heart: Ethics in Design

Hand-Head-Heart: Ethics in Design : Keynote address at the 4th National Design Convention at Istanbul on 8th October 2009.

Prof M P Ranjan

Prof M P Ranjan has been invited to deliver the keynote lecture at the 4th National Design Convention at Istanbul that is being organized by the Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey. This gives us an opportunity to look at the forces that are influencing design today and those that have helped shaped it over the past five to eight decades since the Bauhaus and the Hfg Ulm schools in Germany. My lecture looks at the ethical dimensions in design and I am quoting the abstract of my paper below along with a couple of models that I shall be using to explore these dimensions in my lecture. It is supported by case studies that we had researched for the sustainability posters that we had designed for the World Economic Forum in January this year as well as some of our own work at NID that could illustrate these ethical dimensions as we go forward from here. The various ethical dimensions have been grouped into the three orders of design that had been written about in a previous post on this blog and the list of books from my design bookshelf is also quoted below for immediate reference.

Image01: Title page of the visual presentation titled “Hand-Head-Heart: Ethics in Design”


Keynote lecturer at the 4th National Design Conference between 8th and 9th October 2009 at ITU in Istanbul, Turkey at the invitation of the Department of Industrial Product Design at Istanbul Technical University (ITU) and the conference co-sponsors, Koleksion A.S., Profilo and the ITU.

Our understanding of design has been evolving steadily over the past 100 years and in recent years there has been a rush of new research into a variety of dimensions and Ethics is one the many dimensions that have received research attention. In this paper we look at the various dimensions of design and at current and past definitions to see the contemporary understanding of the subject as we see it today with the aid of models that the author has evolved over several years of reflection and research. We then trace the evolution of design as a natural human activity and restate this history in terms of the major stages of evolution from its origins in the use of fire and tools through the development of mobility, agriculture, symbolic expression, crafts production and on to industrial production and beyond to the information and knowledge products of the day. This sets the stage to ponder about the future of the activity and of the discipline as we see it today.

With the use of a model the expanding vortex of design value and action is discussed with reference to the role of ethics and value orientation at each of the unfolding stages through which we have come to understand and use design over the years. Beginning with the material values of quality and appropriateness we explore the unfolding dimensions of craftsmanship, function, technique, science, economy and aesthetics that has held the attention of design philosophers and artists over the post renaissance period. In the last fifty years our attention has shifted through the work of several design thought leaders to aspects of impact of design on society, communication and semiotics, environment and even on politics and culture with some discussion on each of the major contributors in this ongoing discourse. The further developments that lead to systems thinking and on to the spiritual levels are introduced to place the ethical debate at the centre of the design discourse at each of these levels of engagement.

Some critical case examples are introduced to exemplify the arguments that have been made to establish the various levels of ethical actions that design has discovered and with these the author will argue that design is evolving to a more complex form that will require new kind of integrated design education that is already being experimented with across the world in the face of a series of crisis that we have been facing in industrial, economical, social, and most visibly at the political and ecological levels. These ethical lessons are still diffuse and disconnected in the fabric of design action across the world and we will need to find ways of bringing these to the hand, head and heart of design education if we are to find a new value for design that will help us address the deep crisis that we are facing today.

The full paper addresses the following six questions by expanding on each as we go forward with the discussions that each question entails.
1. What is Design today?
2. How did Design evolve from being a core human activity to become a modern discipline with a significant future?
3. What are the unfolding dimensions and orders of Design that we can call the “Ethical Vortex of Design”?
4. Who are the thought leaders who have anticipated these expanding dimensions of Design particularly from an ethical perspective?
5. Are there some critical cases in this broader filed of Design that could provide clues for our journey forward at each of these ethical nodes towards an “Integrated Design of the Future”?
6. How do we move towards a new Design education that can “Create the Unknowable – the future for all of us”, in an ethical manner and still be in tune with the needs of our times?

Image02: Three Orders of Design: Model showing the expanding dimensions of the vortex of design thought and action.

Thought Leaders in Design: List of books that shaped design thinking in India.

Image03: The Ethical Vortex of Design with the Three Orders overlapped showing the placement of design thought leaders from my personal view and reading.

Design Theory related books which I call the “Design Bookshelf”.

1. Bruce Archer, Design Awareness and Planned Creativity in Industry, Office of Design, Trade and Commerce, Ottawa and the Design Council, London, 1974

2. John Chris Jones, Design Methods: Seeds of Human Futures, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, London, 1970

3. John Chris Jones, Designing Designing, Architecture Design and Technology Press, London, 1991

4. Johannes Itten, Design and Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus, Thames & Hudson, London, 1963, 1975

5. Josef Albers, Interaction of Color: Revised Edition, Yale University Press, 1971

6. Paul Klee, Pedagogical Sketchbook, Frederick A. Praeger, New York, 1953, 1962

7. Paul Klee, Paul Klee Notebooks Volume 1 The Thinking Eye, Lund Humphries, London, 1969

8. Paul Klee, Paul Klee Notebooks: The Nature of Nature Volume 2, Lund Humphries Pub Ltd, 1992

9. Lazlo Moholy Nagy, The New Vision: Fundamentals of Bauhaus Design. Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Daphne M. Hoffmann, Dover Publications, New York, 2005

