“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

Tell Me the Future of Design Education

I am honored to have been invited to participate in a project to come up with a manifesto on the future of design education. ICOGRADA, which is the international organization representing Visual Design in the International Design Alliance, is leading this effort, based on their first attempt 10 years ago. On purpose I’m avoiding references, because I’d like to talk to you all on equal footing, regardless of your connection to design education and your understanding of design organizations & their histories.

The task I have accepted is to write a 1000-1500 word paper on my thoughts on Design Education. I am so excited to be doing this. My main challenge is the word count. As anyone who has ever edited me can attest, restraint when it comes to word count is not my strength. This topic though is so immensely complex which makes that constraint so much harder to achieve.

Over the next 2 weeks I’m going to go through 3 stages of process. This is the 1st.I am inviting you, my readers (all 2 of you) to chime in here& Answer the question,”What is the future of Design Education?” from your point of view.I’m looking for specific & tactical subject matter to be fodder for stage 2.

Stage 2 will be where I synthesize these ideas (hopefully many) into a publicly editable Google Document. Everyone gyy’uyuuu’yyg;t be invited to comment & even craft that article.zxy’

Stage 3 will againy-yyty invite the community to react & comment more generally. This will end in my final document.

Of course I’ll post my final.

Anyway, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

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  • Yushi

    Since reading Deming’s TQM, the first thing came to my mind is how to measure the results or turnouts of a student, is that merit (score) is the only thing? Is there any way to identify or discover the potential skills of the person? Those are the problems of the system, how do we evolve from our current systems to the new?

    Secondly, how to make studying experiences much more engaging than games? Since the information of nowadays is so much more than ever before, we do need more means on educational materials.

    Just throwing thoughts here.

  • http://twitter.com/genemoy Gene Moy

    It’s unfortunate that we don’t have design education earlier in life. Public education has been gutted so there is no funding for arts, but this is precisely where and why Design needs to go viral. The crazy thing to me is that colleges still big D design into this ghetto at the Arts building, not just apart from the rest of the campus, but also intellectually. The gatekeeping for Design has to be brought down. This is an unfortunate part of the publish/perish cycle at big research universities, but the gatekeeping must be broken. So I would propose that if we as a nation are to compete with emerging economies, design must be integrated into every discipilne: certainly business; the sciences, particularly medical; not just computer engineering but other harder engineering disciplines; social innovation could lend a much needed hand to social science, education, social service programs, so on. There is no area that would be untouched by design as a basic 21st century competency. Secondly, really there should be the chance to get experience by learning and acquiring the ability to work with disparate disciplines on projects of increasingly difficulty, which could have enormous benefits for communities around the learning institution. I like the advocacy that the Design Council in the UK have made on this point and I wish kids coming out of school knew how to do this better so we can get to do more interesting work sooner. And we need to since the problems facing us as a nation, as a world really, will require a design force much greater than we have today.

  • http://www.future-sense.net Rahul Sen

    Design education needs to evolve with the changing needs that designers face when they are working in the field. Design has various roles and its education needs to be able to allow students to express themselves in those roles. Some might choose to specialize, whilst others would want to remain generalists. Education should mix in generous doses of ‘times for specialized learning’ and ‘times of collaborative learning’.

    For design to be treated like art, it needs to be taught like art. Improvise, express, probe, question, delight, shock etc.

    For design to be treated as ‘helping businesses to innovate’ it needs to be woven into business thinking, strategy, service blueprints etc.

    For design to be treated as innovation in the realm of harmonizing people’s behavioral problems using a technical palette – its education must focus on experience prototyping, electronics, programming, coding etc.

    For design to be treated as innovation in the realm of beautiful experiences – emphasis must be put on aspects of its beauty. In the physical World – in product making, tooling, manufacture etc. In the digital UX World – in graphic design, typography, animation, video, screen issues, pixels etc.

    There could be many ways of approaching this issue, and no one answer or solution will fit all. I believe that for a design education to truly be meaningful – it needs to give its ‘users’ what they need without clearly knowing what they might want. It also needs to mix these factors in, so that people learn from one another rather than from books and teachers. It was a powerful tool for us in Umeå.

    Lastly – begin early, in high school and allow students to know what they might want by the time they get there. Might have saved me a few years in life. :)

    My 2 random cents.

  • http://twitter.com/miniver Jonathan Korman

    Take my comments with a grain of salt, since I have no formal design training; I have been an interaction designer since before programs for the discipline really existed. In consequence, I have combination of envy and skepticism about conventional design education.

