I received a report from the field about Dick Buchanan’s speech at the design conference in Lisbon last week. While subjective, I found it interesting and got permission to share it with you.

Buchanan tells us that the design methods movement of the 1940s was largely concerned with design potentialities, productive science (the act of design) and design, i.e., the conception and creation of design products.

In the 1960s he refers to Alexander, Archer, and Chris Jones as three theorists that dealt with classic dialect (the use of patterns to resolve conflict), productive science and rhetoric (in regards to chance and possibility as opposed to the process of logical analysis), respectively.

Today, Buchanan says, the result of the separation of the design methods movement can be recognized as a group of different arts that deal with the practice of poetic, dialectic, and rhetoric (he refers to Horst Rittle and the art of argumentation that deal with issues and problems as rhetoric. In fact he gave quite a few personal examples about the nature and practice of rhetoric in design institutions). Furthermore the focus on design as a science contributed to the collapse of the design methods movement. (Throughout the conference there were quite a few objections and warnings against the introduction of cognitive science into design theory and practice.)

In conclusion, Buchanan says the theorists of the design methods movement did not account for the contextualization of design in intellectual culture (or cultural settings). He finished his speech by telling us that this was now our role in developing design methods.

This may be Dick’s main argument in all of his work that draws on a liberal arts perspective. This approach may be why the arts can be used as a foundation for design theory and practice.