Reflexive Pedagogy

From Education 2.0 to Education 3.0

Missouri Rules. Missouri license plates are stamped with the words: “The Show Me State.” The unofficial state motto is thought to have been coined by US Congressman Willard Vandiver (1897-1903) who declared, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” In design, it is not enough to talk about an idea. You have got to demonstrate it through the production of hard evidence.

One of the biggest mistakes in design is to depend too much on words. Words and the abstractions that they describe can be extremely useful in the beginning stages of design as a means of testing out ideas, and at the culmination of the design process as a way of guiding others through a body of evidence. But as one passes from the beginning to the end of the design process, words should move from a dominant to a subordinate position. The power of language to describe almost anything is, in design, its greatest weakness: we are easily seduced by possibilities that may never find their way into the physical world of design. Even at the very origins of design, the thumbnail sketch is the key bit of evidence even when it is surrounded by a lot of talk struggling to get at its significance. The same description offered in the absence of the sketch is rarely as successful.

As a design moves forward, our dependence on physical evidence—drawings and models—for verification and clarification of intentions increases as well. Language is an inevitable part of any design process but it moves quickly into a subordinate position. When a design idea is expressed in ways that are dependent upon words and hand gestures, when a presentation does not focus on the graphic and physical constructions produced by a design exploration, it loses credibility and becomes weaker. A useful rule in the design studio: Do not talk about anything you have not shown.

1. The Big Idea

Be the Dog

Criteria for Success and Failure



2. The Instruments for Exploring and Testing (and Communicating) Architecture of the Big Idea

The Diagram v. The Architecture of Direct Experience

Selective Depiction

Critical Tools

We are all struggling with achieving “precision.” when we reach a certain level in the development of our skills we can achieve precision without using computers or straight edges. I have been encouraging students to draw with computers and hard line drawings as an underlayer in order to achieve precision and freehand on the layer above in order to get the rest of the job done quickly and inclusive of elements that prove difficult to draw well with hardlines and computers (plantings, people, etc.).

Reflexive Instruments. 

3. The Studio Teaches

4. The Critic is Number Four

Confusion over the appropriate role of the instructor is often the most significant obstacle to overcome in the design studio and the first issue to address at the start of a design studio: The instructor is not the source of knowledge, understanding, or ideas. The instructor is a facilitator and guide in the independent individual design research process explored by each student. The instructor is not even the second most important source in the development of successful design; the instructor is number four.

Ice Dancing

Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Soonest, Wins.


We are each on our own golf course hitting long, hitting the target, and finishing all 18 holes. But each golf course is one that we ourselves have designed.

Universal Design

The Pepper Spray Test

Potty Parity

From the Inside Out and the Outside In

Three Levels of Design

1.  the explored

2.  the gestural

3.  the generic


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