Designing the future: light on two sides

I was recently asked to write a short article for 'Pulse' - the university online newsletter here at UNE and here is a copy of the text highlighting my love for all things design pattern.

Designing the future: light on two sides 

One of the challenges posed by our new decadal Future Fit strategy has been the acknowledgement that to deliver on the intended goals we need to work together in different ways. Team-based approaches that cross our academic and professional spaces is one of those methods that UNE has started to adopt more widely. I have been reflecting on what that means with a number of large projects coming up to the start line for the newly formed division of Education Futures. These projects, which include curriculum renewal phase two and the review of our learning management system, present the significant challenge of delivering on large cross institutional multi-workstream plans. One excellent example of team-based working that relates to these areas is learning design. Why is this such a good example? First, to be successful it requires a multi-functional team, bringing together individuals that can operate in a space where skillsets are complementary not competitive. Second, this is a space where all ideas are welcome and success is a joint enterprise born from shared endeavour. The crucial, and golden element here is the understanding that we are all designers. As Herbert Simon, the influential design scientist remarked:  

    ‘Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.’ 

Yet, learning design, and in fact any design process is not simply the blind application of a set of rules and procedures. There is a rich set of methods and purposeful processes that underlie design and designing where past successful design solutions can be used to inform future ones. This sharing and reuse of design knowledge is critical and in the field of educational technology I often rely on design patterns to provide a guiding framework. Design patterns find their roots in architecture and the work of Christopher Alexander who in his seminal work synthesised knowledge from multiple experts in the field to create 253 design patterns that together formed a language for the building of towns, buildings and urban spaces. The patterns describe a problem within a specific context then offer a solution such that it can be used a million times over but without doing it the same way twice. The beauty of patterns is their openness to design interpretation exemplified by my favourite pattern from Alexander’s book: 

159 … Light on two sides of every room 

When they have a choice, people will always gravitate to those rooms which have light on two sides, and leave the rooms which are lit only from one side unused and empty. 

Therefore: Locate each room so that it has outdoor space outside it on at least two sides, and then place windows in these outdoor walls so that natural light falls into every room from more than one direction. 

What this pattern presents is an abstracted solution to room design but within allows for freedom of interpretation in implementation – for example, it does not predetermine the size of the windows, their shape nor the materials used to produce them. Many design patterns have since been created in the fields of software engineering, user experience design and education. 

So, what can we take from these short insights into design and team-based working methods? For me, as we move forward with more interdependent and interconnected team-based working, we need to acknowledge the value of grounded design methodologies and the value of using the blueprints of past successful solutions to inform future ones. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to maintain openness and trust. With this we can celebrate the pleasure of collaboratively generating solutions through designing and design-based thinking with colleagues across UNE.



Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., Silverstein, M., Jacobson, M., Fiksdhl-King, I. and Angel, S. (1977). A Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Constructions. Oxford University Press, NY.  

Simon, H. A. (2019). The sciences of the artificial. MIT press. 




"Sustainable Kitchen" by Jeremy Levine Design is licensed under CC BY 2.0


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