Elizabeth Boling

by Elizabeth Boling

Years ago when I read Design for the Real World (Papanek, 1973), I was not anticipating ending up in a design field where the issues he championed would actually apply to my work. Over time, however, I find my thoughts returning insistently to the core of his message – most trained designers end up plying their trade to produce more stuff (or more experiences) for people who already have enough (or people who have too much! See The Plenitude, Gold, 2007). Furthermore, a world of design problems exists all around us, solutions to which are desperately needed but for which comparatively little funding is available and to which little glamour is attached. It’s easy to see that this is still true decades later when we contemplate the esoteric wine bottle openers and floor lamps, or the expensive office chairs and modular work systems that take up most of the space in product design publications. Even on the experience side, it is easy to see when we think about whether or not people too busy to sleep or to be civil to each other on the street really need another mobile communication device – especially one that will cost hundreds of dollars, require toxic materials to produce and rely on an unsustainable infrastructure to maintain.

But instructional designers … we’re the good guys of design, right? We improve people’s learning and their experiences of learning. We consider performance holistically and don’t just try to cram knowledge into people’s heads without regard for their circumstances or needs. We worry about school districts without computers, and we help teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. Some of us even engage the objects of our design fully in the process and consider them collaborators in the design of instruction/systems that they will use. What could be wrong with that? Honestly, I am not sure there is anything very much wrong with it. I am just uncertain that we are offering our students the broadest view possible of instructional design’s potential in the world. If we had a publication that featured the most interesting and cool instructional design going on right now, how many of the projects featured in it would be focused in areas where people cannot find, or afford, instructional designers?

Guest blogger: Currently on sabbatical, Elizabeth Boling is an Associate Professor of Education and Chairperson of the Department of Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University. She teaches and conducts research on the use of images in instructional materials, ISD as a design endeavor and on teaching design. She is also a designer of interactive multimedia and other forms of teaching and learning materials.

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