Adam Procter 2018 - Document

This practice based PhD will create a digital prototype platform and manifesto to enhance knowledge building around design education practice. The main goal of the platforms design is to extend collaborative learning and communities of practice from the physical across to the digital. The platform will be free and decentralised.

Free software is software that gives you the user the freedom to share, study and modify it. We call this free software because the user is free. (

The platform will be designed to support a collaborative interface and workflow that grows and changes through human input. A fluid, adaptable tool, driven by the community of practice.

Alongside the two main objectives a key component for this PhD is to create a truly open process of the discovery and design itself. The collaborative nature of creative work means sharing is a key principle embedded not only within the platform but within the process of this completing the work within the PhD framework.

Overview / Rationale

Our current systems for housing teaching and learning materials act by default rather than by design as a repository and require the work of the educator to effectively yield additional and appropriate uses of the learning management system (LMS).

An LMS such as Blackboard is first divided by hierarchies of status. Users are allocated roles: student, instructor, teaching assistant, course builder, marker or guest. Your role determines how you can participate in the LMS. The instructor has the ability to upload materials, determine the folder and file structure along with administrative rights. The student role can only view the materials and browse the content. If you look at a set of screens shots of the largest LMS’s together you see they all work on the same premise. You navigate through a folder based system.

Some of the leading LMS User interfaces

This is in part due to the fact that these systems and computer platforms as a whole were initially created as a replication of a paper based, physical office. The affordances (Norman, 1988) from the physical to the digital helped and enabled a semi smooth transition. ‘Man-computer symbiosis’ (Licklider, 1960) was the next expected development in cooperative interaction between man and electronic computers.

Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider born in 1915 is considered one of leading figures in conceiving, funding and managing the research that led to modern personal computers and the Internet. Lickliders work at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology focussed around the problems of human communication and the processing and presentation of information (Clapp, 1964)

In Licklider’s paper ’Man computer symbiosis’(1960) he distilled many of these ideas into a central thesis that computers would free humans to devote more time towards making better decisions and developing clearer insight than they would be capable of without computers.

in not too many years, human brains and computing machines would be coupled.(Licklider, 1960)

Licklider pointed towards the future of interactive computing in 1960. In part of the paper relating to input and output, he identifies “Desk-Surface Display and Control” and “Computer-Posted Wall Display”, as changes he expected by around 1975.

for effective man-computer interaction, it will be necessary for the man and the computer to draw graphs and pictures and to write notes and equations to each other on the same display surface. (Licklider, 1960)

Some information must be presented simultaneously to all the men, preferably on a common grid, to coordinate their actions. (Licklider, 1960)

Most current computing systems have yet to come anywhere close to Licklider’s concepts.

PIxelsense (Surface) 2008
Pixelsense (Surface) 2008

The problem lies in the fact that most of the controls and display systems we interact with share a historical connection to the design choices made at Xerox Corporation Palo Alto Research Center, in the 1970s.

Xerox PARC was a research division created in 1970’s by the Xerox Corporation to explore new technologies, one of the most important inventions from this research was that of the first personal computer, and the first mouse driven Graphic User Interface (GUI). This machine was the Xerox Alto (1973).

The design of the Xerox Alto GUI was heavily influenced by both Ivan Sutherland’s Sketchpad (1963) the first interactive computer-graphics application and Douglas Engelbart’s oN-Line System (NLS) (1968) a multi user collaborative system. NLS was demonstrated at the Fall Joint Computer Conference (1968) and this demonstrate is now referred to as “The Mother of all Demo’s”. The demonstration also showcased Engelbart’s goal of augmenting collective knowledge work. Almost all of the human computer interaction we undertake today was in this demonstration.

Xerox Alto Interface

We shape our tools and, thereafter, our tools shape us. (Culkin, 1967) 

Could tools be “born digital”?

Bret Victor (2014) talks about representations of thought and he outlines a few key examples:

These representations weren’t mere scientific “discoveries”. Each of them essentially enabled all subsequent scientific breakthroughs thereafter. A powerful new form of representation affects everything, forever.

The status quo of the current systems has a shelf life that is coming to an end. The computing power and graphic processing units (GPUs) that drive our screens today are capable of performing many more complicated actions in terms of objects on screen and interactions which can undertaken be that swiping, pinching or detecting movements. Our own mental maps or schemas (Piaget, 1936) have been updated through our experiences and thus our learning is redefined. Can we start to consider and build on affordances that are native to the digital?

Learning is collaborative

William Playfair is considered the founder of graphic representation of statistics and invented the line graph, bar chart, pie chart and circle graph and created what is considered the first piece of data visualisation.

As knowledge increases amongst mankind, and transactions multiply, it becomes more and more desirable to abbreviate and facilitate the modes of conveying information from one person to another, and from one individual to many. (Playfair, 1786)

Our current systems we use have yet to truly augment or enhance this process of knowledge work.

