May 16, 2022

Home Design Consultant

Enjoy Home Design Consultant

The New Home Of Design Education

Global design expert and consultant at the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies.

While in the past it was common for design to be taught in stand-alone art schools, art academies or technical colleges, today it is increasingly taught in research universities. Why is this the case, and how is this changing the field of design?

At the turn of the century, my own design education journey took me from classical art schools and academies to research universities. For me, at the time, these two worlds could not have been more different.

Why research universities?

Essentially, research universities are the pinnacles of higher education. As such, they aspire to create and advance new knowledge. By embracing design education, their goal is not to preserve the field of design as it is, but to advance it.

Any institution, to lead, needs to embrace the “new.” Unlike art academies, research universities are not conservatories of art and design. They are incubators for innovation. In these environments, design doesn’t sit still. Designers continuously try to branch out into new forms, integrate new technologies, embrace new knowledge and experiment with new media.

How should the focus of the field change?

Contemporary designers working in research universities should leverage their access to advanced technologies, and they should fuse them into their practice. Designers should experiment with artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, biology, science and ecology. But at the same time, they should also engage with social sciences and the humanities to better express the idea of what it means to be a human in an age defined by technology.

In a research university environment that is primarily defined by science and driven by critical thinking, we need to apply creative thinking to drive breakthrough innovation. Creative thinking provides inspiration, an opportunity for radical experimentation, informal innovation and open-ended inquiry. This is not science, but this approach is complementary to science.

Will design change completely?

Both critical and creative thinking today should drive design. Design should also be human-centric, empirical and evidence-based. This, however, doesn’t mean that traditional design, which has been forged in the field of art, should no longer exist. That is not at all the point I am trying to make. This kind of design is not going anywhere. We will still need it. But we will need to continue expanding the field to stay relevant.

What has research got to do with design?

As the field of design continues to receive greater public attention, many new opportunities will continue to emerge. Contemporary designers are now expected to be socially, culturally and environmentally responsible, and they need to be held accountable for the work they do. But for designers to make well-informed design choices, their practice must be empirical and defined by research.

The main difference between “design by art” and “design by science” is that the first is an inner-directed activity, and the other is an outer-directed activity. One is driven by the desire for self-expression, and the other by the interest in helping others. These two approaches draw their knowledge from two different areas. Research, for example — especially one grounded in social sciences — helps designers to better understand the needs of the people they are trying to help. This way of working doesn’t diminish the ability of the designers to express themselves but elevates the importance of the work that they do.

What are the challenges for the field of design?

If I need to sum up in one sentence the purpose of the field of design today, then I would say that designers must challenge existing social conventions, and at the same time, aspire to improve them. Designers should fully embrace the zeitgeist of their time, but they always must look beyond what is only relevant right now.

There is, however, one problem that we must address. The field of design, as it stands, often promotes a monoculture of theory and history, and the field needs to be more diverse and inclusive. The dominant canons of design, which are typically “Western” in principle, tend to exclude worldviews that do not fit in this strict framework. In the world in which we live today, design reaches everyone. Yet, as my friend from New Zealand, the Māori designer Dr. Johnson Witehira, points out, “Growing up the only Māori thing in my house was the people.” This is why it is important for designers to adequately respond to the needs of what are often underrepresented minority communities.

Why do we need ‘better’ design?

One of the many purposes of design today is to enhance the well-being of our society. The field of design has a strong track record of helping communities by providing better healthcare solutions, raising their standards of living and even reducing crime. Being inclusive and providing access to design for everyone is essential for creating a healthy and thriving society.

Why are research universities the right environment for design education?

Inclusive design programs can have a major impact on the local community, their sustainability and their economy. These kinds of far-reaching design programs are best suited to be developed at research universities. The reason for this is that designers need to be able to collaborate with a wide range of disciplinary experts in order to adequately address the complex challenges of our times.

This, however, is not a new idea. Design has always been an integrative discipline and designers are very capable of transcending disciplinary boundaries. The only difference is that today, designers need environments that provide them with much greater access to knowledge, technology and resources than ever before. In return, designers can bring divergent disciplines together and deliver new ways of looking at existing problems. This is necessary because there is only so much innovation that any single discipline can deliver on its own. And even more importantly, any new innovation today — technological or otherwise — must be human-centric in order to be widely embraced. This is why comprehensive research universities are increasingly becoming a new playground for design.


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