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Sustainable Design and Its Place in my Pedagogy Essay

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I believe that a person needs to know how to make (they need an understanding of the theories of manufacture at very least). They need to have that skill before they can become an accomplished designer. Equally, I believe that a maker needs to have a good understanding of the design process (they need a concept of design at least). This conceptual understanding will in turn inform the manufacture of designs.

This maybe a bold statement to make, but my prior experiences have led me to stand by this assertion.

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My BA (Hons) in Furniture Design & Craftsmanship was a fifty per cent design based course with a fifty per cent making aspect. This meant that with my understanding of how furniture was constructed, this informed my designing. But by the same token, not a complete compromise was ever made on the design. We were encouraged to “stick by our guns” with regards to form and function, and to whichever way our particular project was slanted. From that, when I entered the world of employment, realisations hit me “thick and fast”.

It was evident when working with some interior designers, as well as some architects, that there was clearly no real concept of how their designs were going to be brought to three-dimensional life. This put a lot of pressure on me as a maker, to work through the problems of the designs. Now, if I was unfamiliar with the processes and concepts of design at this stage, I could have (as many in the same workshop did), said that it was not possible and not offered much in terms of alternatives or solutions (even though the designer seems to take a larger chunk of the commission and never pays for that problem solving that a manufacture has to deal with). If however, the designer is more familiar with the processes of manufacture, many problems could be resolved at the “drawing board”.

I have also experienced levels of craftsmanship that are not worthy of that title. I am strong in my belief, that in Britain (or at least in the South-East and London areas); there is a distinct lack of practical ability regarding manufacturing expertise. Great Britain was once famed for its remarkable craftsmen and women of all fields, but working on building sites over the last three or so years has led me to ask; what happened to them? I believe, important hand skills are being lost and that design & technology in schools is one of the only tools to try to reintroduce a revival. This could be done through a series of Focused Practical Tasks (FPTs); this will inform later Design & Make Assignments (DMAs). However;

‘Ofsted has reported consistently that designing skills lag behind making skills. In 2002 Ofsted reported that in ‘some schools, there is insufficient attention to the processes of designing, particularly in Key Stage 3 where pupils’ experience of design and technology is merely a sequence of short focused practical tasks with no opportunity to apply their own ideas in a longer design task”. (ITE, 2009)

I personally have a pet dislike towards the current linear style project folder. An ADDIE model (Analyse, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate) ‘these processes are considered to be sequential but also iterative.’ (Molenda, 2003) This is present in most schools and has been for a number of years, certainly during my education. It wasn’t until I started my higher education that I realised that design is not linear at all. ‘Design practice in Technology education in high schools’ context is not a representation of the professional realm of design.’ (Leahy, 2009, p. 25)

We don’t write a brief, research, write a specification, design, develop and make on after the other. In reality, we are constantly researching all along the way, we are then testing at a number of different stages and that advises our designs, developments require another level of research and so on. I understand the ease that a linear style can prove to be in school practice, but it is an artificial way of design. ‘Both Linear process and assessment are stifling creative design outcomes.’ (Leahy, 2009, p. 25) I would like to build into my teaching a way of a addressing the folder design, so that it becomes more natural and closer to real industry approach.

I also feel that as designers or makers, we have a conscience role and obligation to making a sustainable planet. On my degree course an emphasis towards sustainability was always implied, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was one of many governing bodies spoken about. We were always encouraged to be as least wasteful as possible and very conscience of selecting the right timber or other materials. I gained a great amount of respect for the importance of sustainability from two key sources. One was that in Native American Indian culture, that when a buffalo or bison was slain, not one piece of its body was ever wasted, all flesh became foo

d, organs we delicacies, hides became clothing and shelters and bones became tools. The second was a book ‘One Tree’. The book shows the workings of a number of artists, sculptors, furniture makers and other craftsmen and women, that all used material from one oak tree. Every single bit of the tree was used, so that one persons waste was the next persons to manipulate. (Olson, 2001)

Sustainable Design is a focus towards elements of social, environmental, developmental and ethical concerns. When going through the processes of designing physical objects and built environments;

‘Questioning the need for a product; achieving “more for less”; a concern for quality of life instead of material standard of living; a focus on causes of environmental problems rather than their symptoms; and an onus on “service” as opposed to “ownership” (Goggin, 2002),

all need to be considered along the design journey. This relates directly to my topic regarding “the 6 R’s”.