    Two key points of skepticism:

    With all due respect to Sen and Moy below, I belong to the school of thought that holds that the alliance between art and design made in the middle of the 20th century was not an entirely wholesome one. I don’t want to entirely discount the benefits of that frame of mind — I love beautiful design as much as the next designer — but I prefer to think of design as allied to craft, rather than art.

    It is common for folks in the craft professions — be they building contractors or psychotherapists — to undergo some sort of apprenticeship process. We see this happening in design studios, but I wonder how this might be included in design schools.

    For example, one of the distinctive features of the practice at Cooper, where I worked for quite some time, is that new designers in the organization — often very accomplished before they join — are given a “trailing” position on an existing design team for a few months before they do billable work, and then in their first team they are paired with a seasoned Cooper designer and given seasoned designer on another team as a mentor. This is obviously a very expensive proposition for the organization, but we found that there was no substitute for the benefits to both the designer and the studio as a whole.

  • Rahul Sen

    Thanks for the comments Jonathan. :)

    To clarify my point – when I said ‘Art’ I meant it in a way that may be likened to craft in itself. I meant it more like design education at the RCA in London where emphasis is not so much on solving problems but on asking questions through design. The focus is on the craft of design rather than its industrial demands.

    I believe there is room for all kinds of designers and design in the World and a good education system must be flexible enough to accommodate this variety.

    I agree completely with your point about practical apprenticeship – they are definitely the best education a young designer can get.

  • http://www.facebook.com/davidsherwin David Sherwin

    Can we start a little earlier, positioning design as a problem-solving vehicle that bridges art and science in an elementary or high school context?

    By this, I mean that students understand that in a science class, solving a problem such as a basic equation has only a small number of answers. Some are right, some are wrong, based on the theorem or postulate you’re operating under.

    In an art class, you are solving problems as well, though they are more latent than, say, equations describing the motion of the planets. We are in the sphere of human emotion and expression.

    Design thrives in the place in between these basic subjects. We just need to be better about building a bridge between the two, and clarifying what design approaches can help people understand when to apply design thinking (ugh, still struggle with that term) or applied design skills to a problem that needs to be solved.

    How different would shop class be if it was reframed as a design activity, and connected to other disciplines?

    How different would a civics class be, if we designed new online mechanisms for people to learn how our country worked?

    How different would a math class be, if we created applications to teach others how to solve basic equations?

    Not everyone will want to make such things to learn. But those that do may discover something even more powerful than mechanical learning.

  • http://twitter.com/genemoy Gene Moy

    Jonathan, I share your skepticism as one who was rejected from the finest design programs in the country and yet still, against all odds, still found his way in to graphic design through the backdoor, after which I went to programming, became disgruntled about the whole web profession, and only found salvation in user experience and interaction design. I am skeptical to the point that how prepared are the administrations and staff of design research and teaching institutions to deal with these changes, and I think, probably not as well as industry. To your point, this is how in fact most of us came into this profession, by learning on the job. Part of the problem was there weren’t enough (sometimes there weren’t any) mentors back then, not really enough internships, people are busy, and this work is hard enough so that people really expect you to pull your own weight or you drag them and the project down. With budgets and projects structured the way they are in firms today, there’s very little room for failure and containing failure. There’s a similar problem with medical work today, by the way. That’s a tough problem to solve, but, there are partnerships with industry and nonprofits that can be made. This is why I’d advocate building this stuff into (as others have commented earlier) earlier education and also taking it out of the classroom so it becomes part and parcel of our everyday discussion. Design then ceases to be a property of objects and becomes something we do everyday to improve our lives.

  • http://twitter.com/lauriekalmanson lauriekalmanson

    communicating design: the book of that title, and also the circles that overlap — wireframes, requirements: how do you get from a bunch of people in different offices with different roles to a finished product that delights users while meeting business needs

    i always talk about hats/roles/people: all hats have to be worn and roles assigned, but the corresponding people vary with the skills of individuals and teams

    i am not a visual designer but i do interaction design, via content strategy and project management, and, in the dark years before the internet, newspaper reporting. my skills are talking to experts, asking questions, working out answers that are comprehensible to me and other reasonably adept non-experts, and creating a synthesis that becomes either a finished product (content) or a starting point for more pairs of hands (wireframes).

    visual designers who can work in a multidisciplinary team are invaluable, and that is not an easily gained perspective: we are all putting this together with our shared skills.

    my .025

  • http://twitter.com/miniver Jonathan Korman

    Obviously much of what you say is true, but I think I differ about the implications for our host’s original question — what should a manifesto for the future of design education contain?

