The Polynesian Voyaging Society as a Cybernetic Paradigm for a Design Curriculum

  • Michael HohlEmail author
Part of the Design Research Foundations book series (DERF)


In this chapter, I discuss how design educators and design students may learn from cultural traditions of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, and from its “Eight Elements of Education”. I argue that this source of informal knowledge, combined with modern means to communicate and to collaborate can lead to new, more empathetic, ethical, and environmentally aware ways of designing. Developed by Hawaiian educators, and rooted in non-instrument maritime navigation, the “Eight Elements” are centred on traditional Hawaiian values, such as community, responsibility, and living in harmony with all living things. This system of values and practices not only resembles design studio education – it also has a potential to inform it. In this framework, I propose cybernetics as a way of thinking and acting with added dimensions of rigour, critique and reflection. Way-finding across the ocean nurtures acute faculties of observation and of learning environmental patterns. It also requires courage, responsibility, trust, and teamwork. I argue that design curricula can incorporate elements of local traditions such as building practices, materials, language, produce, cooking traditions and customs. Similar to the transition town movement, this can build communities of design students who learn and apply their knowledge in local settings, based upon values such as sustainability, community and awareness of local resources. Design projects thereby transform into “life projects” by accepting the place of study as a home, by designing for local needs, by learning about local traditions and language, and through a commitment to lifelong learning. As such they combine cybernetics and second-order cybernetics.


Design curricula ⋅ Design pedagogy ⋅ Reflecting ⋅ Feedback ⋅ Observing ⋅ Theory & practice ⋅ Learning from error ⋅ Lifelong learning 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of DesignAnhalt University of Applied SciencesDessau-RoßlauGermany

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