Differentiate & Integrate

Have you read “Flow” from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi? Well, I just recently found out about it and even more recently, read it. In very brief terms, Flow is the state you are in when you are ” in an activity, fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity” (wikipedia).

For instance, I like to draw, and often try to draw difficult perspectives. Most of times I dont really end up satisfied, but in the process, it is quite common that i lose some track of time and have total focus on the task and each time I get better. You could argue that for a moment, I was in Flow. Does it make sense?

A cool aspect of Flow is that it tends to lead to growth. You reach Flow and it is likely that you learn something (not always a craft, mind you). This growth happens in two ways that must co-exist: Differentiation and Integration. By learning something new, you differentiate yourself from you previous self and from others around you. And when you integrate this knowledge, when you give it some order, it becomes part of you and sets the now larger limits of your existence. I´m really not into esoteric stuff and if this post is sounding like anything of the sort, well…Cskiszentmihalyi wrote a nice book about the topic that should set the record straight. Flow is about psychology. Not the dark arts.

Why am I talking about this?
Because “growth”, in the context of Flow, reminds me of the Design profession and how it keeps on expanding its skillset and integrating imported methods into its broader definition.

In a process similar to what we go through when we learn new skills (differentiate) and merge them with our practice (integrate), the whole profession seems to be grabbing new tools (take design research, or interaction design and the methods they borrow, for instance) and appropriating its very own versions of these. Just as an example, this is something I came across today, from a design student: Astronaut Glove Assistant

I have no beef with this, but it is noteworthy. The reasons behind this expansion in the catalog of methods, I suspect, are many:

– Design is understood as some sort of technical creativity (I support this to an extent). This is something I think makes companies feel safe and “Designer” ends up being an umbrella name for a lot of actually different things that deal with creation. A good metaphor would be “an artist that can be controlled” (not all designers work like this, I think)

– Design deals with solving problems creatively. This means experimenting with different techniques, that eventually become more commonplace for the average designer and thus  enter the “toolbox”.

– Job descriptions are being eroded by the current complex and connected world. As jobs turn into temporary projects, titles have less meaning and skills rise in descriptive value. Because of this, designers (and everybody else, I´m just more attentive to my profession) make sure to list every skill they have. And then add “designer” to it.

– We are all partially wrong and design is not expanding its typical skillset, but merely replacing old skills with new ones (I now very little about operating an offset printing machine or mold making, for instance, but I´m trying to update myself on some research and technology)

I´m a bit divided on this topic. A part of me loves the fact that it is very likely that in a Design profession I´m going to learn a lot about a lot of different things. (But, hell, a lawyer also, or a book keeper…). The other part feels that I should be more focused on a more finite set of techniques and methods and grow to be an expert on them. There is something special about learning new things and creating as a job, but then again, also for learning and perfecting a craft for years on end.

If this topic interests you, you should take a look at John Kolko´s article on the conflicting rhetoric of design education. Here

What do you think?
Do you see this happening in your field too? A blurring of lines and definitions?
hit me up!

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