Why design students need to be taught more about human vision - a pedagogical case



Photography, Film & Multimedia


  • digital tools


Design education has traditionally taught techniques and approaches to practice, which students can use to create impact in their work, and be effective in communicating ideas. Those techniques and approaches have been developed over centuries of practice, much of it intuitive in nature, involving experience, experimentation and a blend of skills that do not rely on detailed scientific knowledge about vision in order to produce stunning results.

In recent decades, designers have also been open to new technologies which have impacted hugely on the processes and speed with which we design. The problem is that recent advances in other fields such as vision science have now opened up possibilities for a whole new range of techniques and approaches to design, but educationalists around the world still seem to be largely unaware of the importance of these advances on the future of design education.

The approach of this paper is firstly to introduce to an audience of designers, some of the more important vision science findings, effectively the ‘rules and programmes’ by which human beings see things. Those findings are then mapped onto design practices through a framework which suggests where the theoretical links and connections are between the two fields.

The paper then goes on to describe the research carried out, and the digital tools developed by which we can analyse and see for ourselves how vision science principles affect the way we see images. A multimedia based approach has been used to demonstrate how even complex vision concepts can be presented in ways that make them accessible for use by creative individuals.

The authors’ intentions are however not just to stop at understanding the processes by which the human brain interprets signals sent by the eye. The main thrust of this research has been to complete the loop, by making such understanding accessible to arts-minded individuals through examples, demonstrations of principle and the creation of digital tools that act as interfaces between science and art.

This paper presents the case for a higher profile of vision based understanding in art and design education, arguing that such knowledge can increasingly be regarded as a source of creativity.

DEFSA conferences

DEFSA promotes relevant research with the focus on design + education through its biennial conferences, to promote professionalism, accountability and ethics in the education of young designers. Our next conference is a hybrid event. See above for details.

Critical skills endorsement

Professional Members in good standing can receive a certificate of membership, but DEFSA cannot provide confirmation or endorsement of skills whatsoever. DEFSA only confirm membership of DEFSA which is a NPO for Design Education in South Africa (https://www.defsa.org.za/imagine).