Learning is a collaborative, shared endeavour and historically a famed art school approach that is now embedded in studio based teaching. I will outline details on this approach in the sections Design Education and Design Process and Community of Practice. The model of studio based teaching and learning has yet to extend to the digital platforms we have in a truly meaningful way. This current status quo results in the use of both digital personal learning network (PLN) silos and institutional hierarchical repositories (the LMS) that provide little or no benefit to the best types of collaborative teaching and learning.

Learning objects as small sharable knowledge packages that include all related learning material needed to cover a specific learning objective within a project.

Learning objects (LOs) are digital entities that are authentic and based on real-world events. ... By now, as instructional designers and eLearning developers, you may have access to a plethora of reusable learning materials. These are also known as knowledge objects or nuggets. (Andriotis, 2016)

Our current devices and computing power are more than capable of provide an engaging, fluid, adaptable, and user driven approach to these knowledge objects. I will address this in a key example shortly however for now the statement I propose is that the paper-replicating, top down, folder based, graphical user interface, centralised hierarchical approach does not work for knowledge acquisition and is and could be argued has always been outdated.

The research question is thus:

How could we undertake collaborative knowledge building within design education using human centred design processes to create digitally augmented ways of managing and engaging with knowledge?

Area of research

This PhD is within the domain of Web Science and connects directly to the education remit of the Web Science Institute.

The Web Science Institute (WSI) is located at the intersection between technology and society, researching how the Web is changing the world and the world is changing the Web and providing a bridge between the two. (

This is a practice based PhD that crosses the disciplines of Education, Technology, Design and Ethics.


The LMS (Learning Management System), the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) or MLE (Managed Learning Environment) are at the heart of all institutional mechanisms and are intended to support teaching and learning. However these platforms result in the support and extension of the administrative needs of an institute. The LMS is built around serving as an enterprise level course management system attaching students and staff to the correct content for the individuals programme of study. Reports connected to the use of the LMS (Mott, 2013) show that they are primarily used as content distribution and administrative tools while any so called interactive learning tools are used only sparingly. Stephen Downes (2004) who has explored and promoted the educational use of computer and online technologies since 1995 points to this being one of the many limitations of the LMS because of its emphasis on managing, and therefore over-structuring, learning which conflicts with how we actually learn.

Audrey Waters is a renowned education and technology journalist covering the field since 2010 and has also followed the LMS and the associated technology

The LMS, the VLE, is a piece of administrative software — there’s that word “management” in there that sort of gives it away for us in the US at least — software that purports to address questions about teaching and learning but often circumscribing pedagogical possibilities. (Waters, 2014)

The systems are not fit for purpose and need to be reimagined with teaching and learning at the core. Many Learning Management System’s (LMS) have promised to enhance education and yet there has been very little evidence that this is in fact the case.

Despite the widespread application of digital technologies in higher education there is scant evidence to suggest that these have had a significant impact on student learning. (Bainbridge, 2014)

An awareness that “In education it is often taken for granted that technologies can ‘enhance learning’” (Kirkwood, Adrian and Price, Lind, a 2014) should be considered however this project will not look in detail as to why we should utilise digital tools within higher education; we will take this as a given.

LMS Market Share

There is little point lambasting current products such as Blackboard. However Blackboard is one of the largest installed Learning Management System (LMS) across the globe and caters for a host of courses within both Further Education and Higher Education. I will use Blackboard as the example, but understand that other systems, Moodle, Canvas etcetera have also taken similar approaches in their main products.

Blackboard attempts to simulate a real world situation. In this instance the simulation is an office environment where there are administrative processes to connect staff or students to specific files and folders. The system can be imagined as a locked filing cabinet where each person knows the specific code to access a specific folder within a given cabinet.

Screenshot from Blackboard

This process inherently upholds the top down hierarchy: for example a folder that a student has access to is not a location where she can put new items. Unlike the tutor, the folder to the student is read only, they cannot even attach anything to this folder. This is the default. This setting comes from the administrative database centre which has to categorise individuals against roles as tutor or student. Thus by their design these systems become a holding location for materials that staff are obligated to provide. The system provides one improvement over paper copies, namely that the student is not able to lose the document.

These tools are outdated and although some supplement teaching in this way and many allow for additional features outside of just storage, such as lecture capture, wiki’s, blogs and quiz functionality they do little to embrace the digital platform they reside on.

You can see its Dot Com roots too in the VLE functionality and in its interface. I mean, some VLEs still look like software from the year 2000! The VLE acts as an Internet portal to the student information system, and much like the old portals of the Dot Com era, much like AOL for example, it cautions you when you try to venture outside of it. (Watters, 2014)

The New York Times labelled 2012 as the year of the MOOC. A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is an online course aimed at large scale participation and open access via the web. David Brooks and Thomas Friedman (2012) in the New York Times proclaimed “that the MOOC revolution is a tsunami that will soon transform higher education”. Clayton Christensen would like this type of new technology, the introduction of fees just as all knowledge becomes freely accessible as disruptive innovation. This climate saw a huge investment into Edutech from the private sector.

