September 2012
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Month September 2012

What is it to be human? : Digital tools may provide a series of answers

What is it to be human? Fundamental questions such as these are both simple and complex because it is asking for the fundamental answer for an abstract concept. For many, this question conjures up the role of DNA and the millions of years of evolution that make us who we are today, or conversely the role of our environment and culture that shape us as one node of billions of nodes. To professionals who are involved with these debates, both evolution and environment interplay with one another to define what it is to be human.

Searching for Context : Interview with Sharon Poggenpohl

Sharon Poggenpohl has had a lifelong fascination with design. She is a dedicated educator that has focused her career on working with masters and PhD design candidates in the United States and internationally.

I first met Sharon while attending graduate school at Rhode Island School of Design where she became an advisor on my thesis activities. Her accessible style and genuine interest in collaboration was of great benefit to me, both during school and afterward when I had to collaborate with many disciplines in creating large digital systems.

She taught at Rhode Island School of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design, and until recently at Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s School of Design. Her experience in teaching and administering both masters and PhD programs gives Sharon a unique perspective on the challenges and potential of design education. Her desire to both understand and create the context for design and support that context through research and collaboration is rarely discussed. Addressing actual empirical behavior — rather than remaining at an abstract rhetorical level is Sharon’s focus. Sharon is co-editor of the recent book, Design Integrations: Research and Collaboration and publisher of Visible Language, one of a few high-standard journals in design.

What struck me about the interview with Sharon was how thoughtful and disciplined her answers were; they reinforced my direct experience with her at RISD and over the years. Design education has been at a continual crossroads for decades and the cacophony of design educational models, skills and outcomes at an undergraduate, graduate and doctoral level feel in many ways insurmountable bordering on a wicked problem. Sharon has very common sense foundations to address the continual problems that degrade the value of design education and how focusing, assembling, editing and delineating educational goals and methods can increase the level of rigor of design programs.