DS 123: Proceedings of the International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education (E&PDE 2023)

Year: 2023
Editor: Buck, Lyndon; Grierson, Hilary; Bohemia, Erik
Author: Wever, Renee
Series: E&PDE
Institution: Linköping University, Sweden
Section: Responsible innovation in design and engineering education
DOI number: 10.35199/EPDE.2023.101
ISBN: 978-1-912254-19-4


In a course on sustainable design strategies, students explore different notions of what it means to be sustainable and what that, in turn, implies for how one should design. As I believe that many of the philosophical notions (such as Circular Economy, Cradle 2 Cradle, and biomimicry) that have been proposed, and the tools and methods that associate them, still have many shortcomings, I deliberately set up my students for failure. By handing in that failure In this course we set out to understand how different perspectives on sustainability differ from each other, how they are currently operationalised in tools and methods, and –most importantly– what limitations those perspectives, tools and methods have. I could lecture about this of course, and talk about many cases, each with their own particular hurdles, but I deem it more educational for students to bump into, or trip over such hurdles themselves. Enter the notion of annotated failure. In a 10 week course, we start with jointly reading some basic texts (such as Fabrizio Ceschin and İdil Gaziulusoy's ‘Evolution of design for sustainability: From product design to design for system innovations and transitions’), after which students select their own focus. After several years, I see Biomimicry and Design Justice as two very popular focal points in our program. Students continue reading individually for a couple of weeks, to familiarise themselves with the philosophical notion of their chosen strategy, and the methods and tools that have been developed for them. this focussed reading material is selected with the help of the instructor. Subsequently, they try out their focal sustainable strategy on a very small design project (on which they spent roughly 8 working days). But here is the thing: they are not asked to deliver a finished design. Instead they are required to submit an annotated design process up to the point where they got stuck. So, the deliverable is not the usual final design, but rather an annotated failure. Students find this very challenging (‘You know I'm gonna ask you five more times, right?’), because they feel it means that they themselves have failed, instead of the sustainable strategy, method or tool they employed, which is actually coming up short. The notion of annotated failure as the course deliverable was to some extent a consequence of allotting sufficient time for reading in the beginning of the course, and the limitation of having only 6 credit points. Reading previous research consists of about a 100 pages per week for the first weeks. This reading yields much deeper insight than if I were to select a single design for sustainability manual as course literature. However, in hindsight, I feel the notion of annotated failure turned out as a valuable educational model. There are of course links to the notion of productive failure, but it is different in the sense that it is the final deliverable and not a step towards finding a final design.

Keywords: Failure, tools and methods, sustainable design, biomimicry, cradle to cradle


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