Principles of Design – Past, Present and Future

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

Irvine, Ca, Feburary 20th, 2013 -- He was nursing a sore throat but that didn’t stop UC Irvine professor Sanjoy Mazumdar from sharing his passion for design with students in Calit2/UROP’s Multidisciplinary Design Program.

Mazumdar: "Design consciously and holistically."

Mazumdar, professor of planning, policy and design, is co-mentoring a group of seven students in the program, along with informatics professors Geoffrey Bowker and Judith Gregory. The group, which includes undergraduates majoring in anthropology, mechanical engineering, computer science, political science, urban studies, social ecology, and public health science, is collaborating on a an MDP project that emphasizes the incorporation of values into design.

“I’m passionate about design, and design is coming back,” he told MDP students last week in the Calit2 auditorium, adding that the discipline exists outside of others like art, humanities, planning, policy or engineering.

The word ‘design’ can connote the current – fixing things that don’t work – as well as the future, which can be transformative, Mazumdar said, and the best design often is the result of a multidisciplinary approach.

He urged the students to rethink design by framing the ‘problem’ and viewing it from different angles and points of view. He used homelessness as an example: architects view it as an issue of buildings, economists see it as a matter of providing jobs, and psychologists interpret it in terms of institutions. “We often want to simplify problems,” he said, comparing that to using a hammer. “It gives a flat solution. Design consciously and holistically,” he said.

He showed the audience pictures of famous buildings that were created through multidisciplinary collaborations. Those include the Taj Mahal; the fallingwater house by Frank Lloyd Wright, which is built over a waterfall; Milwaukee’s Museum of Art; and the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex at MIT, which sits atop an active freight rail corridor.

When collaborating with those from multiple disciplines, he told the students, it’s important to listen to, challenge and obtain ideas from others, demarcate [one’s] contributions, explain and communicate ideas and pose problems that need solutions. “These collaborations often bring out the best in others,” he said.

He also encouraged the students to incorporate recycling, reusability and non-polluting materials into their design. “It’s not only about functionality and aesthetics, it’s about the total,” he said in summary. “In the past 200 years we have surpassed all other generations in creating pollution. [Now] we need to incorporate sustainability into our design.”