(Adkins, S.S., 2016.)
(Adkins, S.S., 2016.)

So we have two competing positions. Firstly organisations such as Blackboard are inherently not going to change very fast: they have a very successful business model that has been in place since their inception in 1997. We only have to look at major record labels or publishers to understand reluctance to change, specifically when connected to a highly successful and profitable business model. Secondly we see huge investments from venture capital into Edutech in an attempt to disrupt the market.

Audrey Watters has also been tracking and revealing Edutech investments on her site for a number of years (Watters, 2018) These include up to date investments from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which has been investing huge amounts in the education sector, with a clear focus on Edutech, the next section will look at the current business models technology companies apply to such investments to ensure a return on investment.

Blackboard, you’ll often hear these entrepreneurs say, is “ripe for disruption”. (2014, Watters)

Venture Capital

The web’s arrival ushered in a world where we could collate and connect people in ways that had not been imagined. This opened up the possibility for innovation in arts, science, research and democracy. Projects such as Wikipedia clearly demonstrated the power of the web. The web started to democratise many facets of society and asked us to question how our world would be governed and understood (Leadbeater, 2009). Business models were flipped with new ways of thinking and innovation appearing in an attempt to help us navigate this new landscape and ever-growing wealth of information (Mason, 2008). Pioneers foresaw ways in which humans and computers could work together to tackle some of the biggest issues facing the planet. This didn’t last long.

The problem is the dominance of one search engine, one big social network, one Twitter for microblogging. We don’t have a technology problem; we have a social problem.(Berners-Lee, 2016)

The web has become Ad tech; our view of the knowledge and data on the web is being funnelled through the view of the corporations and their need to sell ads for revenue. The web and the tech industry are dominated by a small number of highly profitable corporations, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter and Apple. These corporations (except for Apple) utilise data gathering techniques within their software and platforms to provide free services while selling to advertisers the potential for targeted ads.

Google et all. is ground zero for a wholly new subspecies of capitalism in which profits derive from the unilateral surveillance and modification of human behaviour. This is a surveillance capitalism. (Zuboff, 2017)

The new scarcity in the internet age is attention. since there is a surplus of information, more information flowing through our society than any of us could ever hope to process or understand, the new bottleneck on our economy is attention. we now live in an attention-based economy. (Manson, 2017)

These two concerns become intrinsically connected. The need to keep our attention is being transformed by the surveillance of our data.  This business model is well understood by venture capitalists, data is the new oil (Humby, 2006) and this has been clearly influencing Edutech investments.

digital technologies are being imposed upon formal learning environments, particularly focused within HE and often associated with the ‘student experience’ agenda. This imposition often reflects what amounts to a thoughtless approach to teaching and learning, in which pedagogy is side-lined by neo-liberal practices of efficiency and surveillance. (Hannon and Bretag, 2010; Holley et al., 2011).

The annual NMC Horizon Report on Higher Education in 2014 looked at this trend of Data-driven learning and assessment.

As learners participate in online activities, they leave an increasingly clear trail of analytics data that can be mined for insights. (Horizon Report, 2014)

Another UK report in 2016 From Bricks to Clicks: The Potential of Data and Analytics in Higher Education Sarah Porter co-chair of the report suggested that those education providers utilising technology to gather data on students could leave traditional campus-based institutions lagging behind.

Universities need to engage with data tools now so they can understand their power. (Guardian, 2016)

The report argues that all UK higher education institutions should be considering using learning analytics – the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners – to improve student support and achieve strategic goals. Such data could be used to support the recent system that ranks Universities - the Teaching Excellence Framework. The report imagines a system in which students at risk of failure can be identified from their first day at university.

In 2015 Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced in an open letter to his new born daughter, that he promised a host of world changing plans and that part of the 99% of his shares would now be donated to his philanthropic company: a commitment to providing personalised learning.

technology that understands how you learn best and where you need to focus. (Zuckerberg, 2015)

Google Classroom has been growing in features and install based over the last few years. has now committed a total of $100 million in “supporting education and economic opportunity” (Fuller, 2017). Part of this initiative is to sell Chromebooks, which require a Google account, into Education. Microsoft in a bid to catch up with Google’s dominance and sell their own hardware into education also announced Intune for Education.

Now Windows 10 devices offer the power, performance and security schools need at the same price as Chromebooks, with none of the compromises. (Microsoft, 2017)

Windows 10 by default also updated its 45 page Terms and Conditions so that you agree when setting up that Microsoft:

will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to protect our customers or enforce the terms governing the use of the services (Microsoft, 2015)

The data mining potential of the Silicon Valley algorithms are thus being transformed from Ad tech to Edutech, showing you what to learn and when.

