Envisioning a Future Design Education

By Poggenpohl, Sharon Helmer | Visible Language, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Envisioning a Future Design Education


Poggenpohl, Sharon Helmer, Visible Language


ABSTRACT

The persistence of past traditions and the uncertainty of change can easily immobilize teachers who see the misfit of design education, but are reluctant to adapt and evolve new approaches to the teaching-learning paradigm. Using a recent statement by a former Harvard president, a few direct and unremarkable adaptations are suggested. This special issue is organized in three sections: Clarity in educational goals and student performance; Attention to dynamic change and interconnectedness; Differentiation and research in graduate programs. The invited authors are briefly introduced. They do not provide consensus, but offer different perspectives on change.

IN THIS TIME of volatile economic, social, technological and global change, reflection on teaching and learning is particularly appropriate from either a teacher or student perspective. Invited contributors to this special issue were prompted to examine the deficits in design education, to discuss transitions from past expectations to better performance, and even to speculate on a more distant future-perhaps a utopian design agenda for ten or twenty years hence.

Collaboration, paradigm change, metaphors, integrations and relationships between education and practice, even catharsis-these are some of the themes contained within the diverse papers collected in this issue. Change is seldom welcome or expected-unless the current context is boring, inappropriate-unbearable.

The typical and known is comforting in its predictability, while change is uncertain, sometimes threatening-and for some even unthinkable. Change demands attention, energy, planning and adaptation, behaviors that designers use in service to the future, whether near or far, as they create and stage change. But old traditions die slowly and are tenacious in their hold on people's understanding and performance.

Because design is so firmly and complexly enmeshed in the matrix of contemporary human life, it cannot avoid change. This is not the place to remember and recite the movements that reordered and changed design education in the 20th century (Bauhaus, Swiss design, Post-modernism, etc.), it is a moment to consider 21st century developments and how design can better fit within a changing global culture and alter its goals in order to more fully contribute. The isolation of design's sub-disciplines (Poggenpohl, 2009, 11) make it difficult for teachers and practitioners to learn from each other, much less collaborate on significant projects that go beyond the expertise recognized in one of them. Sub-disciplines share many of the same foci and processes; design would gain from a more unified understanding of itself, regardless of its material or social specialism.

Few designers recognize the skills they bring to collaborative work. Their flexibility of mind to question boundaries, frame a situation for investigation, offer critical perspectives, create alternative prototypes and understandings and recognize and mediate conflicting values-this engagement makes a substantial contribution. Designers with these skills should move aside from traditional small projects and find ways to become engaged in the significant design problems of our time-sustainable development, design for the elderly, effective education and others too numerous to mention. Such work calls for collaborative, passionate and intelligent participation. Design is not little; it can be pivotal in bringing people and ideas together.

I liken the authors in this issue to the coyotes in the opening poem, who adapt to changing environmental circumstances, and hopefully survive to spread their intellectual seed. They may need to be tricksters to institute change, as administrative structures favor people deeply entrenched in their existing knowledge and success. If successful, the coyotes of learning and teaching will become quiet culture heroes known through their progeny, who will not be imitators but adaptors and inventors of the future in design education and its practice. …

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