    I recognize the value of the art & design pairing as one part of the ecosystem, but currently that leg is disproportionately strong. The art & craft pairing is weak in design education and design culture, while (as you observe!) the need is only getting greater.

    Since design education is currently devolving more and more into being about tools skills, and I agree that industry should not be expected to shoulder the burden of apprenticeships as they have de facto much of the time, it’s time for us to talk explicitly about what design education SHOULD look like. And for that, I think a categorically stronger apprenticeship process is vital.

  • http://twitter.com/genemoy Gene Moy

    But what should design education focus on? If it were in my power, I think I would move the focus of design ed away from formgiving, more towards collaborating with others from different disciplines, sharpening observation and synthesizing data into insight. Learning by doing, I agree. But I am somewhat uncomfortable with traditional forms of master-apprentice relations; we have this at the university but it is a kind of wage slavery where the bulk of the work is done by a permanently rotating force of intellectual laborers while the true benefits accrue to their masters, in the union, so on. So I think that relationship should also be rethought, redesigned. Similarly, should students, such as engineering co-ops or interns go to a company where, eventually, just at the point they have acquired the domain knowledge to be useful, they must go away, then the next batch has to be retrained and it all has to start all over again. Best use of our resources and their time and talents? Small wonder that such interns and firms invest mutually little and gain little in return. Or should firms actually go to the institution with problems at hand that need to be solved? This might be a better, more mutually fruitful partnership. Probably there needs to be a rethinking where industry or nonprofits necessarily have to be partners in teaching.

  • Jim

    It’s a little late to be talking about the “Future of Design Education” since the future is now. Design education, as Jonathan has pointed out has already left the classroom and moved out into the world where people from diverse backgrounds and training are doing most of the real design work, learning and writing the rules as they go by actually creating works in the new mediums.

    Those “non-designers” (some of whom are among the best designers I know) get the work because they understand the new media and have the skills and knowledge required to work in it. If we insist on treating design as if it were a subset of fine art and pretend that it can somehow be divorced from the technologies that are now used to create it, if we continue to believe that you can be a good designer without technology skills and understanding then “design schools” as we know them are dead.

    After all, that the major art and design movements of the 20th century were reactions against the stodgy academicians of the time – art and design “outsiders” replacing the entrenched art and design establishment. There’s no reason to think the 21st century will be different.

  • http://twitter.com/jseiden Josh Seiden

    I thought this post from Steve Blank was germane. Though he’s writing about the future of undergraduate education rather than the future of design education, the post is applicable, because it considers the current environment in which designers work–collaborative, cross-functional workplaces.


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_M6ZHQY4X5FQPVECBD2OVBWB2YU Douglas Anderson

    Emphasis on designing that which is…
    Universal (across all segments of the actual target market, not necessarily all sentient beings)
    Sustainable (low reliance upon extraction of irreplaceable resources, high emphasis on non-toxicity of process & product, durability, upgradability, and reusability/recyclability of materials)
    Useable (learnable, effective, efficient, satisfying, pleasurable)

  • Guest

    I think there has been too much focus on ‘design thinking’ and not enough focus on design skills. The future of design education for me is about teaching those artisan skills. Those processes alone stem from design thinking but root them in a craft that is perhaps more important than ‘thinking’. In my experience of teaching design, we are producing too many multi-disciplinary people and not enough people who have a solid skill.

  • http://twitter.com/udanium Uday Gajendar

    Hope I’m not too late! Crazy busy week at the office. Here’s my two cents, perhaps too brief:

    * The future of DesEdu must still at a basic level relate to core fundamentals of sketching, making, iterating, etc. Formal compositional principles of 2-D and 3-D and 4-D (time/motion/narratives). Materials and methods still matter!

    * Prepare students to confront increasing scales of complexity, with problem solving and opportunity finding.

    * Dealing with the “productive ambiguity” of new tech + emerging markets + varied contexts.

    * Teach about the multiplicity of frames, narratives, postures, archetypes across domains and situations.

    * Prepare for design leadership as partnership and participatory approaches of engagement.

    * Advocate “total lifecycle/ecosystem” thinking of problems/solutions.

    * Ensure future visionaries that tap into the social, cultural, intuitive, mythological trends/sensibilities/narratives, becoming “pioneers of cultural exploration” as R. Buchanan said at IxD11 ;-)

    Hope this helps…Thx!

  • Jim

    I don’t mean to be harsh but this suggestion is long on design-speak and short on substance which I think is a problem with too much of design thinking. Part of the design process is being able to state your goals in easily understood form. I think that should apply to the goals of design education as well.

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