In “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking” Buchanan suggests that design may be an important means for traversing a diffusion of knowledge that has been brought about through the advancement of traditional liberal arts/sciences. According to Buchanan, while traditional liberal arts/sciences continue to contribute to knowledge, they also contribute to its fragmentation. In fact, suggests Buchanan, as they advanced into the nineteenth century, traditional liberal arts diminished the “circle of learning” through fine-tuning, scope-narrowing, and specialization.
Referring to Dewey’s description of the tension and need for balance between specialization as reflected in the old, and integration in the new liberal arts, Buchanan introduces design as an integrative discipline with the potential to extend knowledge and enrich human life; designers seek to integrate knowledge, and so provide much needed understanding of the technological culture that demarks our times. For Buchanan, design is no longer a trade activity, but an emerged “liberal art of technological culture”, the transformation of which parallels and is in sync with the revolution, expansion, and enrichment of the liberal arts proper.
Buchanan allows that there is no one definition for design (as its specifics change from trade to trade), though it enjoys a universal function to integrate and extend knowledge, and enrich human life. As such, design problems are “wicked”: They are indeterminate with no discrete subject matter. Design exists in relation to given projects, and so can connect discipline of communication, expression, interaction, and reasoning.
Reading this made me wonder, and I share my angst with you: Is there a crisis in liberal education, specifically a lack of integration? How can studying design be of general interest? How can the study of design inform other areas of study?