While Facebook may feel like a modern town square, the company determines, according to its own interests, what we see and learn (O’Neil, 2016)

Edutech is already being impacted by current technology trends that use data acquisition to spy on the users in an attempt to provide insight and in most cases sell something to the person. This Data-driven approach is already impacting Edutech with new promises to predict and support a learners journeys. Zuboff (2013) calls this practice Surveillance Capitalism the business model that monetises data acquired through surveillance.

Surveillance Capitalism

Technology is ever present in the studios and classrooms of education and like a number of sectors are at a point where we must decide if the future model for education is surveillance and data akin to a proximate Silicon Valley model or if Edutech has a future based around open practice, specific pedagogy and the needs of the tutors and students?

Brian Lamb education technologist states that our current systems of Higher Education are already effected by this climate, that of a misalignment between the tool and the activity and the purpose and the business model, he states that if the aims of Edutech are:

creating passive people, how don’t even understand what is happening to their own learning data, their own materials and they are just taking the received materials in the predefined environments we are giving them, we are teaching them to be passive, we are teaching them to not be inquisitive and we are not bothering to teach them to not take control of their own stuff (Lamb, 2016)

Then this has been achieved. I would thus argue this is problematic and a new paradigm of interface and approach to the design principles to govern this technology are rapidly required.

Open, Decentralised & Federated

How do we do this ? The Peer-to-Peer (P2P) and a decentralised platform may offer the solution.

a new Decentralized Web has the potential to be open, empowering users around the globe to control and protect their own personal data better than before. (

The internet is the underlying physical structure of computers that are networked together using TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol and the Internet Protocol). By design the internet is decentralised using the end-to-end design principle (David Clark et al, 1997) and acts as a “dumb network”. The world wide web (www) is accessible via the internet and is a series of URLs connected via hypertext links. The www has been connected to the “Information Age” and the idea of creating a knowledge based society. (Manuel, 1996)

Decentralisation is the process of redistributing or dispersing functions, powers, people or things away from a central location.

Thus the web grew as a platform with the capability to connect and order knowledge and encourage debate and discourse. However the web, originally seen as a utopian distribution system, is failing. The web has become a location of silo’s.

What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared. (Berners-Lee, 2018)

The read, write (Lessig, 2008) culture of the web in general is disappearing.

Instead of control resting with the cultural producers … It seems we have meekly exchanged one set of gate keepers for another (Shaughnessy, 2018)

But there is another direction for the web that is a return to “webs” and a utilisation of Peer to Peer (P2P) and federated instances or platforms to distribute data. The process of a small, distributed and open platform would be something that enables small communities of practice (we will look at this term in the Section Community of Practice) to undertake collaborative design-led projects in which they have control and ownership over the content they create and the interactions they undertake. There is a movement referred to as Indie ed-tech that also questions this current venture capital backed situation this warranty’s further investigation as the term indie can be problematic, however it is worthy noting Audrey Watters take on the term.

Indie ed-tech underscores the importance of students and scholars alike controlling their intellectual labor and their data; it questions the need for VC-funded, proprietary tools that silo and exploit users; it challenges the centrality of the LMS in all ed-tech discussions and the notion that there can be one massive (expensive) school-wide system to rule them all; it encourages new forms of open, networked learning that go beyond the syllabus, beyond the campus. It’s not only a different sort of infrastructure, it’s a different sort of philosophy than one sees promoted by Silicon Valley – by the ed-tech industry or the (ed-)tech press. - (Watters, 2014)

For the platform the stance to take is that currently the vast majority of tech tools being made today are closed source which means they cannot be retooled and thus do not constitute democratic technology (Doctorow, 2018), this would be contradictory to the concepts of knowledge building where all parties involved must have an equal weighting in terms of contributions to the knowledge objects but also in terms of the software itself.

The word "free" in our name does not refer to price; it refers to freedom. First, the freedom to copy a program and redistribute it to your neighbours, so that they can use it as well as you. Second, the freedom to change a program, so that you can control it instead of it controlling you; for this, the source code must be made available to you. (Stallman, 1986)

Thus the tools created within the remit must be free software. Software that can be understood and retooled. Further, guidance and support for this retooling must not be missing or overly complex. We thus need to build easier tools and make them known and accessible to potential users.

Better to have a half arsed tool that works for you than one the developer crafted , if you can build your own tool (Doctorow, 2018)

Open source design is sometimes seen as having various levels:

  1. Code
  2. Contribute
  3. Community
  4. Open design

Putting code available online is just the start. The project will also be about building a community of makers and thinkers to contribute to the platform and its ambition to support a new creative knowledge building tool. ( outlines principles to open practice under the following headings and is something this research will look to adopt in both the platform and writings.

