Designing for the Future of Education Requires Design Education

By Berk, Sarabeth | Art Education, November 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Designing for the Future of Education Requires Design Education


Berk, Sarabeth, Art Education


"Design used to be the seasoning you'd sprinkle on for taste; now it's the flour you need at the start of the recipe," tweeted John Maeda (2015), former president of Rhode Island School of Design. One of his followers, Andy Jakubowski, replied, "@JohnSandel @johnmaeda don't you think design has always been the flour, it's just we started acknowledging that finally?" Consequently, there were 544 retweets and 463 favorites, including my own, of Maeda's initial tweet. For a moment across the twittersphere, Maeda's tweet captured a sentiment shared by many in the fields of art, education, business, and design. As art educators, we know that design is essential beyond the art classroom, although its fundamental application to student learning has largely been ignored.

Future educational models should focus less on teaching a body of knowledge and more on teaching habits and skills that pertain to how to solve complex, system-level problems that cross disciplinary boundaries (Senge, 1995). As mentioned above, design is still treated as the seasoning in K-12 education instead of the flour learners need to consider at the start of any project or lesson. Design education exists in pockets of K-12 curriculum, but not to the depth that is necessary for today's society if we are to prepare students to become competitive, competent workers.

The tweet by Maeda acknowledges that design is more than an aesthetic decision; rather, it is a foundational ingredient of inventing new processes, products, and experiences, and it is driving the economy. In fact, design is becoming so essential to business, especially in the tech industry, that in recent years "27 start-ups that were co-founded by designers have been acquired since 2010 by companies such as Google, Facebook Adobe, LinkedIn, Dropbox, and Yahoo" (McFarland, 2015) and all of the top 10 business schools have student-led design clubs (Maeda, 2016). Further evidence of the need to embed design into K-12 curriculum is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a boom in design-based jobs. For instance, web development (a field that includes UX [user experience] designers, web designers, and webmasters) anticipates a 27% increase between 2014-2024, a much faster than average forecast (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).

For students to be successful in the workplace, they need to explicitly learn design skills and habits, and that means design needs to exist across the curriculum in art and non-art classrooms. Just as Rolling (2016) and others argue for the importance of STEAM in the arts classroom since the arts and sciences are inherently part of a system of techniques, design education is also complementary to artistic and scientific practices. Art educators do not need to teach students to become designers, but they should introduce design as a critical creative problem-solving tool that weaves together multiple disciplines.

Let us recognize that design, as a field, is driving innovation as much as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The complex challenges of today require solutions that are found as a result of interdisciplinary and hybrid interactions between diverse methodologies and skills. I already flagged the current business landscape that signals the need for an even greater design savvy workforce, but in order to understand the importance of design in art education, contemporary pedagogy, and for students, I will outline what design education and the field of design means, and explain the unique skill sets that designers possess. As we attempt to make educational experiences more relevant, design must be leveraged as a key component of teaching and learning in all of today's classrooms.

Design Education Defined

Design education in K-12 manifests in two forms. The first being aesthetic forms of design, which relates to the arts, and the second is functional design, which relates to engineering and STEM disciplines (Bequette & Bequette, 2012). …

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