Changing Design Education

At least someone in the design profession is thinking about it.
I only read the abstract here, but there is a link to the full thesis which I’ll read later tonight.
I really do question the amount of emphasis placed on “social change.”

I quickly skimmed through the entire article past the abstract. I’ll try to give it a more thorough read-through tonight.

It was quick, and I hate making rash judgments. Even so, I recognized lots of wordy academic and theoretical assumptions that, in my opinion, fail to match up with the realities faced by the real-world business of design. Maybe I’ll change my mind once I have time to spend on it.

I kinda got that from the main article that link came from. Way too much emphasis on things I’m finding are important to college professors, but not so much the real world. Which I think is what you said too. I have one brain cell left tonight so don’t think I’ll waste it there. Maybe tomorrow.

“Education for designers (like nearly all education) is based on learning skills, nourishing talents, understanding the concepts and theories that inform the field, and, finally, acquiring a philosophy. It is unfortunate that our design schools proceed from wrong assumptions. The skills we teach are too often related to processes and working methods of an age that has ended.”

I agree with better understanding concepts, but I would say there should be even more emphasis on the “methods of an age that ended.”

Prime example:
My design training in the 90s involved learning how to use amberlith/rubylith. While I’ve never once worked with that in my career, it directly informed me on why logos always need to be built as one color and what it means to be “too detailed for a logo.”

To further that example, even though you might no longer be using rubylith, you are still using cut vinyl. And the same concept of weeding and transferability applies to that material.

Yes very true! With so many run-ins with bad logos these days, this is definitely a concept that could use some focus.

After reading through the entire paper, it definitely reflects an academic perspective that’s, in some ways, naive and rather far removed from a complete picture of reality. Then again, I agree with much of it.

Much of the paper is based on the premise that good design is playing a larger role than ever before in society. The authors think that going forward, design will play an even more critical role, with designers occupying upper-management positions in corporations and design thinking playing a critical role in making corporate decisions.

With these assumptions in mind, the authors think that design schools need to revamp their curricula in ways that provide their students with the skills and mindsets necessary for this new world in which designers will play a role that goes far beyond just making logos and brochures.

Well, OK. I sort of agree, but I think the authors are largely ignoring things lying outside their narrow line of sight.

I agree that design is playing a larger societal role and that design schools need to change. Consumers expect quality and they make decisions based on perceptions of quality and value. This extends to everything from products to packaging to promotions to websites to product usability to the entire way companies present themselves (their brands). So yes, design thinking at the top levels in most any company is important.

However, there’s another side of the story that isn’t nearly as promising.

Down below the corner office suite, design is being increasingly commoditized or seen as a do-it-yourself skill augmented by computers and software. Canva, for example, has a philosophy of making good design something that anyone can do. And really, some of the things built in Canva can look pretty good and do the job. Drag-and-drop website building apps are becoming the norm. Crowdsourcing, where there’s always a race to the bottom in pricing, has turned into the standard way small businesses hire out design work. Weird little low-paying cottage design industries have sprung up around things like logo designing and clipping path creation. For-profit, suburban design schools are pumping out ill-prepared design graduates by the tens of thousands into a field where they’ll likely never find a job that pays more than working at a fast food restaurant.

So I guess we have two competing trends going on simultaneously. The first one being the premise of the article — the increasing importance of design thinking and good design as part of corporate culture. The second one being a death spiral of design into being little more than something for hobbyists, amateurs and do-it-yourselfers.

A third trend I see is the unreasonable demands placed on every low-paid designer to be an expert at everything from video, to 3D, to building websites, to print, to app UI/UX, to social media, to motion graphics, to, well, everything else.

How all this will shake out, I don’t know. The whole field is changing rapidly and morphing into something very different from what it was just a few short years ago. If the authors of this paper are right, there will be room for a few highly paid designers sitting in the top echelons of most every corporation. On the other hand, what they’re not focusing on, are the thousands more working for close to minimum wage — if they’re lucky enough to be working at all.

Maybe the authors are right. Maybe university design programs should focus on design thinking being a critical part of future corporate environments. They didn’t come right out and say this, but maybe design programs should reside in business schools instead of art schools. Maybe it’s also time for design programs to train students for a future where most hands-on piecemeal design is just produced by computer algorithms or crowdsourced overseas.

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