The Antiquarian Foundations of Contemporary Design Thinking


Fall 2014


3rd Floor Object Lab


Peter N. Miller,

Michael Shanks – Classics, Stanford University

What is design thinking? Where does design thinking come from? How is design thinking human-centered, and how might we make it even more so? This seminar answers these questions with a dramatic assertion: that knowledge of the past, and specifically, past scholarship, as modeled in the work of antiquarians from the seventeenth century onwards, is essential for understanding and developing the most innovative of contemporary design thinking and practice. This seminar explores the historical practice of antiquaries as a paradigm for the contemporary design thinking that is focused on the temporal nature of human relationships with things, as well as using a design orientation a means of generating insight into antiquarian practice. Calling this component of design “antiquarian” is more valid than calling it “historical” because “history” is what happened in the past, whereas antiquarianism is about the past-in-things that remains alive in the present. If the connection between antiquarianism and design is material pasts and memories then we could describe designers as neo-antiquarians—as those who experience, and help us experience, the past through things. Design thinking, understood from this perspective, is necessarily archaeological and represents what prior generations called “the liberal arts” — the belief that knowledge from and about the past is important for living well in the future. The course will be taught as simultaneous video-linked seminars by Shanks at Stanford and Miller at the BGC. 3 credits.