  1. Transparency
  2. Inclusivity
  3. Adaptability
  4. Collaboration
  5. Community

Community of Practice

Studio based practice is fundamental in fostering collaboration and iteration and can enable the process to be completed within a safe and flat hierarchy. In providing this type space for knowledge work the studio environment promotes innovation, enables fear-free collaboration and supports new learning. Conversations and ideas can cross all levels of understanding. In our context undergraduates, tutors and Professor cross over via the use of the physical studio.

The theory of scaffolding (Bruner) also applies where students can gain support for their learning from their peers, their tutors and also through their tools. These include the Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky) which describes how individual learners can extend the amount they learn when they are connected to other more knowledgeable individuals. (Wheeler.S, 2014)

(Procter, 2018)
(Procter, 2018)

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. (Wenger-Trayner, E. and Wenger-Trayner, B. 2015)

Learning is not a one-way flow but a co-determining situation between tutors and students. Learning should be an environment, an ecology in which not only cognitive but also affective events happen.

Education must begin with the solution of the student-teacher contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students. (Freire, 1970)

If an institution’s systems are designed to support this principle they would also need to be hierarchy free.

It can be argued that studio based learning starts back with the notion of the apprentice in the atelier and even further to the guilds of the Middle Ages, centred primarily on the arts and crafts. Apprentices worked and learned skills in the studio with the master designer or artist. Experiential learning has been used in teaching of Art & Design since its inception.

The Bauhaus and the ULM design models are clear markers for this type of teaching.

ULM and The Bauhaus curriculum diagrams

The Ulm School of Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm) created a teaching of design based on a structured problem-solving approach: reflections on the problems of use by people, knowledge of materials and production processes, methods of analysis and synthesis, the consideration of ergonomics and the integration of aesthetics.

Teaching at Ulm and The Bauhaus

The idea is to think of a classroom/community/network as an ecosystem in which each person is spreading their own understanding with the pieces the available in that ecosystem. The public negotiation of that ‘acquisition’ (through content creation, sharing) provides a contextual curriculum to remix back into the existing research/thoughts/ideas in a given field. (Cormier, 2012)

The studio provides this space and the projects engage in activities to support learning be that by doing (Piaget,1950) and/or making (Papert, 1960). Thinking-through-making is key. This approach was embedded in the Bauhaus and Ulm curriculum.

The institutional teaching and learning platforms, Blackboard et al,. do not extend this studio based, community of practice. The Institutional tools provide no mechanism to support this process and practice and a students own set of digital PLN tools see sharing and collaboration as a secondary features. This scenario has led to a tension between the digital Personalised Learning Networks (PLN) that students regularly engage with on a daily basis and the institutional systems that support their structured learning.

Students utilise the digital Personal Learning Networks silos they are comfortable with and the controlled institutional system supports tutor to student dissemination. Both of these approaches are in contrast to studio based practice which actively promotes the idea of a Community of Practice. Neither situation unlocks the power of the Learning Network.

Learning Network

The LMS silo’s are not a network learning environment. They have suffered in terms of usefulness as a tool due in part to a focus on the functional and reliable. They have often been feature driven and designed as a tool that can do everything. This make’s them particularly unhelpful interfaces.

Features can damage usability

Currently the web itself has become centralised and is now based on a database culture. Services such as Facebook dress themselves up as networked culture but they are in fact databased culture (Gupta, 2015), with the sole purpose to data-mine that information for profit.

If, as some argue, learning networks are powerful new ways for us to organise and share as learners, then we must consider how we can build and wield them (or at least, how they are built and wielded). Networks – not just as analogies, but as what is becoming the very real architecture of how we learn and live. (Watters, 2015)

Working within the knowledge economy and the creative industries in particular you cannot work within a niche closed process but instead must have the ability to engage and address complex and diverse problems. This process is supported by networking and combining knowledge. Current systems are silos that as the evidence suggests provides nothing more than a digital repository. Many are closed, off the shelf products supported by annual charges inherently inflexible and not adaptable to the needs of future knowledge workers.

Knowledge production has shifted from being framed as a closed system to being an open system, one that is networked, responsive and expanding. (Vaughan, 2017)

An open platform that extends and augments the physical studio practice, connecting a network of learning together in a collaborative digital platform which is not concerned with data mining and learning analytics but connects a network of learning together in a collaborative digital platform could provide a extended digital space for knowledge building.

Can places of learning be a force of agency rather than algorithms? (Lamb,2016)

When students are undertaking research and making work there is a lot of value in being able to share. This sharing enriches each project and enhances teaching. The network of knowledge is widened utilising both tutor and student discovery, enabling new channels of thought and even supporting those with a quieter voice to share and engage.

sharing is probably the most basic characteristic of education: education is sharing knowledge, insights and information with others, upon which new knowledge, skills, ideas and understanding can be built. (Open Education Consortium, ????)

A platform that provides a delightful and highly intuitive way to share research, ideas, images, concepts and engage in conversations around studio projects as they happen.

