Design for Living Complexities

A Collaborative Exploration (CE) in which participants develop a design sketch that addresses one of the cases in a 6-week MOOC that explores critical thinking about design in a range of areas of life and its complexities.
  • In brief, CEs are an extension of Problem- or Project-Based Learning (PBL) and related approaches to education in which participants address a scenario or case in which the problems are not well defined, shaping their own directions of inquiry and developing their skills as investigators and prospective teachers (in the broadest sense of the word). (For more background, read the prospectus.)
  • If you want to know what a CE requires of you, review the expectations and mechanics.
    • on hangout for 1 hour each week from 25th July to 15th August at 12noon EST Mondays. The URL for the first hangout will be provided only to those who register (via, which entails making a commitment to attend that 1st session and at least 2 of the other 3 hangouts.
  • If you are wondering how to define a meaningful and useful approach to the topic, let us present a scenario for the CE and hope this stimulates you to apply to participate. We will then let CE participants judge for themselves whether their inquiries are relevant.
  • Intended outcomes for participants of this CE are of two kinds:
    • a) tangible: a design sketch that addresses one of the cases in a 6-week MOOC that links design and critical thinking; and
    • b) experiential: being impressed at how much can be learned with a small commitment of time using the CE structure to motivate and connect participants.


Design is about intentionality in construction, which involves a range of materials, a sequence of steps, and principles that inform the choice of material and the steps. Design always involves putting people as well as materials into place, which may happen by working with the known properties of the people and materials, trying out new arrangements, or working around their constraints (at least temporarily). Critical thinking involves understanding ideas and practices better when we examine them in relation to alternatives. In a sense, critical thinking is in design from the start, because design cannot proceed without the idea that there are alternatives to the current way of doing things.

A 6-week MOOC, with two-hour long live or prerecorded sessions from July 18 to Aug 24, exposes and explores alternative designs through
  • history (showing that things have by no means always been the way they are now),
  • "archeology of the present" (shedding light on what we might have taken for granted or left as someone else's responsibility/specialty),
  • comparison (looking at the ways things are arranged in different organizations and cultures), and
  • ill-defined problems (in cases of real-world "living complexity" that invite a range of responses).
Each MOOC session takes up an issue about design, introduced in the live presentation (drawing on videos available online) and followed by a case related to that issue. MOOC participants are encouraged to develop and share design sketches to address any or all of the cases. With each design sketch, participants add to or revise a growing set of principles for critical thinking in design.

Each participant in the Collaborative Exploration (CE) -- in contrast to in the MOOC -- has a chance to focus on a single sketch for 4 weeks building on the support and interaction of other CE participants focusing on their sketches.