International Journal of Art & Design Education

A New Paradigm for Design Studio Education

Volume 29.2   2010



There is a feeling among many design educators today that the discipline has reached a crisis in its development, and that change is needed immediately in the way that design educators articulate their epistemology and their methodology. The architectural studio can be seen as the model for design education, and its culture is exemplary. Donald Schön has often argued that the professional education of architectural students – and other design students – should be aimed at making them into ‘reflective practitioners’. At the core of his argument is the idea that design education must sacrifice intellectual rigour in order to achieve social relevance, yet critics have argued that this trade-off has caused design education to be marginalised in relation to the university model of education. Design is focused on subjective creativity, but the positivist university paradigm is focused on objective rationality. In order for design education to become more rigorous – and more academically respectable – it must either become more rational or it must embrace a new paradigm that values creative experience. This article argues that the emerging paradigm of complexity offers design education the rigour it has been lacking, for this paradigm constructs studio projects not as problems with rational solutions but as systems that need to be explored in order to discover their relational meanings and values – precisely what creativity, balanced with rationality, can accomplish in both Western nations and rapidly developing East Asian nations such as China.