DS 95: Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education (E&PDE 2019), University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. 12th -13th September 2019

Year: 2019
Editor: Bohemia, Erik; Kovacevic, Ahmed; Buck, Lyndon; Brisco, Ross; Evans, Dorothy; Grierson, Hilary; Ion, William; Whitfield, Robert Ian
Author: Green, Stephen (1); Page, A. Freddie (1); De'ath, Paul (2); Pei, Eujin (3); Lam, Busayawan (3)
Series: E&PDE
Institution: 1: Imperial College, United Kingdom; 2: Central St Martins College, University of the Arts, United Kingdom; 3: Brunel University, United Kingdom
Section: New Paradigms 2
DOI number:
ISBN: 978-1-912254-05-7


The volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) acronym is claimed to have been coined in the US Army War College and by 2014 was a ‘trendy managerial acronym’ . The term’s military origin has the overall objective to bring order to managing global contexts which apparently defy conventional analysis and forecasting. For example US military leadership needed to find effective responses to events such as 9/11. VUCA provides a framework for acknowledging these factors and a basis for planned leadership responses. Bennett and Lemoine2 make the point that each ingredient needs to be considered individually, and that each can lead to identifying approaches to dealing with the scenarios being faced.

The VUCA concept provides an interesting lens for exploration of a number of significant factors which design and engineering education must embrace and manage in the current context. Firstly is the very subject of design and creativity. Both overall concepts continue to challenge scholars, but are integral to design and education. The concept of wicked problems coined in the 1960s or ‘designerly ways of knowing’ are early examples of what is often seen as inherent ambiguity or complexity within these subjects, whilst also a fundamental quality. Secondly, nearly 50 years of research in design has highlighted a spectrum of process approaches on a creative design to engineering design spectrum . This diversity presents challenges within design and engineering education, especially where professional applications for design continue to evolve and critical pedagogic decisions need to be made about where emphasis is placed within already crowded curricula. Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly for design and engineering pedagogy, are a range of contextual factors which have created a climate where students and staff are ambiguity-adverse

This study explores these issues within product design and design engineering programmes at three leading Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) selected for representing different positions on a creative to engineering spectrum. The research focuses on understanding the issues from a student perspective and, in turn generates a framework of VUCA issues as a basis for analysis and recommendations for further research and future pedagogy in design and engineering. Data is generated directly from 1st and 3rd year design and design engineering students at each of the HEIs. Research questions resulting from a VUCA and student centered perspective include:
- How does any flexibility in curricula allow for VOLATILITY in future career paths?
- What tactics do students use to deal with UNCERTAINTY in aspects of their pedagogy?
- To what extent does the pedagogy facilitate increasing skills and understanding in managing COMPLEXITY?
- How are apparently AMBIGUOUS aspects of teaching and learning balanced with a student focus on assessment?

Keywords: VUCA, Creativity, Design Education, STEM education


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