Survey: Creating Tomorrow's Designer

In the coming months, the IDSA will host it’s national conference in Boston. The theme for the conference is “The Future Is…,” and to go along with the theme, I’m studying the future of the industrial design curriculum taught in schools. As both a professional and a professor, I care about this subject deeply and want to give my best ideas to help us all have the biggest impact possible. Our world, and the part of it that is industrial design, is exploding with possibilities. Now is as important a time as ever to understand how we should evolve as a group.

If you were asked to build a new curriculum from scratch, what would it look like? This is your opportunity to weigh in.

I’m looking for influential designers and design managers from the industry to help understand what the most important skills are for the future of their businesses. From your input, design schools can adjust their courses to better serve the industrial design profession. If you have friends, colleagues, or bosses that you think should participate, please send them the link. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

I know many people on Core77 aren’t members of the IDSA, and that is exactly why I’m soliciting respondents from these boards. I really want a broad perspective in order to get the most robust results possible. Please take the survey, and check out the results this August in Boston if you’re at the conference. Thanks for your support!

Strategic THINKING + Tactical DOING.

A great program is going to teach both of these things. It is not a question of either or. Asking that is like asking what is more important to human survival, air or water? If you had to prioritize would you pick breathing or your hear beating? The answer is both.

It seems like a lot of programs have strength in one of these two things. They either overly focus on teaching positioning frameworks, market analysis, ethnographic immersion. All of these are GREAT skills that are not worth a damn if you can’t design anything. Just as the inverse is true: being able to design things isn’t worth very much if you can’t understand how they relate to people, to other systems of products and services, to brand strategies, and to culture at large.

Industry has refocussed on actionable design. Strategies that can be backed up with a plan of action to become realities that are clearly impactful when thy reach the market. These strategic to tactical solution sets must be clearly compelling at first blush. People are not going to sit there and read a 30 page manifesto or research document as to why a product, service or brand mark is a certain way. The solution has be to obviously great for a subset of people within 5 seconds.

Bottle that and you have a fantastic program. :wink:

+1 on yo’s comment. Couldn’t say it better.

My senior year project was basically two semesters long. I always thought it would be interesting for the teacher to act more like a real client. Switch projects mid stream between students, demand a critical change to the brief, etc. A designer needs to be able to react fast and work efficient. 8 months on a self-directed project doesn’t seem to do that.

Thanks guys, I agree fully. The last time I did a study like this a couple years ago, I was trying to tease out the meaningful differences between the hard skills (doing) and the soft skills (thinking).

As a follow up, I’m mostly interested in the “doing” part (although I have to admit there are some exceptions based on the methods I used to generate the topics). Design school is a finite amount of time, one can only learn so many things in about 4 years. If certain topics are growing in importance, then what should a professor teach *less of in order to make room for the new stuff? That’s a challenge I’ve personally felt but haven’t seen much response as to the answer, so I’m trying to uncover it myself.

I don’t want to bias people by saying too much more, I just hope people take the survey!

Breadth over depth.
Breadth over depth.
Breadth over depth.

In all areas. The applied-thinking skills mentioned in the previous posts are a great example. If I see one more student portfolio with a smartphone designed for the 20-25 year old I’m gonna wretch. I want to see that strategic thinking applied to everything outside of a student’s comfort zone. I want to see it on package goods, disposables, mechanical parts and other “mundane” bits in addition to the “sexy” hand-held electronics, shoes and cars. And be sure to open up the demographic to include something other than a highly-educated student and the token “universal” design.

ID is a small part of the NPD process, but IDers can be the best at managing the big picture. A CAD or sketch monkey cranking stuff in their cube has limited value to me. The “design it and they will come while throwing it over the fence for someone else to manufacture and market” mentality is completely worthless. In additional to understanding the true needs of marketing and engineering, they need to know everything else. How does a particular feature affect the inventory management of purchasing? How will sales demonstrate the key features? How will the KOL factor into marketing? How does the coefficient of friction of a part affect the vibratory-bowl sorting used by manufacturing? Will a powdered lubricant be necessary? Will that lubricant affect the performance of the part? Can the performance be validated?

Without the breadth of knowledge, you will have significant delays and increases in cost. I truly think IDers are best at managing this as most other disciplines bring a more myopic approach. Again, that will lead to delays and increased costs. I can’t think of a single CEO or board that wouldn’t avoid that if it were possible.

took the survey.

I am in academia now after 20+ years in industry (US and Asia) and have observed the growth and integration of increased subject matter mastery over especially the last 10 years.

Utilizing the advancements in technology, I have had to devise new teaching methods to compress traditional design skills to make room for new subjects to be learned and integrated into a design degree program. Tomorrows designers will be even more digital than physical rather than the other way around like I am, more physical than digital in how I approach design. Tomorrow’s designers will be even more multi-lingual, well traveled and cultured, and if a design program can develop these skills while compressing traditional skills and adding new comprehensive design learning then they will be well positioned to produce graduates that can be marketable anywhere in the world.

The design programs that can recognize this and fund accordingly the new tools and professors who can teach the new new, will end up producing designers that can effect change, make a difference and lead in the global market.

Talking about final semester or final project. I prefer lecturers acting like a real professional client / as an adviser instead of wanting us to do things their way. :slight_smile: In fact everyone have different ways of doing things, some used method A to gets things done faster while for some method A does not work for them.

