“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

What’s missing from design education

It seems of late in my life there have been a perfect storm of events driving me to focus my attention on re-designing design education. As many if you know, I’m a professor of interaction & industrial design at the Savannah College if Art & Design (SCAD). So obviously the last year+ of my professional life has led me to reflect a lot about the curriculum I teach & for whom I do that teaching (both the college & the students). I ask myself daily if what I’m doing is preparing my students for professional life as robust, multifaceted designers and if the institution whose structure & culture I am somewhat bound by is appropriate for achieving those goals? There is even the question of whether or not the right students are matched together to allow them to succeed, or should the institution & teacher in tandem be able to teach anyone anything all the time?

Here are 12 qualities of design and design education I think will be driving the next wave of design educators.

1. Knowing, Making, Thinking, Processing
We know that these 4 things are core to any type of design. I need too have knowledge about design to know what is right. I need to know how to make something. I need to know what I should make. And lastly I need to know how to get there. Too often programs especially in classical disciplines like Industrial Design, Graphic Design and Architecture focus on Knowing and Making. But the opposite is true of discipline like Interaction & Service design which focus on Thinking and Processing. The system needs to be more balanced.

2. It takes a multi-facetted individual
Or at least an individual who is steeped enough in general design theory and criticism to understand the specialized roles (disciplines) it takes to make a specific project come alive. Way too often leadership of projects are in the hands of people who don’t know what they don’t know. This is as much a sin of arrogance as it is a sin of ignorance.

3. Communicating visually is always important
I don’t care if you are designing sound systems. You have to be able to present your work visually for so many reasons: to communicate to stakeholders (the obvious one) but also to have visual thinking as a primary tool for creatively engaging idea conception.

4. Design is not a service to business …
… design is a core partner of the business. But this means that designers need to have communication, language, and process skills that speak to businesses. But we need to do this by utilizing our strengths, not by assimilating. Be visual; tell stories.

5. The data must flow (to paraphrase Dune)
We have to consider multiple sources and multiple types as data not just as sources for inspiration, but when modelled as guideposts to help keep us on track.

6. However, data and the designer’s vision need to create a narrative.
We as designers need to be better experts at framing the narratives embedded within our  designs. Emotional Ballands must be song from the designs we make.

7. School is not an end
Industry needs to step back into its role as completer of young designer’s educations. Too many have forsaken the value of the internship and even more now expect a skill level of the new undergraduate that does a disservice to them and their school’s ability to create that agent. I think there is also a missed opportunity here for Industry to do a better job of leading through eduction.

8. All designers should have the same foundation
Simply put, we need to start out all designers with t he following basic skills: drawing/visual thinking, movie making, improvisation, programming (as in computers), visual communication, design criticism/history.

9. And then follow this up with concentrations
Whether that is graphics, industrial design, architecture, interaction design, service, etc. A solid education in design should actually force at least 2 concentrations on every designer.

10. There is no single community of practice that owns any design situation,
but rather the many facets of a design engagement force individuals and teams to inhabit any combination of design communities and discipines in order to be at their best.

11. Multi-lingual and well-travelled
The best deigns are ones that cause a shift in the way people think about the insertion o f any collection of artifacts. To create new frames is as much a practiced art form as it is a requirement of practice for the designer. Experience in language and travel helps foster the skills necessary to create frames beyond your own mind’s eye.

12. Human beings are creatures embedded into a social system.
That system is in reflexive dialog with itself causing seemingly server turbulence. By becoming experts in history and social theory/practice we are better prepared to take on feasible and repeatable design projects with massive impact.

So these are my 12 items. What are your thoughts on design and education?

UPDATE (3/31/2010 Due to Vicky’s comment below)

13. This is a professional practice …
… and it can really only be practiced (under mentorship) in industry. This is as true for students as it is for teachers. Students have to follow through on required internships and cooperatives and even teachers should be afforded opportunities that keep them tied to industry practice throughout their career. I’m not advocating adjunct professorships as I see flaws in having teaching being moonlighting, but I did post this diddy not too long ago.

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  • Vicky

    Great list.

    From a student perspective, I’d also add (kinda a riff on 7 and 8): you can’t beat experience and maturity. I did a 3 year degree and it wasn’t enough – there’s a reason why many European design schools are at least 4-5 years, and often have slightly older students. Gladwell’s 10,000 hours (if not more) principle definitely stands.

    I’d even throw in the (semi-flippant) comment a tutor once made that it can take many people until they’re over 25 to really be able to get over themselves in terms of design and critique.

  • dave

    Hey! I add one based on Vicky’s comment. Thanx Vicky!

  • Neil

    Great list Dave. Nothing I’d take away, but there is something I’d add. Perhaps I’m showing my own bias, but one thing that you seem to allude to, but don’t explicitly mention is literature and culture. You make references to communication, language, narrative, criticism. Designers can learn much from literature. I see this as an addition to #8. I don’t expect any kind of deep linguistics being taught or French literary criticism. But at least some discourse that touches on such topics.

    And this leads to culture as well. Your points 11&12 point towards understanding the role of design in culture. If we are to find meaning in design and create meaning through design, we should have some background on culture as well.

    Just my $0.02.


  • http://www.bojhan.nl Bojhan Somers

    14. What seems to be missing here is what you end up remembering from school. The reflection and discussions you have had with your fellow students and teachers. Being in class, I am often surprised by the lack of common ground amongst students and teachers too.

    The stories that you share, not just about design – but how it made an impact, how it changed the way you perceive things. Are the ones that shape your craft, I think what’s definitely missing from design education are these stories.

    15. Realistic school projects & Very unrealistic ones. Often I get assignments in which the concept is not bound to any commercial value, nor social. But also no daring assignments, where the goal is to explore that undefinable hunch of where students see the future.

    @Vicky Although I agree with your note, I do feel its an implied value. Obviously age assumptions to maturity and skill, is what is holding back a lot of talent – and only making them better..

  • dave

    Just so people are keeping up. I’ve been making larger additions to new entries. Here are the ones thus far:

  • dave

    @neil look for my next addition. I will actually have a big piece on the humanities and the social sciences coming right up.

    @Bojhan I’m not sure that your #14 (mine was about knowledge creation) fits here. Not that it is not important, but it is something that the system nurtures, but indirectly. I could be wrong here, or not getting your bigger picture.

    As for your #15 that might be taken care of here: http://davemalouf.com/?p=1793 but in a slightly different way. I do believe in both groundedness in reality but also deep explorations as well.


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