The threshold of uncertainty in teaching design

Jane Osmond, Mike Tovey

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In many of our universities and colleges there is a long established approach to teaching design through practice. For most students their end goal is to achieve a level of capability to function as designers in the professional world. Their education helps them construct a passport to enter this community of professional practice. Part of the legacy of the funding initiative in England to support research into teaching has been the development of a better understanding of a practice based approach to design pedagogy. This was a principal focus in two centres funded by the initiative in which ‘signature pedagogies’ were identified as a distinguishing characteristic for developing student capability within various types of design practice, each of which contains those elements which are characteristic of the discipline. This notion moves the emphasis away from the content of the curriculum and explores the importance of practical, embodied and experiential ways of knowing. Where these were investigated for product and automotive design the concept of transformative practice was identified as crucial. Designers typically employ two simultaneous interacting cognitive styles. From a five-year longitudinal study involving 89 design students, it became clear that in order to develop the confidence to match these two modes of thought, neophyte designers needed to surmount a barrier, or a threshold concept, which we labelled the toleration of design uncertainty. Accommodating effective arrangements to accomplish this has reinforced the importance of employing the traditional arrangement of studio teaching and given it a greater focus.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-57
JournalDesign and Technology Education: An International Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015


  • design pedagogy
  • higher education
  • liminal spaces
  • curriculum


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