Advice for teacher - what to teach?

Hello everyone, currently I am in Asia teaching Product Design at undergraduate level. I have noticed that the syllabus of the University it has several gaps and therefore I want to give extra classes to my students so once they graduate they will be ready to join the industry and society as competitive Product Designers.
It is for that reason that I would like to ask your help please by telling me what practical knowledge a Product Design student should have according to your experience. I mean, all we know that model making, sketching, human factors, materials, processes and 3d modelling are really important but I am talking more about specific and practical knowledge like let’s say: A product designer should know at least 10 different types of fasteners, the standard dimensions of a plywood panel, how to bend wood with a table saw, how to weld, the use of different types of sandpaper, the difference between drill bits, etc. Any suggestion you can give me will be really appreciated and it will be really helpful for my students.


Waizel, welcome. All of the things you listed are very important, but I would put them in the category of tools a designer uses. I think the most important thing to have the ability to understand how to use those tools, how to think, solve problems in creative manner, have empathy with end users to develop insights and solutions that competitors were not thinking of.

I would add a class professionalism and portfolio - teach the students how to create a portfolio and how to work in the business world…

Email etiquette is another good point to hit.

Changes with every company. But be aware of naming structure for files. File Rev’s. File organization. Layer/Group organization in AI/Photoshop. Etc

Waizel…I have taught product/industrial design students in Asia as well (Singapore, China, South Korea). Much has changed in just the past 5 years or so.

On the practical knowledge and skills level I have found that by the end of year 2, the student should be able to understand design process and be able to do: rudimentary design research, problem identification, solution ideation sketching, 3D CAD modeling, CAD rendering as well as moving their digital files through a lazer cutter or 3D printer process. This gives them a foundation in practical safety, time management and design process skills.

Once these skills are acquired, the students are able to leverage other and more sophisticated or traditional methods and processes (shop tools, welding, forming, casting, fabricating etc.) in years 3 and 4 if they so choose. The skills that require high levels of safety, strength and visual and tactile acuity and concentration should be introduced after they build some confidence in the shop/lab with the digital work flow tools. I have seen a variety of shop abuses due to poor training in Asia, this affects learning levels for everyone in program and should be given the highest levels of attention and respect.

Just yesterday at one of the schools I teach, the entire department was excused from classes to attend a professional development lecture. All first and second year students of the program were exposed to the latest strategies, skills and methods for pursuing a job position after graduation. Additionally, there is a new push to introduce entrepreneurial and business skills to augment their design education. This is still being formed and explored at a variety of schools here in Seoul.

Here in Korea, prototyping/appearance modeling is left to the professionals. Most all of the Senior thesis shows have professional model makers produce their prototypes/appearance models. This opens up more room for strategy, management, ergonomics and UX skill and knowledge acquisition.

Good luck…

Technical skills come from hours spent doing and should be part of most of the projects the student takes on. The most important thing the students need to know, and should get the most practice doing, but for some reason often gets less explicit focus is how to think and solve problems for themselves. The technical skills are merely a means of showing and communicating their ideas, without a good idea the rest is kind of pointless. By getting a lot of practice thinking, problem solving, and being exposed to how others might consider or approach a problem or situation, they will gain a deeper and better understanding of these things.

You can touch on standard: fasteners, dimensions, etc. but they should be exposed to those things in materials and processes, not a lot of time should be spent on things that can be put on a list or stored somewhere. The more important things to discuss in that scenario would probably be why the different fasterners were even created, what problems they solve, why knowing the standard dimensions are standards. These topics could be conversations into higher levels of thinking: problem solving, lateral thinking, systems thinking, holistic problem solving etc. which are all far more valuable and engaging conversations than memorizing numbers.

I agree with everything you wrote except the slight change I made.

Students and even young designers should not worry if their ideas are good, or bad, or any other adjective. That is not their job, not even close. They should be cranking many, many ideas and communicating those ideas through images/models/prototypes/etc.

