The future of the field is not design

I’ve studied and practiced some form of design for nearly 25 years. While I’ve championed it in various settings, I’ve also become increasingly disillusioned with it. At first I thought I was just getting fed up with shallow and superficial design methods (like the reductive design thinking process). But I’m becoming more convinced over time that there are some fundamental flaws in design when we apply to education. This chapter starts to explain why. Be prepared for more research on this topic. It’s going to occupy me for some time.


We currently face a problem in the field of learning and instructional design and technology (LIDT). We have an important contribution to offer towards what Beckwith (1988) called “the transformation of learners and . . . learning” (p. 18). However, in pursuit of this mission, we have become too fixated on being designers and applying the methods of design thinking. As valuable as design has been for our field, it’s ultimately too narrow an approach to help us have the impact we desire because it overemphasizes the importance of the products and services we create. To be more influential, we need approaches that focus our efforts on nurturing people’s “intrinsic talents and capacities” that are ultimately outside of our ability to manage and control (Thomson, 2005, p. 158; see also Biesta, 2013). Tying ourselves to design will not accomplish this, so we need to cultivate an identity of our own—an identity centered on what Dunne (1997) called the character and dispositions of “practical judgment” (p. 160). 

In this chapter I hope to make these issues clear. I start by describing how design’s focus on creating and making misleads our understanding and application of important dimensions of our field. Doing this limits our impact. I then describe how we can cultivate an LIDT identity that is better suited for the aims we are pursuing. An LIDT-specific identity may include some methods from design thinking, but it will also encompass additional ways of improving the human condition, all centered in the character of practical judgment. I end by calling on readers to consider what this important evolution for our field means for their personal practice.


At ResearchGate

At BYU Scholar’s Archive

Link to book chapter


McDonald, J. K. (2023). The future of the field is not design. In R. E. West, & H. Leary (Eds.), Foundations of learning and instructional design technology: Historical roots & current trends (2nd ed.). EdTech Books. Retrieved from

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *