tetrad of
ENGAGEMENT OR PRAXIS
PRACTICE
The non-ad influences the practice of design, i.e. it traverses disciplinary boundaries. To engage in practice is to engage in a dialogue with design. This dialogue is two way process; what we design shapes us, and we shape the design. Hence it matters that the practice is earnest and consistent.

SOCIAL
As a corollary to the non-ad, the designer realizes that knowledge is co-constructed. This requires humility and the ability to work in diverse teams, with others. Most importantly, the designer has to understand that as an activity and a process, design is directed at other living (not just human) beings12. This process of engagement requires considerable care, not sympathy or empathy. To care implies an unconditional commitment to the welfare and well-being of others.

SENSITIVITY
I prefer and use the term sensitivity over empathy. Empathy cannot be summoned to task for the sake of an assignment or under the pretext of studying users in their habitat. Empathy by the roadside, on show by part time empathizers, is unlikely to yield any insights. Empathy is. It is embedded in our day-to-day social interactions; in our responses to situations, people, plants, insects and anything and everything that needs our attention and care. It is this ethics of care13 that the student needs to practice in their everyday life, and it will hopefully percolate into their designs.

SENSIBILITY
Design is thoughtful. It just makes sense. It does not feel out of place, i.e. it is appropriate in its setting. In order to arrive at that which makes sense, the designer needs to engage in sense- making14. Sense-making helps the student navigate ambiguous and uncertain situations. It is this remarkable ability to make sense of the world, and pattern15 that understanding and deploy it back into our world that perhaps distinguishes us from all other species. It is through this sense-making, intention, will and agency that we shape the environment. This shaping has to make sense as the consequences of shaping the world without sensitivity and sensibility pervade the environment and even permeate our consciousness.

Design thus exudes that rarest of senses − common sense − of being able to make apparently obvious connections between seemingly disparate entities.

  1. Design affects all living entities, not just human beings. The rather reductive abstraction of human beings to ‘users’ or worse ‘personas’ in the Human-Centred Design paradigm has, in my opinion, defeated the purpose of the approach.
  2. read Nel Noddings in The Maternal Instinct: Two Paths to Morality (2010).
  3. read Brenda Dervin and Charles M. Naumer in Sense- Making (Chapter 2) in Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences (2009).
  4. read Christopher Alexander in Notes on the Synthesis of Form (1964).