MFA or MA in psych, anth, or polisci?

In light of Don Norman’s recent article, why not just send designers to get master’s degrees in psychology, anthropology, political science, or economics? I’m at AAU working (slowly) on an MFA in ID, but the curriculum seems like it was centered around those who have little or no work experience. Some of the classes look like they came from the undergrad course. In Design Project 1 & 2 I have to redesign an existing product. This is exactly what I do all day, every day. Maybe it’s an easy A, but it’s not much of a challenge. There are a lot of studio classes, some design philosophy classes, and the last half of the program is directed study (thesis).

So is there more value in getting a degree in another discipline? IDEO is full of people with degrees in the list I mentioned above. Is it better for designers to take refresher studio classes while going in depth into anthropology, or go all out on the studio classes and learn a little here and there about anthropology?

Right now, the hardest thing about school is managing my time between work, family, school and other obligations. I should be calling it a MA in time management. The curriculum is more of a BFA refresher. Does anyone have a different experience?

Don Norman’s article is the classic mis guided of advice of an academic that hasn’t designed anything. The real value is in almost the exact opposite of what Don is advocating for. Look at anyone that has been recognized on their merit for accomplishing anything… concert pianists, athletes, designers like Jasper Morrison, Jonathan Ive, and you will find people who have the ability to focus. I called it a muti-disciplinary mindset with a mono-disciplinary skill set in this piece:

The only thing a curriculum based on Don’s advice will produce is a bunch of crap designers. I look for people with a deep passion for what they do, and a unique ability to bring something deep to the table. Mix them together with a bunch of people not like them and interesting results will follow. Stop trying to make every designer a one man army, a Rambo… instead build the A-Team.

For the most part I agree with what motivated Don Norman to write the article that he did: many young designers over stretch their abilities without acknowledging their shortcomings. Sure, it doesn’t take many design contest entries, student/recent grad portfolios to convince you of that fact.

But why must we assume then that these shortcomings are directly a reflection of the shortcomings of their “crappy traditional design” education, and not perhaps more a reflection of the hubris of youth, or inexperience?

I know many young doctors and lawyers who are probably equally ignorant of the challenges that they will face in the “real world”, should we blame their education as responsible?

This was the main problem that I had with this article in that it seemed that Don Norman is most frustrated by the sort of design that happens in isolation: entries from design competitions, student work, or design academic writings.

As a reviewer of submissions to design journals and conferences, as a juror of design contests, and as a mentor and advisor to design students and faculty,

Well what about the practicing professional designers, the people, as Michael pointed out, who do this everyday and 99% of the time do it in interdisciplinary teams, not as some singular all-knowing unit? There’s no discussion of how crappy the everyday designer is at their job. No calling out of how disgusted he was with the designers he saw while VP at Apple or executive at HP. No mention of how the chair he’s sitting on is breaking as he types because some designer didn’t have enough science under his belt…

Yes, when designers try to solve all the worlds problems by themselves then summarize their findings in a neat “blog-ready project” on their Coroflot or Behance profile and then proceed to shout it out from the Twitter mountain peaks, we can all acknowledge that they are being foolish and naive. These actions are NOT a reflection of the whole field and certainly do not warrant concluding an article by saying,

Today’s designers are poorly trained to meet today’s demands

That’s a bold statement to make, and one that I would argue was not substantiated with any meaningful evidence.

To answer your question thirdnorth, I think you have to evaluate for yourself what kind of designer you want to be, because yes there are certain things that you will not get from a traditional design education. Do I see any inherent added value in simply picking a Master’s degree other than design, heck no. Every major is what you make of it, and each will have it’s own short comings and benefits.

For me, while I acknowledge the fact that the field of design is constantly evolving, I have to decide for myself what sort of designer I want to be, and not try to chase what the hot designer fad of the year is. I am a visual problem solver, that’s my personal definition so it made sense for me to guide my education path in the way I have. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I can respect that, but neither is 20 years of post grad education all in hopes of becoming some wholly enlightened super designer.

I apologize for the rambling nature of this post, I had been mulling over Don’s article for the past couple of weeks :laughing:
Michael, I’ve appreciated your recent articles on Core, especially your “3 artists every designer should know” and look forward to seeing more of your articles on the blog.

Now where’s my dang sketchbook and ballpoint pen…

Don’s article has me thinking as well, and I agree there’s a lot of crap out there that needs fixing.

But to advise what degree to pursue:
30 years ago IDEO started using social science to inform design to great success. Today, design research is a burgeoning field that’s still largely undefined (we do compete with each other and anyone, IDEO included, keeps their advantages to themselves). However as to a career path, Engineering outnumbers ID by at least 100 to 1, and ID outnumbers Design Research by closer to 1000 to 1.
I definitely think an ID MFA is less than useful (unless you want to teach) and Don is calling for better, more rigorous design research methodologies. So, if you commit to applying design’s needs with your graduate research results in what Don is describing, a pragmatic and applicable understanding of consumers (above and beyond the focus group methodology that largely dominated research till now) then I think you should choose whichever you find most interesting: Anthropology, Cog Psychology, Human Factors, etc.

