What is the future of design as a discipline? What do design educators need to teach in order to create the next generation of designers?
Having had recent conversations with Karen Blincoe and Daniel Charney (Goldsmith’s BA Design External Examiners), I’ve been confused and concerned by what seems to be a split within the design discipline. Now this split maybe in my head – which is quite likely – but I’ve come across a couple of articles, blog posts and papers recently that have made me think this.
From what I can see, the split is this: some people are looking at the future of design as way to transform the world and peoples lives (this is arguably what design has always done), we can see clear evidence for this in the way that Hilary Cottam won (the rather ambiguous) title of ‘Designer of the Year’ in 2005. There were rumblings within the design community (and beyond) that this was a bad decision, that Cottam wasn’t a ‘designer’, she didn’t design ‘things’. Hilary Cottam represents a shifting view that design can “tackle some of the more intractable social problems of our day”. Designers will then need to work more closely with policy makers, politicians, and other ‘social engineers’.
What this signals is the use of design, both its processes and people, to engage fully in both political and social processes, enabling designers (and their collaborators) to find ‘solutions’ (even though this word is fraught with problems) to change peoples lives for the positive.
One of the main implications for me in this is: what skills and knowledge do design educators need to impart on their students? I find the question really exciting. I’ve always had a bit of a problem with ‘skills-led’ design education, it feels like putting in a gun in a child’s hands and telling it to go into the world and have fun. Designers need to learn how to think, how to create things that engage and change peoples lives… designers need to understand the implications of their work.
In my conversation with Karen she said something that has stuck in my mind, to paraphrase: “Eco-design’s biggest problem has been its failure to create leaders, instead its created designers with no confidence, who believe they’re losers”. At the core of this is the need for design education to value and instil cutting edge thinking, a critical practice, and the skills to enable the communication and implementation of this through design. Quite a challenge. So design education needs to create leaders – people with the confidence to go into the world and have a vision of what it can be in the future.
Now the split happens when designers have narrow views of their discipline, when they say “ideas are easy, now detail it and make it sell”. Understanding design as purely the detailing, production and selling of things, will continue to feed the view that designers are slaves to industry. And as Matt Jones said (via John Thackara) designers are the “shapers of possibility spaces, rather than things.”