Design education and the recession

Another post that sees the recession as that ‘reset’ button. Where we can start from first principles and realign design education to be more relevant to the emerging world.

gongblog – journal – In defense of generalists

It is no secret that I think design education is a little too specialized to the point of only being able to churn out high-tech craftsmen. In this time of global recession, jobs being decimated, major economies hanging in the balance, a new left-of-center administration about to take the helm — just take a look at what the design blogosphere continues to blog about — nothing of real consequence (well, maybe some proactive insights as to how to make our existing super-surplus of consumer crap…a more sustainable super-surplus of consumer crap).

This reminds me, I need to return Hugh Dubberly’s ping from a month ago about his ideas about the problems and future of design education (of which many of his observations and ideas are incisive and brilliant). Personally, although I have not thought about it nearly as long as he has, I think that an education on “how to think” and “how to innovate your way out of hostile enemy territory” is a start. An education that leverages the wisdom of the ages rather than just the wisdom of a single discipline. A modern-day interdisciplinary Swiss Army Knife MacGyver School of Design, but heavy with the gravitas concerned with the world’s VERY SERIOUS problems, acknowledging that no single discipline alone can crack these puzzles. Admit it — designing a logo ain’t *that* hard. Neither is a thousand pages of information architecture specs. Pfft. And for the record…NO! The claptrap that is “Design Thinking” is NOT THE ANSWER, contrary to today’s popular opinion of this seriously annoying and intellectually vacuous…fad. What I have in mind is more “Design Special Weapons And Tactics”–solving problems through deep synthesis steeped in deep knowledge — as a grave duty, not an opportunistic semantic spin-job; where projects are “missions”, where being able to name category solutions trumps client name-dropping, where designers have a shot at a Nobel rather than another Art Directors Club feather.

I think we will have armies of unemployed design professionals very very soon. I wonder what they will spend their days doing. The hand that fed them before is metamorphosing into something else, and it would behoove the design cognoscenti to facilitate a massive retraining of the profession and a serious reflection on the purpose of design education. We need a new generation of thinkers who worship at altars other than at the feet of the god of aesthetics. Perhaps an acid test would be to ask a designer off the street, “Well, who *is* the hand that feeds and why?” — let me know what you hear back from them.


3 Replies to “Design education and the recession”

  1. I think this dislike for “Design Thinking” is just about the social context of the name. I think the meaning of the name is almost exactly what they want. I also, however, think that the social context they site is not all together accurate.

    I think design schools have 2 core responsibilities; to teach to ask, and to teach to try.


  2. I love this comment – a stick to beat the ‘product design’ wallahs. But you are right – the ‘dislike’ seeps thru. On another note the lines are drawn – between the design people who value the sketch to production side of design and the others who value the intellectual terrain design affords. And never shall the twain meet. Now suppose you look at the design bloggers – do they sketch, do they make, do they design? Then look at the design lecturers – do they do projects? Some yes – mostly no to both questions. So in a perfect world where we sit in a manufacturing context like Foshan – we become attached to makers. But when we sit in an intellectual and wordy world we have to indulge in other things. That is my take on this.

    Re the quote in the post – I like the rabid energy of the criticism. Whats his problem you may ask. But thats just a rhetorical question.


  3. Sure. Well I agree that teaching students to innovate and to understand what it is to need to innovate as suggested in the quote would tend to build a lot of capable people for this industry.


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