Kevin Henry / The Fourth Teacher L.L.C. / Learning Designers / 06.25.18
Where is design going?
Design is dematerializing in different ways. Not only are the traditional boundaries that separated design in the 20th century into spheres defined largely by dimensions (graphic/communication design as two-dimensional, industrial/product design- as three-dimensional, and architecture/interior design- as four-dimensional) but also the outcomes of the design process. More and more design focuses on ephemeral interactions. Design has been hybridized into the physical and virtual which now means it’s no longer possible for a designer to operate in a single dimension or without consideration of other design disciplines. An industrial designer might design a physical artifact that is activated by an app. This requires knowledge of both artifactual design as well as interface design and interaction. Likewise, a communication designer may be designing the interface that allows a consumer to experience an activity through a mobile device. Such an interaction not only spans dimensions (two-dimensional graphical interface and four-dimensional spatial interactions) it also requires an understanding of the cognitive issues associated with mental models and haptic interactions. Training a designer that has reasonably deep knowledge of a specific design domain (artifactual design for example or spatial design) while instilling an awareness of the issues that will impact or impinge upon their creative decision-making process is a challenge that education must meet. We are witnessing massive disruption in every sector that will likely not abate any time soon (or ever for that matter). For design education to be truly responsive to this new reality requires designers to be creative problem solvers as well as futurists. Anticipating the future will require a new set of skills such as design fiction writing (science fiction merged with trend forecasting and design strategy) coupled with design visualization, rapid prototyping, and testing. Training students to understand this complex set of dynamics and the skills required to design for them, is definitely where design is going in my opinion.
How can design education be more relevant?
First of all if we re-think our conception of design as a human right (or at least a natural human motivation) then every citizen should become skilled at designing solutions to problems beginning with K12 education. Design should not begin at the collegiate level (or even the high school level) but should be part of the pre-school experience since it involves what makes humans the dominant species. Once a design literacy is established, it can live alongside (and complement) the other dominant literacies- reading/writing and mathematics. We must establish design as a form of 21st century literacy along with all that implies. Design is a language, a form of thinking, and a form of action. Design education- if it’s to become a literacy must be introduced like the other literacies- in elementary school. Only then can we truly anticipate what could/should happen at the collegiate level.
What are the future skillsets designers need to learn now?
The skills, in my opinion, range for writing design fiction to forecasting future trends, understanding as deeply as possible the implications of emergent technologies, and possessing the ‘imaginative’ skills required to envision the future through the technical skills of ideation, creation, and assessment/testing. Combine this with an aesthetic sensibility, an environmental awareness, and a cultural consciousness and, I believe, we are describing the future designer.
What should a design school do to prepare students for transdisciplinary work?
The transdisciplinary designer needs an enormous amount of empathy connected with the appropriate field work to test out that empathy to enforce it and ensure that it is real. Transdisciplinary design requires both a set of technical skills necessary to bridge disciplines as well as the cognitive and emotional/personal mindsets required to permit a designer to feel passionate and informed about complex issues. Without the emotional element (the compassion and empathy) a designer will, most likely, remain outside the core issues. Co-creation or working directly with others is another skill that designers need for the types of work they will encounter. Allowing the voices of non-designers into the negotiations is essential and will only increase with time in my opinion.
What should a design school do to forward equity and inclusion?
I believe one way of forwarding the issue of equity and inclusion would be to collectively map those issues in a collective brainstorming session (or two/three) It’s necessary not only to visualize the stakeholders, but to invite them in to help map the future topography of a truly equitable and inclusive process. Identify the communities as well as possible and than invite them to the table to begin hashing out what the future should ideally look like. Help them to understand the design process and empower them to be influential stakeholders. The lessons learned will, no doubt, go both directions and impact those who feel excluded as well as those doing he excluding.
What other thoughts/ideas would you like to share?
Design for learning will be a hugely important part of the design process. We currently live in a world with highly fragmented media. Not only are they fragmented, but they are less effective for the purposes of teaching and learning. We’ve become too accustomed to media as entertainment when, in fact, lifelong learning will be something all students will need to engage with once they matriculate and start their careers. Thinking about the best possible delivery methods as well as the most effective media production will require all the same design methods used to design consumer goods, interfaces, and services. Education that occurs only in the traditional classroom will hopefully go away soon, book-learning will hopefully be augmented by mobile-learning, and peer-to-peer learning will become both formalized and more prevalent. That’s only the short list of design and educational steps that could change the current educational model.