Education in the Expanded Field of Design and an Introduction to the Conversational Design Approach

National Conference for the Beginning Design Student (NCBDS 37)

Diagram depicting the Conversational Design approach that fosters material empathy. By framing the design process as a conversation with one’s material, the antagonistic conception of mastery ‘over’ one’s material is replaced with a more collaborative approach. Diagram created by Devon Ward, CC-BY-SA 2020

Ball State University

This paper examines that ways in which material agency is taught to students in design studios through both latent and blatant approaches. It outlines the Conversational Design approach and presents a case study for how it can be used to teach emerging fields of design such as biodesign.

Implicit within biodesign is the idea that nature and culture are no longer isolated entities that only occasionally interact. Instead, when biology is used as a design medium, living organisms are understood as artifacts of human culture. As a result, biodesign raises a host of ethical questions, namely: who has the right to alter another organism, and what are the potential unforeseen consequences of such manipulation? Considering that the Conversational Design approach is specifically geared towards greater attention to material empathy and ethical consideration, it is a design process that can work well with biodesign.

Prior to beginning the design process, students were supplied with several readings about bioethics. During studio discussions, students voiced varying ethical concerns about the use of living organisms for design. Some were directly related to the use of their organism, while others related to broader bioethical issues concerning the use of animals as food, industrial farming, ecological rights, and industry-related global climate change. These discussions offered fertile ground for students to translate ethical questions—in which they were personally invested— into design concepts.

Ward, Devon and Kirill de Lancastre Jedenov. “Education in the Expanded Field of Design: Biological Design.” In National Conference on the Beginning Design Student 37: Ball State University, 2022, pp. 472-479. Ball State University, 2022.