An ability to share ephemeral materials, links and events provides for a rich and vibrant space. A student discovers a relevant BBC Radio 4 documentary, say, with a few taps this can be shared, connected, expanded and utilised. The breadth and depth of a project no longer relies on the tutor as author, but embraces the network of learners.

Research activities can be enhanced with time sensitive materials and the direction and conversations become visible giving opportunities to provide agile learning within the studio. The network also provides a collection of new resources to enhance future versions of the project itself.

Transparent technology is a joy to use, you concentrate on what you can do with it, rather than what it does (Wheeler, 2014)

One thing that I think is under-estimated in learning is the element of serendipity. To some extent, serendipity is the opposite of an algorithm. (Belshaw, 2017)

Design Education and Design Process

Although this PhD is not focused on education or design theory. It is key to outline specific relevant theories within the context of studio based practice and current design processes. They underpin the Community of Practice and a Learning Network. We can also look at these to indicate what advantages the resulting situation and learning experiences could be unlocked with a digital platform to enhance the processes. The theories below connect directly to the concept of knowledge building through participation with knowledgable others and close interaction to build new modes of thinking and practice.

Cognitive Constructivism

Jean Piaget developed the developmental stage theory which deals with the nature of knowledge itself and how humans gradually come to acquire, construct, and use it.

Cognitive Constructivism is build on this theory and looks at how are own mental maps or schemas (Piaget, 1936) are constructed and that through our experiences, our learning is defined as a change in the schema. The more we are exposed to new experiences and circumstances the more our schemas become defined, refined and expanded.

Teaching means creating situations where structures can be discovered. (Piaget, ????)

Cognitive Constructivism within teaching and learning is often referred to as experiential learning. The tutor acts as a guide and not as the expert.

Social Constructivism

Social Constructivism adds the social context to our learning. It is through this social collaboration that students are able to create meaning and connect new knowledge to their current schema. The Scaffolding (Bruner, 1960) of a curriculum meets the “zone of proximity” (Vygotsky, 1978) and plays a key role in facilitating advanced experiential learning.

Scaffolding within the curriculum embeds the idea of progressing students through a series of interactions to gain more understanding and greater independence of learning. By placing students and tutors in physical close proximity they enhance this defined scaffolding. The focus of Social Constructivism revolves around placing a knowledgeable other at the centre of this process, often the tutor, guiding the learning and managing the social context. However the group would all be actively involved in collaborative peer learning.


Connectivism is sometimes argued as a reimagining of social constructivism for the digital age, however Siemens (????) states that this is not the case and that it should be considered a new theory. Connectivism takes the idea of the social network but expands it as a result of the emergence of the web. Here, the knowledgeable other is not just the tutor or peers but resources and information located online.

(Bozarth, J. 2014)
(Bozarth, J. 2014)

Within Art & Design education these theories outlined above collectively underpin many of the studio based activities in which learning occurs.

As this platform is concerned with Knowledge building within a Art & Design context we will note to specific design processes that underpin most design studios at this time. The Double Diamond created by the UK Design Council and Design Thinking refined by IDEO a world leading international design firm founded in 1991 in Palo Alto.

Double Diamond

In 2005 the Design Council created a simple graphical representation of the design process, known as the double diamond. After studying eleven leading design companies the Design Council distilled the design process into four specific stages Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver. The mapping of these stages within Design education also provides key structure to projects and curriculum.

Double Diamond Design Process Diagram

Design Thinking

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success. (Brown, 2008)

(IDEO, 2008)
(IDEO, 2008)

The aspect of Design thinking we need to be aware of is that it is very much less concerned with a sequence of steps towards a product, as perhaps can be considered in the Double Diamond process, but is seen a system of overlapping spaces. These spaces are defined as inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Inspiration is the problem or opportunity that motivates a search for solutions. Ideation is the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas and implementation is the path that leads the project into people’s lives. It is also worth noting that Design thinking is heavily influenced by a number of factors including software development including, but not limited to, Agile and Lean UX.

Delightful Design (Humanity Centred Design)

This concept of Delightful Design is key to the platform, this concept tackles not just that a process must be intuitive but that is must most aside from the person using the platform, this “transparent technology” must also respect our rights and in that way provide a delightful, safe experience. This aspiration for the platform and manifesto is designed empower humans through each interactions.

Delightful Design is not injecting personality that might win over your target audience, or nudging them to purchase more items (Kahneman, 2012, Thaler, 2012, Eyal, 2014). The term Delightful Design is fundamental when designing interfaces and interactions for humans, not for pleasure but for empowerment. It is not the icing on the cake, amusing wit, whimsy or a paperclip brought to life.

The unhelpful assistant Clippy from Microsoft Office

Delightful Design is the most effective way to design Human Computer Interactions.