10. Nigel Whiteley, Design for Society, Reaktion Books Ltd, London, 1993

11. M K Gandhi, Gandhi: 'Hind Swaraj' and Other Writings, in Anthony J. Parel (Ed.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997

12. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, Harper and Row, New York, 1965

13. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man, HarperCollins, New York, 1969

14. Robert Prisig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, Bantam, New York, 1984

15. R Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path, St. Martin's Griffin; 2nd edition, New York, 1982

16. Otl Aicher, World as Design, Wiley-VCH, Berlin, 1994

17. Thomas Maldonado, Gui Bonsiepe, Renate Kietzmann et al., eds, “Ulm (1 to 21): Journal of the Hoschule fur Gestaltung”, Hoschule fur Gestaltung, Ulm, 1958 to 1968

18. Tomas Maldonado, Design, Nature, and Revolution: Toward a Critical Ecology, Harper & Row, New York, 1972

19. Gui Bonsiepe, Interface - An Approach to Design, Jan Van Eyck Akademie,Netherlands, 1999

20. Christopher Alexander, Nature of Order, Book 1 – Phenomenon of Life, Book 2 – A Vision of Living World, Book 3 – The Process of Creating Life and Book 4 – The Luminous Ground, The Centre for Environmental Structure Publishing, Berkeley, 2001 to 2004

21. David Pye, The Nature of Design, Studio-Vista, London, 1964

22. David Pye, Nature and Art of Workmanship, Cambium Press; Revised edition, London, 1995

23. Norman Potter, What is a Designer: things, places, messages, Hyphen Press, London, 2002

24. John. Heskett, Industrial Design, Thames & Hudson, London, 1985

25. John. Heskett, Toothpicks and Logos: Design in Everyday Life, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002

26. Victor Papanek, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, Pantheon Books, New York, 1971

27. Victor Papanek, The Green Imperative: Natural Design for the Real World, Thames & Hudson, 1995

28. Claude Levi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, Volume 2, University Of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1983

29. Stafford Beer, Platform for Change: A Message from Stafford Beer, John Wiley & Sons Inc, London, 1975

30. Charles & Ray Eames, Eames Design: The Work of the Office of Charles and Ray Eames, in John Neuhart, Marylin Neuhart and Ray Eames (authors), Abrams, New York, 1994

31. Jiddu Krishnamurthy, Freedom from the Known, HarperOne, New York, 1975

32. Richard Buchanan and Victor Margolin, Discovering Design: Explorations in Design Studies, University Of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1995)

33. Victor Margolin, Politics of the Artificial: Essays in Design and Design Studies, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2002

34. Victor Margolin and Richard Buchanan, Idea of Design: A Design Issues Reader, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1996

35. Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things, Basic Books, New York, 2002

36. Donald A. Schon, The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, Basic Books, New York, 1983

37. Bruno Latour, Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass., USA, 1987.

38. Bruno Latour, Politics of Nature: How to Bring Sciences into Democracy, (tr. by Catherine Porter), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., USA, 2004.

39. Hazel Henderson, Beyond Globalization. Kumarian Press, 1999

40. Hazel Henderson, Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006

41. Bryan Czeck, Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train: Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop them All, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2000

42. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Harper Perennial, New York , 1996

43. Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and William Damon, Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet, Basic Books, New York, 2002

44. Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and William Damon, Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning. Basic Books, New York, 2002

45. Klaus Krippendorff, The Semantic Turn: A New Foundation for Design, Taylor & Francis CRC, New York, 2006

46. Wolfgang Jonas and Jan Meyer-Veden, “Mind the gap! on knowing and not-knowing in design”, H.M Hauschild GmbH, Bremen, 2004

47. John Thackara, In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World, MIT Press, 2005

48. Harold G. Nelson & Erik Stolterman, The Design Way: Foundations and Fundamentals of Design Competence, Educational Technology Publications, New Jersey, 2003

49. Bryan Lawson, How Designers Think, Architectural Press, New York, 1997)

50. Bryan Lawson and Kees Dorst, Design Expertise, Architectural Press, New York, 2009

51. Kees Dorst, Understanding Design: 175 Reflections On Being A Designer, Gingko Press, Berkeley, 2004 & 2006

52. Peter G. Rowe, Design Thinking, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1991

53. Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. University Of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1972

54. Frei Otto, IL20 TASKS, Institute for Lightweight Structures, Stutgart, 1975

Download full paper titled "Hand-Head-Heart: Ethics in Design" here -PDF file 360kb Full Text
Download visual presentationas a pdf file here - PDF file 4.8 mb visual presentation screen resolution

Download visual presentation at print resolution as pdf file here - PDF file print resolution 14.8 mb

Prof M P Ranjan

Reports on the lecture at Istanbul; have started coming in and these will be pointed from the links here below:

Designophy link: 8th October post on Designophy about the keynote lecture with images


  1. this categorization of designers...seems like how charles jencks categorized architects till post-mordernism...only difference is you sense of being designer is broader is other sense...but so added *personal list...

  2. Hi, nice post. I have been thinking about this topic,so thanks for sharing. I will likely be coming back to your blog. Keep up the good work

  3. Hi Rajan!

    This is a very interesting topic. I am going to share your insights with the students of Textile for whom I am taking a short course on Traditional Indian Txtiles. We just about finished a hectic but informative tour to Kutch and I beleive (based on the kind of dialogues and conseversation we had)everyone;s going to benifit a lot from this article..
    will keep u posted about how it goes...



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