The intention of sustainable design is to ‘eliminate negative environmental impact completely through skillful, sensitive design’ (McLennan, 2004). This can only be achieved by:

’empowering people (children as well as adults) with the knowledge, ideas and tools that not only address current needs but also those of future generations’ (United Nations, 1992).

Sustainable design will naturally lend itself to sustainable ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet the needs of their own’ (Goggin, 2002, p. 257).

Two biologists Anne and Paul Ehrlich (1990) proposed that environmental impact (E) equates to population (P), multiplied by material consumption, or affluence (A), multiplied by the environmental impact of technology used to produce goods (T). This is shown as: E = P x A x T. Goggin and Lawler (2002) then explained that as a benchmark of today we can show it as 1 = 1 x 1 x 1. The United nations International Panel on Climate Change have called for a sixty per cent cut in green house gases.

Population is set to double in the next forty years and the affluence mark is supposed to increase four times. This means to balance the equation: 0.4 (E) = 2 (P) x 4 (A) x ? (T), Technological Impact needs to be 0.05. That is a ninety-five per cent reduction. ‘Clearly sustainability cannot be achieved through design alone and in the absence of a Draconian population control, we are left with affluence.’ (Goggin, 2002, p. 258) Does this then mean that the task of simply reducing the amount of products we manufacture is not enough, we then have to consume a lot less as well? We can consume far a smaller amount by addressing the six R’s, or in particular; Repair, Reuse and Recycle, and on a deeper level Refuse products that are not fit for purpose or/and non-sustainable.

We can also address the issues of material consumption and technologies’ environmental impacts, through adopting an “Ecodesign” methodology or even a consideration for “Life Cycles”. These approaches look at every impact in every stage of the products life span towards the environment, as well as looking to improve the products function, appearance and quality (or “Fit for Purpose”).

I have written into my topic of work an analysis task which in turn leads on to a ‘redesign task’ or a ‘development task’, where a somewhat non-sustainable product is evaluated and redeveloped sensitively, in order to reduce the environmental impact of that product. Even if this is only on a basic introductory level, it will provide and use some, if not all, the relevant skills that are required for sustainable design.

I believe if an element of sustainability is written into all design briefs, whether it is a small FPT, or a full DMA, then a thought at least to sustainability will be second nature.

When walking around classrooms on my placement (also of my own schooling experience), challenging a pupils design folders for their inclusion of sustainable thought, seemed to receive a strained “after-thought” explanation. I have found myself trying to question further their intentions for material choices and production techniques. In doing this, sometimes the answers are good and seem well informed as if the knowledge is present in their understanding, but not applied in their designing. On other occasions, they simply do not have the knowledge and depth of understanding to inform their designing. That then puts the responsibility on us as design & technology educators, to deliver not only the knowledge for their understanding, but also to write into project briefs and assessment criteria an aspect of environment consideration.

There are a number of natural areas where sustainability fits neatly into the current ‘ADDIE’ project folder style. I know I have mentioned my dislike for this unnatural linear way of designing, but maybe ‘small steps’ are in order. In a full DMA project folder, for example a KS4 GCSE or A-Level controlled assessment folder, research, analyses and design developments are all areas to include sustainability, at very least. Most projects require an element of researching a current market product.

While researching an analysis can be carried out to outline its level of sustainability and in this analysis evaluation, suggestions can be made to how to improve these levels. This subsequently leads onto writing in to a specification these findings and that will inform the design stages of the project. This is then revisited at the modification stage as well as the evaluation. This is not a new concept by any means. It was included in the 1995 National Curriculum frameworks. ‘The approach to pupils understanding the issues of sustainability take three forms: eco-logging, eco-choice points and life-cycle design.’ (Goggin, 2002)

Although I am suggesting that we ensure that sustainability is featured in design & technology lessons, it is actually a statutory requirement. It is mentioned on a number of occasions throughout the 2008 National Curriculum and could also be interpreted into the Every Child Matters policy, under ‘Making a Positive Contribution’. Sustainability was also one of the ‘buzz words’ at a recent AQA Teacher Standardising Meeting I attended. The AQA’s controlled assessments guidance are pushing for an emphasis in pupils folders to be on sustainable design. (AQA, 2009)

My chosen topic of sustainability fits into my personal pedagogy, as the importance of sustaining our environment is a not only crucial, but more of an obligation of a designer. The theory delivered over the 3 lessons maybe a bit intense for Key Stage 3, but as I am aiming at year 10 (Key Stage 4), it would do well to inform their GCSE controlled assessment folder and ultimately their design practice. I believe that it would be better used as part of a scheme of work, in which the theory would enlighten a full DMA project.