They should have some rudimentary skills in how to have a customer to evaluate the idea, but that again won’t be their job until at least a senior level, maybe not until they hit a managerial level. And in many cases, there are certain designers I would never allow interaction with customers.

When I was in university, I wish we had done a lot more constructive critiques to learn how to sensibly and effectively defend the reasons for choosing to present an idea and also build up a little more resilience and perspective when an idea was rightly shot down.

Also everything we did was very blue sky and when I then got into consultancy, I had no idea how to take a set of real components, (a PCB with various height components, a battery, switch and LED etc) and put a package around them, that could be tooled, with draft, where to put bosses, addressing sink issues, what spark on a tool was, how two parts could be fixed together, etc. At that point everything I thought I’d learnt in university, that was supposed to equip me for the real world went out of the window as I had no idea if my good ideas, could actually be made. We’d always had the freedom to create designs that looked as good as possible without really considering whether they’d work. Whilst some elements of blue sky concepts really helped me, with hindsight I would want much more of a balance between that and the real world. I would advocate running a project where you get students to design a product and then at the end tell them that steel prices have gone up and they have to take 40% out of the design! or the battery specs have changed and the battery has to now be a larger rectangle or the client wants their logo in the middle. In university it was all about the portfolio, but we were never taught that no matter how good you feel your design is, or how finished, it has to meet a price point, with components from various suppliers and even after final presentation, may need to be radically changed. That’s one of the things I wish I could have warned my former self about anyway.

I agree with that. At my first job the junior designers tended to be idea generation machines. The creative director steered us and down-selected concept. Over time we learned from him how he down selected 30 concepts to 5 and so on. But at first we just were focused on getting concepts at a level that was good enough to even be in the running. Personally, I liked that way of learning. School seemed to focus you on nit sing something over an entire semester, but in reality you have a team and a deadline. The pace is so much faster and the work more collaborative.

I tend to try to run my teams that way (not exactly, but similarly). I remember a junior designer saying to once (a few years back and in a different job) me well in school we had this much time, and we did it this way" … my response was “and how much did they pay you to be in school? Oh, you payed them…see the difference there?” :wink:

Every school has their biases. I have the general feeling that it is easier to roll a rock down a hill than push it up. In other words, it is easier to take a blue sky design and figure out how to build something similar that to take a totally production ready design that is uninspired and make it hotter (more culturally resonate or whatever design thinking way you want to say that).

In the end it is all about balance and the best thing students can learn is how to learn. Its the prima donnas who think they know it all that have the hardest time coming out of school (I know, I was one). Be skilled (that is a big bucket I know), be thoughtful, be insightful, be professional, and be open to learning more once on the job. What more could an employer want?

Agreed, but I’m not talking about totally changing a design program from blue sky to the other way, ( sorry if I wasn’t very clear in my previous post) I’m suggesting that Waziel run maybe a 2 day course as part of the program, something fast and fresh where he does set students a challenge to skin a PCB or design a pizza wheel day 1, then change the board layout or reduce the material day 2, because yes it’s easier to take a blue sky design and figure out how to build something similar, but design education should not always be about process repetition. One of my first jobs was taking something someone else had designed (and it was very uninspired) and I had to try to make it hotter and it was a great lesson that I would have enjoyed and benefitted from in university and the learning that I personally would have gained from something like this would have far outweighed 2 days and not impacted on my main study, in fact it may have been refreshing as many of the 2 day projects we did were.

For students to develop skills, to learn how to learn, they have to do projects, (Well duh! Not trying to teach you guys to suck eggs here) and I hope that what Waziel is after from us is insights into what he can form into briefs and projects so his students can learn tools to better equip them. In university was I was given a brief at the start of the project and discussed the outcome at the end, no one flipped the specs on us halfway through, as happened to me all the time when I worked in a consultancy. I appreciate this possibly isn’t the practical knowledge example that Waziels may have been after in his original question but it is something I would have benefitted from. PT