Living in a constantly connected world we demand that our software works as we expect and functions at a pace that we expect. When this doesn’t happen we are often frustrated and annoyed; we feel disempowered. When an affordance (Norman, 1988), a potential action that is made possible by a given object or environment - especially, one that is made easily discoverable such as a pull handle - is attached to a push mechanism we are mildly annoyed. But this is amplified tens of times when trying to achieve productive tasks such as sending an image to friends. When the affordance we expect does not occur, or there is a glitch, we are jarred out of the moment and we see the reality that surrounds our photo sharing moment.

That ‘Matrix’ revolution-like reminder indicates that the small shiny rectangle is no magic box but a set of minerals mined from around the globe, probably in a conflict zone, manufactured in an environment that may not be that caring to its workers. And when we realise that the magic box is just made of wires, glass and software we are jarred back into reality and face the frustration that our action is not in fact going to be actionable.

As more and more software is introduced into our lives, the more complicated and the more frustrating simple tasks can become if the software does not work as we expect. It has to be functional yes but it also has to provide feedback and satisfaction. Software should be functional and understandable but in addition it should be delightful; we should feel better after the interaction we wished to perform.

It’s not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and yes, beauty to people’s lives. (Norman, 2004)

When human beings create and share experiences designed to delight or amaze, they often end up transforming society in more significant ways than people focused on more utilitarian concerns. (Johnson, 2016)

As the devices extend our human selves how can we ensure that the process is delightful both in terms of interface and also in terms of respect there must be an ethical dimension to the platforms and interfaces.

Once we understand that we extend our selves with technology and that our technology and data lie within the boundaries of the self, then we must insist that the constitutional protections of the self that we have enshrined within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and implemented within our myriad of national laws are extended to protect the cyborg self.(Balkan, ????)

A platform would thus look to provide not only a delightful interface but also be delightful in respect to the persons human rights with the understanding that any computer or cloud system that is being used as an extension of ourselves must be owned by ourselves and governed by the same human rights as part of our own mind or body. Delight, not just in terms of use but also in terms of ownership: that of the data and the ability to contribute both in terms of feedback but also in ability to change the source code. A cooperative approach will be required for a Humanity Centred Design process.

Human beings in the digital age are cyborgs.  (Balkan, 2017)

Areas that need further investigation around ethical design include inclusive design, calm technology and an expansion on the principles of Human centred design to include humane and humanity focussed design choices.

Interface Design

Conventional electronic documents were designed in the 1970s by well-funded conventional thinkers at Xerox PARC, who asked, “How can we imitate paper?” (Nelson, 2016)

Ted Nelson in 2016 argues that the design of the systems we use now is based on the imitation and thus limitation of paper. File and folders continue to dictated the main structure of all interfaces, be those visible in desktop OS (macOS/ windows) or be that more invisible in mobile OS (iOS / Android).

Now we’re staring at computer screens and moving our hands on a keyboard, but it’s basically the same thing. We’re computer users thinking paper thoughts. (Victor,2014)

Due to the files and folders paradigm the current fix to navigate this wealth of data has been resolved via either search or the use of a scrollable chronological timeline. Neither of these answers really allow in-depth interfaces with information in a truly meaningful way for people. The relationships, the browseability and serendipity of the results are almost completely absent in this type interface. Couple this with the fact that these searches and timelines are being algorithmically altered by corporations for capitalist gains.

Bret Victor worked at Apple Inc from 2007-2010 as Human Interface Inventor and is credited with work such as the Apple Touch bar (Victor, 2016). He specifically worked with experimental platforms and input technologies, tasked to create new interfaces and application concepts, he is known for working on pervasively direct-manipulation interfaces where humans use movements and gesturing with meaningful objects, instead of relying on verb buttons and other indirect controls along side new forms of creative tools and new ways of learning information. Bret is now leading the project DynamicLand. Bret’s concerns are that current software designs are a ‘straight jacket’ to thinking. We are at a point at which browsers and devices are advanced way beyond the ability to simple create just text and connections but could provide a more immersive and engaging experience with the knowledge objects.

Roman numerals, basic multiplication was considered this incredibly technical concept that only official mathematicians could handle. But then once Arabic numerals came around, you could actually do arithmetic on paper, and we found that 7-year-olds can understand multiplication. It’s not that multiplication itself was difficult. It was just that the representation of numbers — the interface — was wrong. (Victor, 2014)

Bret Victor states “the pulldown menu, the checkbox, and the bureaucracy-inspired text entry form were invented 25 years ago, desperation devices to counter inadequate technology. They were created for a world that no longer exists. Twenty-five years from now, no one will be clicking on drop-down menus, but everyone will still be pointing at maps and correcting each others’ sentences. It’s fundamental. Good information software reflects how humans, not computers, deal with information.” (Victor, 2006)

This book (Tools for Thought (Rheingold, 1985)) is organised around the key insight that computers and software are not just “technology” but rather the new medium in which we can think and imagine differently. (Manovich, 2013)

As part of the production phase of the PhD there has to be a deeper investigation specifically of the role of spatial interfaces and some of the underlying concepts for concept maps and knowledge graphs to inform future interface decisions alongside user testing and feedback. A brief historical look at the concepts related to spatial design, including mind mapping, concept mapping will be considered along with speculative consideration of design paradigms that could have come about if it was not for the dominant influence of Xerox PARC. A closer investigation of the thoughts of computing pioneers such as JCR linklider, Ivan Sutherland, Ted Nelson, Douglas Englebert, Seymour Papert, Nicholas Negroponte and Alan Kay will support the considerations of the interface design.

