A gap beyond design

Infographic showing what home furniture was damaged by the storm at different height. (La Nacion newspaper, April, 6).

Home under water: Infographic showing what home furniture was damaged by flooding at different heights. Blue colour indicates flooding at 0.50 meters. Some homes had flooding up to 1.70 mts (La Nacion newspaper, April, 6).
Featured image: La Plata after the storm.

I’m in Argentina for the Easter break, and four days ago (in the early morning of Tuesday 2nd April) we were hit by a storm which causes serious flooding in the cities of Buenos Aires and La plata. The storm only lasted three hours, but the amount of rain was equivalent to that of the whole month, causing most storm drains to collapse. The situation worsen when underground streams around different parts of those cities, also collapsed. Consequently and similar to Hurricane Sandy, hundreds of people lost almost everything and have been evacuated. Their houses were flooded with nearly 1.60 m of dirty water. Cars are a total waste, and most home furniture needs to be replaced.

Now the whole country is analysing the natural disaster and trying to find out if something could have been done to minimise the consequences. Questions have arisen around the fact that both cities have approved projects to improve storm drain systems since around five years ago. And that, in spite of having flooding situations a couple of years ago, nothing has happened: no public works at all (or not in the correct places, better said).

I have repeatedly mentioned the gap between design practice and academia (and complain about it with closest friends too), but lately I sadly realised that that gap also seems to exist in many other areas: e.g. chemistry, psychology, sociology. Research projects are being conducted, findings identified, reports written and handed in to organisations, clients and other authoritative institutions. However, those reports seem to stay on desks and be never open again, and rarely apply into practice. For me, research and practice are part of a chain: one needs the other to improve understanding, gain learning and come up with solutions (i.e. solve problems). Currently, I see a gap in that chain. Both (theory and practice) seem to be working in parallel rather than together towards the same direction. This situation makes me wonder what is the point of research, of discovering possible solutions if later on they won’t be put into practice?

Academia and practice must work together in order to evolve, develop further, and prevent or minimise the consequences of future natural disasters. Research without being applied is pointless, in the sense that it is unlikely to improve something: solve a problem or help people. Practice alone without theory is working blindly, as theory provides the skeleton to orientate practitioners.

This mindset is needed in all areas and disciplines, way beyond design.

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One comment

  1. There are more gaps, still. Even within academia the bubbles are so airtight, a theory that is called “optimality theory” and originates in one field (evolutionary biology), does not get mentioned at all when another field (linguistics – originally phonology, to be specific) invents another, functionally related theory about a decade later. By the same name. You would think researchers at least googled the name they choose, would you not? They would have greatly benefited from reading the previous work.

    All we can do is bridge the gaps as communicators. Whenever we find the time and a nugget of wisdom that could resonate elsewhere, we share it. I very much share your sentiment, too. In fact, I wrote this a while back http://blog.jochmann.me/post/17546948606/mental-models-barsalou-frames

    Then again, I only came around today to reach out to you, even though I had your post marked to reply to in my reader for weeks. Babysteps.

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