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Course Note - Stanford D.School: Inspiration, The History and Theory of Design

Course Introduction

DSN 101, Inspiration: The History and Theory of Design

Course Description:

Where do design ideas come from? In the first course of this three-quarter sequence, we will explore the nature of design, its 19th- and 20th-century roots, and the steadily expanding scope of design practice in the modern world. From the impassioned campaigns of the English Arts and Crafts movement to the revolutionary program of the German Bauhaus to the spectacular rise of “design thinking” in Silicon Valley today, design offers a compelling lens through which to understand the era in which we live.

Drawing upon the century-long history of modern design, we will look for the sources of inspiration that have enabled designers to bring us the products, services, environments, and interfaces that form the fabric of everyday life. Readings will be drawn from major figures in modern design, as well as leading theorists of innovation and creativity. Weekly exercises will enable students to test these approaches for themselves. By the end of the course, students will have learned to think like designers and will be prepared to plunge into hands-on practice (Winter), and to apply their newly acquired skills to a real-life plan of action (Spring).

Course Textbook:

  • (Required) Tim Brown, Change By Design (ISBN 978-0-06-176608-4)
  • (Recommended) Barry Katz, Make it New (ISBN 978-0-262-02963-6)

Course Note

This is the course note of the first course. Professor Barry Katz focused on introducing design history mainly in Bay Area. In the course, Prof. Barry mentioned several insightful thoughts. I put them down as following bullet points:

  1. The course is not only about design history. It also includes dsign research (will be taught by Christopher Ireland), and moving design into business (will be taught by Katy Mogal)
  2. Stanford is in fact an institude rather than a "school". It does NOT give degree. Moreover, it does NOT teach design, instead teaches design thinking.
  3. Professor Barry Katz talked about the era before 1980's (when the industry design was finally regarded as an important part of product) as meta-design.
  4. Stone Knife (1.4 million years ago, Prof. Barry shows it in class) & the computer mouse (nowadays) share the same /similar design thoughts: Fit the palm as a tool.

  5. "Do not constraint design into industrial design. Know that xxx(sorry I don't put down the name) firstly use "designer" to call himself, then more title like "business designer", "logo designer" appeared. (We should realize that) it's just a title, and designer exists over hundreds of thousands of years." — Barry

  6. Computer mouse was called "x-y position indicator" at first.

  7. "I don't think logo designers are real designers, some of them are just clowns." — Barry

  8. "Design is not about how it looks, design is about how it works." — Barry

  9. "You don't need to be a designer to think like one." — Barry

  10. Any problem can be thought as a design problem.

  11. The definition of design? — "Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones." — Herbert Simon

Some Questions for Thinking

  1. How did the Bay Area move from obscurity to become the global center of design practice?
  2. How did design move from marginal service to strategic driver in some of the world's leading companies?
  3. How did professional practice evolve from packaging electronics to addressing some of the most fundamental challeges of 21st century civilization?


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