triad of
The student may often wonder how to get started with the task at hand. Are there established tools, techniques and methods to get off the ground? The short answer is yes, there are many: from within and beyond the field of design. The student has to learn how to apply them. This requires practice, for practice begets skills.

The chisel and hammer enabling the sculptor to work their way through the stone is dissonant from the robotic arm of a machine chiselling away at the same stone or a pair of controllers sculpting in a virtual environment. These are all tools. They help the designer not only make but also think, feel and express. As extensions of the human body, tools mediate the relationship between the maker and the material. In their constitutive environment, tools afford specific actions. Tools acquire meaning in action or rather in use. In their use, tools are accompanied by technique.

There is a way (‘right’ some would prefix) of doing things or rather actions afforded by the tool. This ‘way’ is the technique, a sort of navigational ability. The manner in which a nail is hammered into wood is a matter of technique, as is the case with strumming a guitar or breathing while swimming.

Tools and techniques are embodied. The potter rarely pays conscious attention to the position of fingers, the pressure being applied to the clay or the speed of the wheel. The potter is simply aware of them, and the simultaneity of actions flows from their body. Indeed if a potter paid attention to each individual action, it would become impossible to focus on shaping the clay (just as it would become impossible to play a composition on a piano, if the pianist would start focusing on their fingers, rather than the composition). Skill, and thus technique, are not devoid of affect.

Methods are means of structuring (of actions). If techniques are a sort of navigational ability, then methods are a sort of navigational guide (of the design process). Tools and techniques are nested within methods, which in turn, are nested within processes. Akin to procedures, a method tells the designer to do this, followed by that. However, a cautionary tale awaits the designer, for just like their favourite meal has a recipe, following it is no guarantee of good and satisfying taste. Similarly, though methods can be very useful, blindly following attempts to systematize11 the act of design may not lead to desirable outcomes. Methods should not constrain imagination.

  1. read John Christopher Jones in How My Thoughts about Design Methods Have Changed During the Years (Chapter 5.3) in Designing Designing (1991).