Design, Form, and Function in Art Education

By Zande, Robin Vande | Art Education, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Design, Form, and Function in Art Education


Zande, Robin Vande, Art Education


The study of functional design is especially significant as visual culture becomes more important in art education curriculum, pedagogy, and theory.

Human beings are influenced by design every day through continuous contact with functional form in and through visual culture (Yelavich, 1997; Meikle, 2005). We encounter a continuous current of such new styles as clothing fashions, architecture, furniture, and advertisements. In fact, the American pursuit of happiness has become related to an increasing flow of products and consumerism (Meikle, 2005). Design has become big business and makes a viable contribution to the economy.

The market landscape has changed in the last decade. Consumers now have affordable choices of well-designed products. Executives of the discount store Target recognized that they could not compete with rivals Wal-Mart and K-Mart on price alone (Meikle, 2005). Therefore, they hired a well-known designer, Michael Graves, to design objects similar to those he had created for the customers of the exclusive Italian company, Alessi. Philip Starke, another Alessi designer, and other top designers have joined the Target team. Ikea and Pottery Barn stores that descended on America in the mid-1990s, also offer affordable products that mimic the look of more expensive design classics (Gibney & Luscombe, 2000).

Americans have an increased appetite for good style and are demanding more and well-designed products (Gibney & Luscombe, 2000). In spite of our desire for surrounding ourselves with good design, art educators are not demonstrating the same interest in design education dictated in the national standards, publications, and enrichment programs created outside of the art education field (Vande Zande, 2001). In this article, I will discuss the importance of functional design as an integral component of a contemporary art education that is responsive to a visual culture consumer-driven society.

Art Educators and the Teaching of Design

Davis, Hawley, McMullan, and Spilka (1997) researched the interdisciplinary benefits of design education. The authors found that the national standards for civics and government, language arts, mathematics, science, and technology have learning expectations that support the teaching of functional design. Through a survey of the National Standards for Arts Education, design is mentioned as it relates to compositional design, i.e. using the elements of art and principles of design to arrange or analyze a composition. There is one brief reference to functional design, i.e. product, architecture, graphic design, etc. Studying functional design was identified as a benefit through the "impact of design on virtually all we use in daily life" (Mahlmann, 1994, p. 4). The study of functional design is especially significant as visual culture becomes more important in art education curriculum, pedagogy, and theory.

There are many possible approaches for developing functional design instruction in school art programs. Responding to a high level of interest, museum and architectural organizations developed curricula for teaching design. For example, programs at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, have a record-setting attendance of 87,700 adults and children who participated in the 2004 education programs (Brody & Rynd, 2005). The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum offers "award-winning" programs for New York City high school students (Cooper-Hewitt, 2006). The Museum of Design in Atlanta conducts popular design classes for students, grades 3-12, and the Design Camp for high school students at the University of Minnesota was featured in Metropolitan Home (Kleinman, 2003) as being one of the best design ideas in 2002. There are other programs offered through architectural associations across the country as well as a few charter and public schools with a curricular emphasis on design.

In addition, architectural foundations have developed design curricula. …

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