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Design as a change-making process

Design as a change-making process

Bruce Snaddon defended his PhD thesis "Learning for future knowing now: investigating transformative pedagogic processes within a design faculty in a South African university of technology" at AHO on October 14th, 2020. 

By Ane Liavaag Ellefsen

Bruce has lived in Cape Town for most of his life, teaching design for over 25 years and working in the design and advertising industry for 11 years before that. He started teaching design to better understand the field and it's potential as a change-making process. He soon became interested in design for social upliftment and became actively involved in Cape Town’s World Design Capital in 2014. 

“Coming from a long line of teachers I never thought this would be my career path – but somehow my early experiences of my parent’s country school and the free-thinking and experiential learning during those times has informed my teaching in creative and positive ways”, Bruce says.

Bruce has always been fascinated in understanding more about how and why design educators experiment with teaching and learning spaces. This fascination led him to pursue a PhD and the opportunity arose to do it through a joint project between his home university of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and AHO. Professors Håkan Edeholt and Andrew Morrison were both key figures in this project and he knew that he wanted to work with them further. He also knew his thesis would form part of the research outcomes for the C-Clima SANCOOP project on climate change they were working on. 

“Apart from wanting to achieve my highest academic qualification I was also motivated by the knowledge that the work formed part of a larger ecology of research outputs that would be ongoing”, Bruce says.

Meaningful inclusion of long-term sustainability

His PhD concerns the urgent need for change in the way design education is conceived of and practised. It focuses on the meaningful inclusion of long-term sustainability into curricula and the pedagogy required to enable such a radical shift away from unsustainable modes of design practice. 

“Based on project-cases in South Africa and Norway where colleagues and I have experimented with transformative pedagogy in our design courses, I investigate how nomadic learning spaces in these projects generated significant shifts in student learning dispositions. Findings indicate that transformative design education must engage students and educators in challenging contexts where design agency and consequences of actions might be seen and felt”, Bruce explains.

After teaching for so many years, Bruce had grown impatient with the slow inclusion of sustainability in the design courses at his university. The chance to do a PhD that looks into experimental project work offered him the opportunity to engage critically with what had been done and to participate in scholarly discourse on the topic. From this, he expects some uptake from the pedagogical approaches they have tried.
“I hope that my thesis will give other design educators some inspiration to always experiment with their teaching and to never fear the consequences of trying something they aren’t 100% sure of. My thesis also hopefully contributes to the fields of literature on urgent change in design education as well as interdisciplinary research”, Bruce explains.

He is already using his research in his daily work as a design educator, curriculum designer and course leader. “My thesis work has empowered me to speak with more authority and a more compelling language on issues concerning design, learning and sustainability in various forums”, he says. 

His work as a design educator is ongoing within the challenging context of South Africa, where design needs to be taught in a way that students realise how embedded and implicated they are as designers. 

“My role as an educator has shifted to supervision of postgraduate students in a more multi-disciplinary space. Currently, I am the South African project leader in another joint project between AHO, Hunan University and CPUT – the project module we are working on is called ‘Design and Ecology’ and is set to run in October 2021”.

The thesis "Learning for future knowing now: investigating transformative pedagogic processes within a design faculty in a South African university of technology" is available here.

Andrew Morrison and Bruce in Tromsø when he realised that he would be able to do his PhD with Andrew’s wonderful supervision.

The image is from his thesis indicating the range of project cases and research sites that he has drawn on in his study.

One of the project sites in the Tankwa Karoo where they took students to create an installation that dealt with the story of water.