Who owns design?
This was one of the questions posed by Andrew Ford, Sebel Furniture’s Director of Research, Learning Environments at this week’s Learning Space Design conference.
In the industrial era, he reflected that design was very distinctly owned by the designer. Product variety was scarce compared to the modern day, as demonstrated by the quote famously attributed to Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
The industrial era was built on this notion of scarcity – “build it and they will come”. This could also be seen in classrooms of the time. Schools with large numbers of students crammed into narrow desks were the hallmarks of efficiency. But has much really changed in the modern lecture theatre?
Progress has been slow
If you look at changes made in the workplace in recent years, we have moved from cubicles, to open plan, to activity based working. Not all of these phases in office design have been popular – or successful – but new innovations and ideas were invested in because they promised greater productivity, profitability and, more recently, greater employee engagement.
When it comes to learning environments, we haven’t moved a lot by comparison. Some schools and universities are making progress, but it’s generally happening in isolation. The information is there, we just now have to apply it in a meaningful way.
Much like the teacher used to ‘own’ the information in the classroom, but now encourages the student to take ownership their learning, the designer has also become a facilitator of learning. Today, the user owns the design.