Fo Wilson / Columbia College Chicago / Associate professor / 03.20.18

Where is design going?

design, as well as academia in general, is at an important point of transition. I think of america during and after wwII when many european design emigres we fleeing nazi occupation and coming to north & south america and transplanting their practices here. they contributed to establishing and accelerating design methodologies that were just beginning in the us with the rise of the industrial revolution. they contributed sophisticated design practices that helped establish visual corporate culture, corporate identity and awareness. corporate culture has gone awry and sophisticated design practices are used primarily for corporate greed, disinformation and social dismantling.

we are at the point now where design methodologies can address larger social issues and has the potential to do so successfully. I do not have any data to say that this is where design is headed. I would like to say that this is where I hope it can be headed! this is definitely where it could be most useful. the so-called “”citizen designer”” in theory has been a beginning.

How can design education be more relevant?

shouldn’t the question be: how relevant is design education? the goal of design education needs to be teased out and rearticulated before a proper evaluation could determine its relevance, really. how many institutions of higher learning have reevaluated and updated their design curriculums to address 21st century practice? most curriculums are still using or simply revising 20th century models that are no longer adequate.

What are the future skillsets designers need to learn now?

part of the problem with determining skills sets for a specialized field, is that specialized fields in and of themselves are an archaic way to look at 21st-century professionalism. we should be looking at what skills are going to be essential to ensure that the world can thrive on various levels into the next century? and what part can design play in contributing to its positive viability within a consciousness of equity?

what a 21st century designer needs to learn is not much different than other students in other disciplines need to learn. actually, what schools should do is teach people how to learn in a way that they can take it away to apply to life-long learning. the world is changing so fast that what you learn today may not help you tomorrow. we could also look at what we teach. how can we learn how to embrace difference as a methodology for innovation?

in terms of methods: what biologist doesn’t need to know how to collaborate or “”charrette”” effectively with colleagues to begin to examine biological diversity in a given locale? what designer does not need to know how to do a proper analysis or understand what data points are most relevant to understanding the movement of people in a given neighborhood as a means of determining the most useful place to locate an urban park? many professions need to learn the same things.

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

see above. and, get rid of separate schools and departments as the status quo for an operational and administrative academic structure. current structures that have persisted for more than 100 years in the majority of schools, are antithetical to interdisciplinary practice and only thwart it. do away with them.

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

equity and inclusion should be built into the content, curriculum, administrative structures and (re)education of students faculty and staff. dismantling white supremacy should be one of the goals any new program should support. a tough mandate! it is hard to enact because people of color rarely get to be in academic leadership positions. white males want to hold their ground as privileged elites. if not included though, any new effort or program is at risk of being irrelevant and won’t attract or be of service to evolving populations of students changing the global academic landscape.

in addition, educational institutions need to figure out how to make higher education cheaper and innovate ways to resist the upward trend that is making it more and more expensive. it is not sustainable and colleges kick the can down the road with this issue at their own peril.

Fo Wilson

Columbia College Chicago

Associate professor

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