Sustainability is one area of design & technology amongst others, that if its’ knowledge is put into action/context then it ‘enables creative problem-solving.’ (Lunn, 2008) The 2008 National Curriculum calls for creative problem solvers.

‘The link between problem-solving and creativity also has two aspects: perceiving a problem is a creative act of an agentive mind; and seeking solutions, students improve their own practice.’ (Lunn, 2008)

Sustainability is an ever-developing subject area, it develops with science, with new materials and will keep doing so, therefore the three lessons are very relevant and up to date now, and the main concepts will be as well for some time, but the content and examples will need to be revised regularly to still keep the lessons significant. ‘The ability to be creative and flexible is critical in the face of a rapidly changing world.’ (Mishra, 2008)


AQA. (2009). AQA Controlled Assessment & Teacher Standardising Meeting: GCSE Design & Technology: Resistant Materials Technology delivered by Smith, R. Maidstone, Kent: AQA.

Campbell, R.J., Robinson, W., Neelands, J., Huston, R. and Mazzoli, L. (2007). Personalised Learning: Ambiguities In Theory and Practice. British Journal of Educational Studies, 55 (2), P. 135-154

Chester, I. (2008). 3D-CAD: Modern Technology – Outdated Pedagogy?. Design and Technology Education: An International Journal, 12 (1), P. 8-10

Ehrlich, P. and Ehrlich, A. (1990). The Population Explosion. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Goggin, P. and Lawler, T. (2002). Sustainability and Design and Technology in Schools. In Owen-Jackson, G. (Ed.), Aspects of Teaching Secondary Design & Technology – Perspectives on Practice (2002 ed., pp. 257 – 266). London: Routeledge Falmer and The Open University.

ITE. (2009). Pedagogy: Secondary Induction Subject Resources Network. Aspects of Secondary D&T teaching, [Online] , Available: <URL:http://www.data.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=592&Itemid=539> [Access date 7 November 2009].

Leahy, K., Gaughran, W. and Seery, N. (2009). Preferential Learning Styles as an Influencing Factor in design Pedagogy. (E. Norman, Ed.) Design and Technology Education: An International Journal , 14 (2), P. 25-44.

Learning-Theories.com. (2009, November). Constructivism at Learning-Theories.com. Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2009, November) , Available <URL:http://www.learning-theories.com/constructivism.html>[Access date 9th November 2009].

Lunn, S., Davidson, M. and Murphy, P. (2008). Developing an effective Pedagogy for Creative Problem-Solving in Design and Technology. Centre for Curriculum and Teaching Studies, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, The Open University , Available: <URLhttp://kn.open.ac.uk/public/getfile.cfm?documentfileid=4186> [Access date 9th November 2009].

McLennan, J. F. (2004). The Philosophy of Sustainable Design. Kansas City, Missouri: Ecotone LLC.

Mishra, P. a. (2008). Teachers, Creativity & TPACK: SITE Keynote. Michigan State University, USA.

Molenda, M. (2003). The ADDIE Model (Draft). In A. &. Kovalchick, Ed’s, Educational Technology: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: Copyright by ABC-Clio.

National Curriculum. (2009), London: QCA

Olson, G. and Toaig, P. (2001). One Tree, London: Merrell Publishers

Oxford Dictionaries. (revised 2008). Concise Oxford English Dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford Dictionaries.

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. (2009). Sustainable Development in Action: A Curriculum Planning Guide for Schools. London: Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA).

Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency. (2008). National Curriculum. London: Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA).

United Nations. (1992). Conference on Environment Development, Agenda 21, Promoting Environmental Awareness. Agenda 21: United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (p. Chapter 36). Rio De Janeiro, Brazil: United Nations.

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