A spatial interface allows users to take advantage of their visual memory and pattern recognition. (Shippman F M, Marshall C)

Initial Concepts for the Platform and Manifesto

A key component of my project is to create a truly open process, not just in terms of ensuring all the products are free software but that the process of discovery and design itself will be open and creative commons licensed. The collaborative nature of creative work means sharing is one of the main principles embedded not only with in the platform but within the process of this PhD both in terms of a the license of code and extensive use of creative commons licensing within the platform and the manifesto.

The platform will be free, decentralised and deployable within any creative education settings. The platform will be designed to support a collaborative interface that grows and changes through human input. A more fluid, adaptable tool, driven by the community.

The platform and interface will be native to digital culture built on the open web, democratic, human driven, iterative and collaborative. A visualised and spatial network of connections and clusters provide an innovative, accessible and delightful way to create and decode data empowering individuals to connect ideas and build knowledge within communities of practice.

The main goal of the platforms design is to extend collaborative learning and communities of practice from the physical into the digital.

The platform will embed digitally native practices of collaborative working practice and allow objects to be manipulated spatially to evolve and enhance practice based design teaching, the platform will be populated by tutors and students a like and provide a co-operative platform that encourages knowledge sharing and gathering through spatial representation and intuitive modes of operation.

The delightful design manifesto (DDM) will form a large part of the PhD and will be a compressive guide to support retooling the platform. Code contribution guidelines will be quite rigid but this will respect the ideas of free software and the ability to retooling the platform

The DDM will be embedded within the platform.

This consideration and ethos of the platform will filter into the system itself and the platform consider contributions more important than the contributor. Outside of software licences creative works are by default stamped with copyright law, which is current outdate in the digital age and is another monopoly being held up by the status quo, to ensure the contributions are useable, remix-able and suit a core tenant of the system the work will be creative commons licensed by default.

Redacting of assets would be possible yet the connections and contribution although no longer visible, would still be visible in the system with perhaps the ability to link to closed source locations where other permissions would sit outside the initial system.

Concepts to investigate still include approaches taken by the BRAVE browser and concepts around micropayments by Ted Nelson.

Project Plan

A major feature and one to help build a community around the project is that the entire process will be developed using open principles. Meaning a series of connect web links, will allow open discussion, debate and contributions to not only the source code but also the manifesto, podcasts and videos will be shared alongside code and blog texts. The documentation such as this will be made openly viewable for comment and critique.

Over the next two to three years the project will undertake the completion of two parts, a written element, the design manifesto and reflection on the project alongside building the prototype open indie edutech platform.

Written work

Delightful Design Manifesto

The “Delightful Design Manifesto” will be created in conjunction with the platform and be used to support the ongoing creation of not only the core platform but the chance to build and retool or adapt the core structure of the platform to build bespoke instances, tapping into this smaller community focussed tool. Something that is instantiated and distributed and not centralised.

Reflection on the Practice

Reflect on the project. This will draw from the proceeding literature to demonstrate the application of historical design and theory.

Practice work

The practice work is elongated over a two to three year period.

Year 1

Build the basic platform as minimum viable product and undertake good working practice to test, iterate and improve by using the various components to support design based project with in the BA Games Design & Art programme. Build a community of makers around the platform by developing in an open free-software fashion, encouraging retooling and contributions to the main code base throughout the making process. Opportunities to showcase and speak about the platform will be sought at various stages.

The building and testing process will utilised Human Centred Design (IDEO, 2016) and Lean UX (????) processes to create and use a series of prototypes along with reflection upon the effectiveness of these in their ability to extend the physical studio space as a digitally augmented networked learning environment. Throughout this process official feedback will be captured from students via recordings of sessions, surveys and questionnaires. Learning materials utilised during this process would still be available within the current LMS as they are presently but would be duplicated into the prototype platform. An emphasis within teaching sessions would be to encourage and start use within the new platform. On going feedback will inform the iteration of the platform.

Year 2 / 3

Finesse the platform and product with more specific user testing based on the findings from the year 1. Set up and arrange a process to provide and use the platform in a potential wider context. Ravensbourne, BA (Hons) Advertising and Brand Design and Falmouth, BA (Hons) Film, specifically have already expressed interest.