While the amount of data available and the amount necessary to do our work in the world creatively cannot be conflated, it is true that the information environmental designers are expected to incorporate into decision-making processes continues to expand. This is not just a phenomenon of the digital age. It began with the introduction of suitability mapping, introduced by Ian McHarg in the late 1960s and was part of a movement to make sense of the design process by introducing staged models. Although the word plasticity was introduced by William James in his book Principles of Psychology (1890), it has only been recently that we are uncovering more detail about brain function. Research findings that our brain is plastic and that we have agency over its development is changing how we think about cognition. A cluster of cognitive skills uncovered in prior research that have been used tacitly in the design professions for over a century are introduced here. Because this is “knowing how to” rather than “knowing about”, we have always thought that learning could only occur through active engagement or learning-by-doing. Educators are reconsidering this notion: could some of this tacit knowledge become explicit thus more accessible particularly to beginning design students? This position paper argues that as we look to embed AI into our professions to process and manage data overload, we might also consider a reboot of our teaching and learning models in the academy with a focus on how we engage students in the design process. Although important as a heuristic, staged process models are not intended to engage with expanding data and problem complexity. The newer complexities are placing newer demands on our cognition and it is the complexities of cognition that should be our next frontier in the academy.
Marianne Cramer is Associate Professor at the University of Georgia College of Environment & Design USA. Her research area is designerly ways of thinking and doing looking specifically at the cognitive skills necessary to design. She facilitates beginning design studios and teaches contemporary design theory. Her professional work includes the management and restoration of Central Park in New York City in the 1980s and 90s. She co-authored Rebuilding Central Park: A Management and Restoration Plan.