Laura Weiss / Design Diplomacy / Principal / 07.27.18

Where is design going?

Design as both a methodology and a philosophy for solving difficult problems is increasingly being integrated into non-design processes and work flows. So as professionals outside of the design fields are gaining access to design tools, the role of the traditional designer should be evolving to become that of facilitative leader – meaning that designers now have the opportunity to take the lead in guiding interactions among stakeholders who are collaborating to address the world’s most complex challenges.

How can design education be more relevant?

Design education must take an integrative approach to leadership training, and make it a foundational requirement. Because leadership is so highly interactive, training must be incorporated into project-based curricula and not treated as a separate “academy” or special program. If design education is committed to training future leaders, it will always be relevant.

What are the future skillsets designers need to learn now?

In addition to the requisite technical skills, designers must become adept at a variety of communication skills such as active listening, facilitating open dialogue, framing the right problem to solve, and engaging with conflict. Most of these skills are never formally taught, and it is assumed that a workplace mentor will take up the slack. The problem is, many senior practitioners who are in a mentorship role were themselves never properly trained, and with the exception of the naturally talented, their bad habits persist by being transferred to future generations.

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

The key is to expose students to a range of disciplines as early as possible via experiential modes of learning. True transdisciplinary work is about much more than content; it’s about appreciating and engaging in a completely different way of thinking. For example, I can develop skills in managerial finance and learn all about cost-based accounting, but that won’t help me learn what it’s like to work with a business-minded individual or team that’s comfortable with a more empirical approach to problem solving. Becoming appreciative of these differences is critical to successful professional collaborations, and designers should begin practicing how to observe, understand, and engage divergent perspectives and learning styles while they are still students.

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

The challenge of equity, diversity and inclusion in any environment is fundamentally a systems problem, so it must be addressed at a systems level. In an academic environment this means that faculty and staff must demonstrate the behaviors and values that they hope the students will adopt. The opportunities to do this are numerous in both classroom and studio contexts.

What other thoughts/ideas would you like to share?

As my practice has evolved to focus on the human interactions that define successful design outcomes, I’ve come to appreciate that the design process is fundamentally “a series of mediated conversations”. When design professionals take responsibility for leading these conversations, their impact will be boundless.

Laura Weiss

Design Diplomacy


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