All good points, Yo. The article you wrote is very interesting and I think more in line with reality than Don’s article. The school environment is simply not geared toward the real-world work environment. As you say, I agree that it is better to have many brains working on the same project so that, as Don says, your personal biases do not subconsciously interject themselves untested or unquestioned into the solution.

My goal is not to become Rambo with a pen. But as someone who makes hiring decisions, if you had two designers - one with great model making and sketching skills, and one with a great grasp on human need and behavior, one with a ID MFA and the other with a MA in psychology or anthropology, which one is more valuable? Is that even a fair question to ask?

Some athletes, like Michael Jordan trying to play baseball, failed when they didn’t focus on their strengths. Others, like Bo Jackson, did really well at multiple sports. When it comes to artists, Michelangelo was a great sculptor and painter, a fantastic fine artist. DaVinci was a great artist as well, an equally fantastic painter, and a better designer because he emphasized a mixture of art and science.

So from your perspective, are you more interested in the Michelangelo(s) or the DaVinci(s)?

I do think it’s interesting that Michelangelo never went to formal school, but interned for years before becoming a master himself. That’s how it was done back in the day. Maybe art school is just not worth pursuing beyond a BFA, maybe experience counts more than a post grad degree… :confused:

thirdnorth, what are you wanting to accomplish with another degree? a better job?

I’d rather hire someone with a BFA or BS in ID who can confidently and efficiently visualize ideas and resolve designs. I don’t mind spending time to mentor a designer to help build their though thought process (as long as they have the pre requisite open mind), in fact that is a big part of my job. I refuse to help a professional on core skills. Those are must haves to get in the door. I’ve never hired someone with a Masters.

I’ve never met a DaVinci. Michelangelo was also an architect, so you might want to do a bit more research, but even taking your example, DaVinci was an amazing sketcher… so … and in the case of Michael Jordan, even though he was not a great baseball player (he was still very good mind you, just not great). Bo was a fantastic multi sport athlete, but was not as good at either particular sport as Michael was in one.

Yes, experience trumps all in our world. “Can you do what you say?” is increasingly the question I hear being asked. Funny enough I had coffee with a well know design columnist for a global print publication yesterday, and she was saying how sick she is of over verbalized designers making huge claims without the track record and work to back it up… it was a good coffee talk…

I honestly don’t think Don is trying to diminish the artistic nature of ID.
there are designers, even entire sub-specialties who never do simple task-analaysis on a regular basis, or ever. It’s just not required for what they do. But a general design education (even art schools) should introduce the concept of rigorous analytics (unless of course, your’e specializing in a styling field) as a requirement for a Bachelors.

Now a Master’s or Phd. is another story.

No_spec – I’m not necessarily looking for a better job. I am fortunate to have the one I have now and I enjoy it very much. Someone I respect very much once said that when the moment of opportunity has arrived, the time for preparation has passed. It’s more of a laying of a solid foundation for future possibilities. I wouldn’t mind teaching a few college courses here and there, but I wouldn’t want to do it full time. The job I have now is pretty focused and a master’s degree allows me to explore other areas of design.

Yo – Maybe my question to you was the wrong one. Is the reason you have never hired an MFA designer because you hire junior and mid level designers? What about the person who hired you? Have they aver hired an MFA designer? Are there many designers out there with your level of experience who hold MFA’s? Do you think someone who is being hired as one of your peers would add value to the team if they had an alternate degree in Psych, Anth, or Human Factors?

By the time I finish my MFA I’ll have 8 years of design experience. What I’m trying to figure out now is if those two things are a good combination or if the MFA is a waste of time and money?

I don’t mean to beat this subject to death guys. I do appreciate the feedback.

I’ve hired several senior designers.

I don’t think any of the Senior or Principal level product designers in our office have masters… I don’t look at the degree, I look at the work and the experience. Many of the interaction designers in our office have masters, but not the people designing physical objects. Not to say they couldn’t. We have one mid level designer getting her masters in design strategy.

Not sure if the person who has hired me has ever hired someone with a masters for a product design position… he’s been doing this awhile, it wouldn’t surprise me if he had at some point, but none of the people that he has hired that I have met have one, and very few designers at my last employer had one.

I’d say, in my opinion, best the MFA is not the best use of resource unless you are trying to do something very specific, the way Brook is at CCS right now. He is using the degree to get the work and experience he is looking for. That makes sense to me, otherwise there are so many other things I could do with the time and money.

from personal experience, if you already have an undergraduate degree in industrial design, i think it is better to study something else for a masters , unless you want to teach i.d. or you really want to focus at becoming an expert in a particular area of industrial design. my masters degree was in product development with a lot of focus on project management strategies and design research methodologies, at least, that was how i was able to steer it. i think that is the important thing about a masters degrees - you can and should orient the degree towards the skills you are really looking to explore and ‘master’.

i’m in a similar situation, with several years of i.d. experience. currently, i’m freelancing and teaching i.d. while studying for an undergrad in mechanical engineering part time (ass backwards, but hey, i love mechanical design too and ultimately i love the complexities and process of design throughout). if you can manage the mix of obligations you mentioned and steer this degree closer to what fields of industrial design you love and want to explore, i think it will only help you in your future industrial design career.

