Designed to Death? The Tensions Underpinning Design in Educational Discourse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The concept of design has become central to different strands of educational discourse: from the design of educational environments, through the depiction of design thinking as an exalted educational aim, to positioning design as a means of overcoming the gap between educational theory and practice. Setting out to clarify the appeal and ambiguity of the concept of design, this paper identifies three key tensions underpinning the different uses of ‘design’ in educational discourse: (i) at the level of the student, between action and thought; (ii) at the level of the educator, between freedom and control; and (iii) at the level of research, between theory and practice. Espousing a postdigital lens, the second part of the paper then explores how digital technologies could both accentuate and attenuate these tensions, reshaping practices and conceptions of design while also being shaped by them. This analysis highlights the importance of attending to the intricate relations between designs, technologies and users, the messiness and non-linear nature of design, and the value-laden framing and reframing of problems and solutions inherent in design processes. Whereas design is a concept intended to highlight contingency, its spread, and at times overuse, could result in its ‘death’— emptying design of its essential multiplicity and instability by positioning it as a fixed solution. Accordingly, it is vital to remain aware and appreciate design’s liminal nature, as a vital component of our capacity to imagine, and design, alternative educational futures.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPostdigital Science and Education
StateAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2023


  • Design
  • Design thinking
  • Design-based research
  • Education
  • Educational technology
  • Postdigital
  • Pragmatism
  • Reflective action

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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