Professor Harold G. Nelson, has been visiting professor at UID
between April and June 2012.
Have you had a chance to get an impression of UID yet?
- Yes, and I like the school a great deal. There´s a lot of good
people here, who are deeply interested in design, in their hearts.
They are highly accomplished in the traditional fields of design,
and well respected. They are at the top of their class. I´d like to
tag along to discover new fields and areas with them as they
continue designing their own future.
What is design?
- Design is a way of looking at and engaging in the world. In my
talks nowadays I often mention that our understanding of design is
changing a lot. We´re entering an age of design, where the effects
of human activity, particularly design, will be high on the social
agenda. The negative effects of human activities, like global
warming, have people's attention but it is also important to know
what can be done about these issues, which is where design comes
in. Sustainability is a big issue and good design is sustainable
- Design is now redirecting evolution because it is recreating
the real world. We live in a created world that defines who we are
and what we experience as our lives. We´re not just surviving, we
have choices. For instance, we can design what sort of economy we
want. Design is about answering big questions - what do we want to
do with our lives for example? And it´s a big responsibility, to
make life better, by design.
- Design is inquiry for action, unlike research that primarily
describes and explains the world. It´s what people want nowadays -
improvements through carefully considered actions-new governments,
new policies, education … all that is design. It´s important that
design should be pro-active and not reactive. We must investigate
people´s desires and imagine what can satisfy them. We must ask
"Where do you want to go?" and help them to get there. The whole
point of design is to do something for the right people for the
- And it´s also about relationships and systems. We need to know
who is involved in our design projects and figure out how they are
connected to one another and their environment - and what´s in the
spaces 'between' them. If we don´t do that, design's not a
sustainable activity. What are the relationships? What´s going on
between people, things and their environments in their life
journeys? That´s a systems perspective.
- For design to work, we need a culture around us as designers
that understands what we do and why. Some people including
businesses are beginning to understand that it´s not just about
creating products or services but about designing a way of life.
People who create the real world in all its complexities are
designers. That´s what they´re up to.
You were first trained as an architect. What do you think
architects and designers can learn from each other?
- When I worked as an architect, I faced challenges that my
background didn't prepare me to meet. I found that design
challenges cuts across all traditions and disciplines. Often people
focus on certain professions when they think of design, but for me
it covers a much broader field. Architects, designers, graphic
designers, we are all designers in common. What we can learn from
each other is what design is in a more comprehensive way. As we
talk about it together, it will hopefully merge into a more unified
concept in people´s consciousness. To that end we need to build a
common vocabulary to understand each other better.
In your opinion, what´s important to educate the best
- The students must understand that they are always working for
a client either explicitly or implicitly. Are they learning ways of
talking with clients including future generations? That´s
important. Also, the students need to be prepared for working with
very different types of people in teams and on projects. And they
need to learn how to ask themselves: How do I find out what ought
to be made a new addition to the real world and how do I take
action to make it so?
Professor Nelson´s book (together with Erik Stolterman) is
published in a new edition in July.
The Design Way
Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World
Second Edition, MIT Press (2012)
Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman
Harold G. Nelson
Professor Harold G.
Nelson is visiting professor at UID between April and June
2012. Nelson is trained as an architect, with a PhD in social
systems design at Berkley under the supervision of the
famous C. West Churchman. Nelson is one of the most
internationally recognized thinkers and scholars today when it
comes to design practice and research. He has published many
articles and the seminal book "The
Design Way - intentional change in an unpredictable world"
which will be out in a second edition this coming summer with MIT
Press. Nelson is one of the co-founding Directors and President of
the Advanced Design Institute and is a
past-president and a trustee of the International Society
for Systems Science. He is a part time Senior Lecturer in the
Graduate School of Business and Public Policy
at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. In
2009-2010 he was the Nierenberg Distinguished Professor of Design,
School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University. Furthermore, Nelson
was for ten years the Director of a highly successful MS program in
Whole Systems Design at Antioch University,