Mia Scharphie / Creative Agency / Principal / Masters of Landscape Architecture, Harvard GSD, 2013 / 04.11.18

Where is design going?

I think we’re going to be witnessing a lot of changes to the industry of design. It’s easier than ever to start a small business, and the forces of recession/expansion also push towards greater economies of scale in our fields. There’s a lot of potential in redesigning our businesses to meet needs differently.

How can design education be more relevant?

  1. Designing with Empathy
    Empathy is a skill you practice, not some woo-woo nice-to-have quality.
    While there will always be room for the great idea that comes out of nowhere *or your unique gifts* there’s so much more need for design to come from human-centered empathetic needs. We need to get in the heads (and maybe even the bodies–Ford has their engineers wear suits that help them experience what it feels like to be older so they don’t just design for 30 year olds) of those we are designing for.
  2. Interdisciplinary Work
    We need more people who work at the seems with other disciplines. We need to practice that in school. And we need not just people, but practices and methodologies.

What are the future skillsets designers need to learn now?

  1. Empathy for design (see last q, this includes frameworks, customer research, observation methodologies)
  2. Interdisciplinary methodologies (see last q.)
  3. How to design and operate successful businesses (even if you always intend to be a worker bee.)

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

  1. Stop making it so hard to take classes in other schools
  2. Make studios interdisciplinary between designers, business students, ecologists, etc.
  3. Give students real-world clients and constraints (after we have a foundation in design methodology)
    Resources for Teaching: Proactive Practices Case Studies by my research collaborative on social impact design business models.
    Emerging Modes of Architectural Practice: My research on the design of design business models.

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

  1. Refuse to have faculty that don’t reflect the general population in terms of race and gender. If you don’t have that now, write a 15 year plan for how you will get there.
  2. Track and publish indicators–how many women and people of color are on review juries? In your great students book? Your speaker slate for the year?
  3. We are all biased. The way we overcome it to proactively design and act against bias. Ask students to set racial and gender equity goals for each and every one of their projects and ask them to back up their assertions with a theory of change. Make it default to do the right thing.
  4. Don’t create an ‘inclusive space’ in your school because generally open without a real push for equity defaults to white/male which are our cultural norms. Ask yourself how can this be a women’s space, a black space, a Latino space, and you will end up with a space that’s truly inclusive and you will end up with something that is truly in the middle and inclusive.


What other thoughts/ideas would you like to share?

I think as creatives we have some truly amazing skills and ways of seeing and framing issues to give to the world. I want us to make good on that promise more.

Mia Scharphie

Creative Agency


Masters of Landscape Architecture, Harvard GSD, 2013

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