Alison King / Modern Phoenix LLC / Designer | Researcher | Entrepreneur | Professor / Parsons School of Design and Teachers College Columbia University / 07.27.18

Where is design going?

To quote the late Paul Rand, everything is design… and everything will be designed, whether well designed or not. As humans start to understand the essential directive of building functional things that last longer and hurt others less, good design has started to play a greater part. Sustainability isn’t just a fad, it’s an imperative.


That observation is probably nothing new. So I predict that design will continue to heal the human condition in a broader sense, but only in the extent to which people let it.

How can design education be more relevant?

The current demand from industry for entry level designers is to do a lot of things very well, not one thing incredibly well. Undergraduate work should be a time to experiment and taste a lot of different skills in order to discover hidden talents.


We must also balance the need for developing better workers who are skilled, motivated and tasteful with developing better humans who are curious, empathetic, and agile.


We can’t ignore the role that social and subversive media plays in the age of personalized channels and ad blockers. On one hand, it offers great opportunity for niche marketing. On another, the deterioration of shared cultural channels and loss of trust creates giant chasms that need to be bridged.


What are the future skillsets designers need to learn now?

Designers must develop the habits and drive for lifelong learning because industry and innovation is advancing faster than schools can realistically keep up.


Designers need to know how to communicate verbally and visually with non-designers because nearly all design in industry seems to be interdisciplinary to some extent.


In the age of personalized media feeds and uninterrupted commercial-free broadcast, designers need to remain open to a broader range of cultural and media inputs than the average human being in order to develop empathy and understand other points of view.


What should a design school do to prepare students for transdisciplinary work?

Cross-pollinate between departments on practical problem solving.


Connect student designers with relevant yet challenging real-world service learning projects out in the community.


Connect students with mentors who specialize in transdisciplinary work to model how to walk the walk.


Offer the option of a concentration or minor track in a non-design discipline such as sustainability, political science or entrepreneurship.



What should a design school do to forward equity and inclusion?

Summer programs, high school outreach and scholarships for underserved communities should help.


Meet the students in their own spaces, leveled at where they are at developmentally with relevant, engaging and fun outreach — and not expect them to meet you where the university is at. Many young people do not know they have a knack for design until they are given the opportunity to taste it.

Alison King

Modern Phoenix LLC

Designer | Researcher | Entrepreneur | Professor

Parsons School of Design and Teachers College Columbia University

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