There were many very interesting, and hotly debated issues at the Design Science discussion on Monday, but I will try to pick out a few which I found most interesting in this post.
At the beginning of the discussion, the question was asked how science is communicated – and how this is different for different audiences. There was a point of disagreement when the topic of scientific journals was raised. Some people felt that they were too inaccessible for the non-scientist, and could use a more “designed” aesthetic or structure to communicate their message to both scientists and non-scientists. The counter argument was that these publications are specifically for scientists, so why should they have to alter their structure to meet the needs of a market they are not targeting? This is a very valid point, but is not quite as simple as this. An audience member pointed out, that when a story is reported about a new, or controversial new theory, finding or procedure in science, for those who want to find out more about it, the only point of reference offered are these academic journals and papers. Where is the platform for amateur enthusiasts who wants to be a part of cutting edge science, and could this be another potential role for design/science?
This is not to say that science isn’t reported in the media – the “Brian Cox effect” is one factor thought to have contributed to the increase in number of young people taking Physics at GCSE – but there is a danger too in having science freely married to popular media. The image portrayed of scientists by most media sources is one of knowledge, certainty, and consistency, where as in actually fact, science if often anything but these things. Science is almost never certain of anything – this does not mean it is wrong or bad science, but merely that the possibility of alternatives can never be wholly removed. Science, as with most of life, is about probabilities. We do not live in a precise world. But it is often difficult for science to communicate a message to the non-scientific public filtered through the lens of the poplar media, whilst saying that there is always a chance science is wrong. Can design be the translator between the internal language of science, and the external portrayal of it? On its own, I’m not sure, but with successful collaboration with media and open source channels then possibly.
If design is to aim to be the connector between the scientific community and a wider audience, it must adopt a careful path. Who’s message is design voicing? Science, as with design, does not exist in a vacuum. Scientists and their backers are subject to the same biases, prejudices and personalities as anyone else, and may deliver their work with many different voices and with different agendas. Designers, as well as their audience must be aware of this, and try to either show the different sides, or be honest in the portrayal they are promoting. What ethical code may design/science collaborations be held against?
Does there always need to be a tradeoff between design and science? How scientific does the design have to be to be acceptable? This may well depend upon the context and the audience, but one role of design is to encourage audiences to question the science, not just accept it.
There are still many questions which need to be answered, and more continue to arise each time one is satisfied, but I guess that leaves it open for us to peruse until the next Design Science debate!
Other reactions to the talk:
Lizzie Crouch – lizziecrouch.wordpress.com
Anna Perman – annaperman.wordpress.com