Read this: American Design Schools Are a Mess, and Produce Weak Graduates

thanks for the link, YO. I couldn’t agree more.
I think Don is aiming at graduate level education so some extent, but broadening the fundamentals of a Bachelors as well. (he’s also not limiting his discussion to ID which is important to remember)

the Bachelors degree should try to create a broad basis for careers in any direction. Unless the career track is segmented like trans or furniture - where it’s possible to create a “T” shaped designer (broad skills and deep knowledge) upon graduation.

Grad school should be something more. Today’s design leaders arrived at that status through an ad-hoc process. Ambitious, talented individuals could be trained to be: fully capable of running a studio, or, completely objective researchers who apply “design thinking” to any product or service, or, practical educators who use the Masters as groundwork for a (mandatory to teach) Phd dissertation.

the Bauhouse model of education got us this far

On one hand you have Don Norman saying that design education needs to be more expansive, while on the other Gadi Amit says it needs to be more focused. I think they’re talking about different groups of people - upper level deigners in Don’s case, junior designers in Gadi’s.

The concerns Don mentions are mainly those of head designers. At the junior level you’re expected to know a little about those things while focusing more on the design work, not in-depth scientific analysis and psychological profiling. I think his frustration is misplaced. I think the reason Don rolls his eyes when he judges some of those competitions is that the designs are not collaborative. Pretty drawings with a nice model and basic research produce superficial entries. Maybe it’s a problem with the competition, not the designer? Just compare the Buckminster-Fuller Challenge to the Greener Gadgets competition.

Equally questionable is the idea that those classes must be taught in the course of a design education. As no-spec says, most design leaders got to where they are by on-the-job training and collaboration with other areas related to the design of their products. They are not electrical, manufacturing or software engineers, nor are they social scientists, psychologists or anthropologists. But they know who to talk to to get what they need. I think it’s important to be well-read across a variety of subjects. But I don’t believe we should be subject-matter experts in those areas.

I think the concerns Don has could be solved by emphasizing continued education or constant learning. Why not take a night class on the subject here and there from a local college, or read some books on the issue so you and the psychologist can speak the same language?

In any case, I’ve decided to go ahead and finish my MFA but take more care in the direction I steer the degree, and take some extra time to collaborate with other professionals so I can focus on being a great designer instead of a mediocre scientist.

Don’t forget, only one of those people have actually designed anything… :wink:

Love the last sentence of that post thirdnorth!

(where did the second page of posts from last week go?)

There was a lot more posts before in here wasn’t there? I’m not sure what happened. Will look into it asap

no_spec, I think both of us are maybe thinking about this topic: American Design Schools
Thanks for reminding me of it Richard.

my bad, thanks.

I think 3rdnorth sums up exactly what Norman is talking about, the lack of depth of knowledge of the problems at hand. Yo’s need to point out some of the misconceptions in your examples, for example, might be symbolic of the designer’s lack of understanding for complexity.

The examples of the artists contrasted in the earlier post, as well as the athletes, are misleading because of a lack of understanding of the complexities. The difference between Michelangelo and DaVinci is not simply of a generalist versus a specialist, similarly MJ played baseball for the love of the game, not out of necessity of action (I’m originally from Chicago, and was a big Bulls fan since back in the day, by the way :smiley: ).

I feel like the message is not that designers need to make the decision to be the lone techno wolf, but that they are so far behind the curve in our interdisciplinary teams that we could begin to fail to contribute effectively. Additionally, the point of our poor foundation in these areas is further illustrated with the comments on bias. Bias (as Norman is talking about) is not solved solely by having other voices, in fact a group can have a bias as easily as an individual, it is solved through understanding of heuristics in decision making, something I knew nothing about until recently (grad level human factors survey class). It doesn’t take a master’s in human factors, but it does take more that we are being presented. These heuristics, I think are exactly what Norman is referring to when he points to a lack of scientific method in design.

Talking about this suddenly strikes me as odd, this article is being discussed at length with differing interpretations of meaning as though it is some handed down work of a long past philosopher, but Dr. Norman is alive, can we just ask him to elaborate on these points for us?

Additionally, Norman is not talking about industrial design education, if you are perusing a master’s in ID and intend to practice traditional ID, the impetus for change is not there, this is the third or fourth to last paragraph:

“Design Education Must Change
Service design, interaction design, and experience design are not about the design of physical objects: they require minimal skills in drawing, knowledge of materials, or manufacturing. In their place, they require knowledge of the social sciences, of story construction, of back-stage operations, and of interaction. We still need classically trained industrial designers: the need for styling, for forms, for the intelligent use of materials will never go away.”