February 10, 2016
The software design studio: An exploration
by Sarah Kuhn
In the late 1990’s, software design and development was rising to greater prominence. Educational institutions were looking for ways to teach software development in a more holistic, agile manner and–inspired by the discipline of architecture–tried out studio pedagogy as a potential new methodology. The overall feel was that studio pedagogy, with it’s strong focus on real-world application, iterations, and feedback cycle, would benefit software design students because it would help them become more aware of their user needs and more agile in their design process.
Why It is Interesting to Me:
Before reading this article, I never considered the correlation between architectural spaces and designed interfaces. The more I pushed against the metaphor, the more I liked its feel because I do think that architecture and interface design share many of the same end goals (user comfort, ease, intuition, etc.) though one uses physical materials to achieve these ends and the other uses lines of code.
This article laid next to a video I watched last week by Alan Stearns calling on web designers to basically be more mindful of their end user and process and web users themselves to assert their voice and rights as co-creators of the internet made for some interesting learning sparks. Stearns called for a sort of co-habitation within web designed spaces that seems very akin to co-habitation within a physical space.
Early in this article the architect Christopher Alexander was referenced. Though I had no prior knowledge, I found a great short documentary all about his life and architectural philosophy which to me seemed to be basically: make intentional design choices so that every element in a space or building is considered, purposeful, balanced and brings a sense of “wholeness in every moment” to the end user experience as they travel through your space. Alexander is the antithesis of streamlined modern architecture and is hyper aware of space and connection. Though Alexander’s words were about buildings and physical spaces, I think his ethos could just as easily be applied to interface design, LMS design, etc.
Added to the delightful rambling that was assimilating ideas from this article into my brain, this afternoon I attended a lunchtime webinar from Athabasca (called a CIDER session) where George Siemens presented about using learning analytics to improve learning (or improve learning about how learning happens.) George outlined the history of learning analytics, how the process is taking off, and the potential successes and pitfalls that he sees in the future. For me his main takeaway was that as educators we must be proactive in engaging in conversations about learner data because there are many many companies looking to privatize and monetize data that in all actuality belongs to students first and foremost. It’s easy for learning analytics to be used to further dehumanize students as data points become numbers or dot points or warning lights but…learning analytics should first and foremost be to aid in learners learning and thus must remain human-focused first and foremost.
Though they’re in different disciplines and spoke in different places/centuries (though ironically were both mediated by my computer screen…perhaps that really is the great equalizer!) I think Alexander and Siemens have a lot in common when it comes to space design in a broad sense as they both are staunch advocates of the human in the midst of all the materials/construction/structures/outcomes, etc.
Circling back to where I originally began with studio pedagogy and the article I set out to read…I wonder if because studio pedagogy is so client/end user focused it tends to form more human attuned professionals? Are people who are the product of disciplines that have a heavy studio focus better at navigating the fuzzy-gray spaces of life because they have not been schooled in a system of right answers and wrong but instead have been taught to explore where a myriad of “right” exists? I’d love to say yes but…I know from very personal experience studios are just as gamed as any other structures and studio practitioners are just as full of themselves as any other “expert” might be.
That said, it’s interesting to think about and I do think that as we tend to inhabit interfaces and Internet spaces with the same consistency we once only inhabited physical buildings…there may well be something to the idea that even as we’re so keen to teach code we would be well served to teach space design, physical awareness, and an attention to creating spaces that serve all of what it means to be human.
Kuhn, S. (1998). The software design studio: An exploration. Software, IEEE, 15(2), 65-71.