Michael Shanks
Michael Shanks
Michael Shanks
Michael Shanks
Michael Shanks

design matters

Is ‘Design Thinking’ the New Liberal Arts?

Peter Miller’s piece about design thinking and history, more accurately archaeology (because archaeology deals with the past-in-the-present), is in the latest edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Is ‘Design Thinking’ the New Liberal Arts?.

Here are some highlights that convey a key message – that human centered design and design thinking, about which I have had a good deal to say in this blog, need a sensibility tuned to history, to memory, to the-past-in-the-present, an archaeological sensibility, if they are to truly achieve their promise.

And the implications for how we organize our schools and universities are quite colossal.

This essay is the second in a series on how new ways of thinking about material culture, past and present, are reshaping teaching and learning.

Stanford’s d.school sees itself as a training ground for problem-solving for graduate students that “fosters creative confidence and pushes them beyond the boundaries of traditional academic disciplines.” Whereas design schools elsewhere emphasize the design of products, Stanford’s uses what the local culture calls “design thinking”: “to equip our students with a methodology for producing reliably innovative results in any field.”

What is design thinking? It’s an approach to problem solving based on a few easy-to-grasp principles that sound obvious: “Show Don’t Tell,” “Focus on Human Values,” “Craft Clarity,” “Embrace Experimentation,” “Mindful of Process,” “Bias Toward Action,” and “Radical Collaboration.” These seven points reduce to five modes — empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test — and three headings: hear, create, deliver. That may sound corporate and even simplistic, but design thinking has been used to tackle issues like improving access to economic resources in Mongolia, water storage and transportation in India, and elementary and secondary education and community building in low-income neighborhoods in the United States.

Last semester I taught simultaneous video-linked seminars with my friend and colleague Michael Shanks. I’m a historian working in New York City at the Bard Graduate Center. He’s a classical archaeologist teaching at Stanford. The course focused on the practices developed by early modern antiquarians to study artifacts from the past that lived on into the present, and argued that those same methods could be used today by designers interested in the experiences people have with objects. [Link]


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heritage – new definitions

This is one of a series of comments on the 8th biennial symposium “Connoisseurship and the Collectible Car” held at the Revs Institute for Automotive Research in Naples, Florida in March 2015. [Link]

Cars are changing – robots are arriving.

The car collector is becoming curator [Link]

Car collecting is evolving from hobby to heritage [Link] [Link]

Car corporations are taking very seriously the history of the automobile and its connection with brand identity:

VW AutoMuseum “Das Auto. Das Museum. Automotive history up close”

Audi Mobile Museum “Bringing the past alive”

Mercedes Benz Classic “A unique journey through automotive history”

Toyota Museum “Towards a story telling museum”

Henry Ford Museum “Take it forward”

Nissan Heritage “Sustainability. Accessibility. Diversity. Passion. Nissan Stories”

The trend to taking seriously the history of the automobile is recent. It is something of a case study in the development of heritage, and it has got me thinking.

Just what is heritage?

Here is a standard definition of heritage – buildings, objects, traditions, landscapes that are considered of cultural value and worthy of protection for the future. The heritage industry took off in the 1970s. Visiting old places and experiencing the remains of the past in the present have become key components of the world’s biggest economic sector – tourism. Heritage is treated by the likes of UNESCO as a human right – people have a right to a past. And governments regulate what people do with old buildings, sites and objects through protective legislation.

In my entry in the Oxford Companion to Law (see below), I connect heritage with cultural property. And certainly we can see how some cars are coming to carry cultural values – they’re not just personal property. Many, we might even argue, have always transcended their simple function or use value. Its not just that people buy cars to say something about themselves, but that the cars themselves embody certain values, or the spirit of their times. Was a Mini ever just a means to get from A to B?

And heritage is often the subject of quite considerable dispute. The Greek government persists in its claim that the marble sculptures taken from the Parthenon in Athens at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and now in London’s British Museum, should be returned. There’s even a new museum for them by the acropolis – empty and waiting. Why? Because the marbles are held to represent the essence of Classical Greek cultural achievement – and this deserves to reside where it originated, so such argument goes. We’ve also been witnessing the strong reactions to the way certain Islamic groups, the Taliban and Islamic State, have destroyed ancient artifacts – the Bamiyan Buddhas [Link] [Link], statues in the museum at Mosul [Link], the ancient Assyrian site of Nimrud [Link].


The Mercedes-Benz Museum – “a heritage for the future”


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archaeological imagination

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car collection – connoisseurship and archaeology

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