I just couldn’t stand control freak lecturers who wanted you to follow their patterns of things needed to be done etc, or a school curriculum that is designed in such a fashion where fine details such as “how and how a schedule should look like”, " how and how you should full fill 80 ideas & 20 concepts etc " at THE FINAL PROJECT stage. I mean we’re creative people right ? We sort of like to do things differently, anyhow we should be thinking out of the box of solving matters not a restricted normal way of doing projects. Doesn’t mean you squeeze your brain cells just to full fill the 80 ideas can contribute to a better ideas right ? (It really depends though) :exclamation:

By doing so the students/designers can be evaluated as a whole, - thinking, creativity, his own system or process etc. It also shows how much he have picked up throughout the years of study. Besides, the school or educator might be able to pick up a better system, solution in idea processing or curriculum along the way.

P/S: This is only applicable for FINAL PROJECT - FINAL YEAR. :smiley:

Ben - nice article. You’re right on that students can take on a project that has already been designed before. Students have the ability to overthink their problem and they end up with a weird, incomplete project sometimes.

I do think some people would be opposed to your advice that blue sky ideation isn’t too important. From another perspective, blue sky ideation is all the more important in school because people *don’t do it enough in the professional world to keep that skill sharp. When the time comes to think big at work, some people struggle if they’re not practiced, and school is often the experience we can draw from.

I’d love to get your thoughts incorporated into the survey!


Has anyone explained why that amount of sketching is important? I think if you understood the theory of those high numbers, you might not feel like the task was as trivial.

Besides the obvious practice with hand skills you are being given, this is called parallel prototyping, and there are a couple strengths to this. First, that number of sketches can be divided into three categories. The first approximate third of the concepts you come up with will be the boring, obvious ideas. The stuff you have thought of before you really got into the project and started to think about any of a number of opportunities and constraints. The second third is where you begin to move past those and really explore the possibilities, and the final third of the total number of concepts will be where you show a mastery of synthesis of the important parts of the design brief, and what you know about that product area.

Also, parallel prototyping, pursuing several independent conceptual paths towards an end, is a better use of time in creating quality concepts than spending the same amount of time in refinement, according to some guys at Stanford.

So the reason I bring this up is that I think there is a false dichotomy between theory and practice. As a practicing designer, can you not see the value of the theory above? As a student, wouldn’t it help you to know that the tasks you are asked to complete have meaning and value?

I like yo’s Strategic THINKING + Tactical DOING. I hope this is in line with that, that when an instructor asks you to do something, they help you to understand the strategy behind what they are asking you to do, both in why it is important for you as a student, and how you will use it as a professional. That’s what I try to do anyway…

I completely agree here. Students need to learn the how, but most importantly they need to learn the why. All to often I see students come out of school with kickass sketching skills, modeling, PS rendering, etc… but you put them in front of a consumer or have them look at a shelf set and they cannot tell you what the challenges and issues are. I want a junior designer that can create great tactical design but that can also challenge the norm understand the motivations of the consumer, as well as understand the business impact. Now how does this connect to academia and how do you teach this? - I don’t know. Maybe students should be placed in front of REAL consumers, as well as be forced to take some business classes.

We just had an intern from UC (very talented and hard worker). We let her have quite a bit of space to the point that she basically became a junior designer on our team, with my guidance of course. Because of this she got to experience all aspects of the business and see some of her design move forward and some get dropped. At the end of her Co-op she told us that being immersed in the business this was the the most valuable part of her internship. She got to experience cost structures, how a minor change takes a design from feasible to non-feasible, experience some consumer research, and even presented her work to upper management. I think this learning has made her a stronger designer and prepared her for the future.

Now I know this is what you are supposed to learn in a Co-op, but I would like to see them at least primed in school.


Good points for sure. I think a common misconception is that “strategy” and “tactics” fall along the same axis, that they’re polar opposites. People draw the 2x2 graphs and put strategy at one end and tactics at the other. That’s just not the right way to think about it. Like we’ve been talking about, it’s not an “either/or,” it’s a “both/and.” Yet, businesses still create “strategy” teams and “design” teams as separate things, so we often have the challenge of overcoming this formal boundary placed between the two. It’s harder to integrate everything, but it’s better.

And just a reminder, please take the survey :slight_smile: Zoomerang is now powered by SurveyMonkey | SurveyMonkey

Bump. It’s Monday morning. While you’re sipping your coffee surfing these boards, why not take this survey?

Hey Carton,

Yes i do understand the importance of sketching, definitely part & parcel of design process. :smiley:
What i mean is just sometimes, we can do things a little bit different, break away from the norm.
Like i mentioned for the Final Year, we should focus on how the designer thinks , like maturity in creativity & handling etc. Instead of focusing on what should be done according to strict regulations, though I totally agree that sketching is important and it should be done & practice as standard already and way before the Final Semester right ? What i mean is, Final Year should be something more fun, free & focus on ideas, thinking or creative methods rather than the conventional paperwork… Sometimes ideas does not form by just sketching, it’s by analytical thinking, observation, various hands on work and much more… It’s about how you design & how you plan to design it from the start, and the reasoning behind your design & design plan :slight_smile: Just my thoughts …

This is kind of a random thought, but one thing that I think schools could do a better job of teaching is a non-linear parallel process that mixes intellectual thinking with instinctive doing.

I’ve noticed that many schools teach a linear proccess: identify the problem, define the user, research the use cases, document insights, define design opportunities, then finally design something, and magic, it is perfect because of this linear process.

The real world is anything but this clear cut, and for good reason, that path can often lead to mediocrity. It tends to limit rather than enable, and the sole purpose for a process is to enable a result.

Instead, we could teach a blended process: get the brief, design something to get your predisposed assumptions out of the way, break it, figure out what you need to know and identify problems based on that, then research potential key users, design something based on what you learned, break it, research materials and manufacturing processes, design something again, research key consumer trends, design something again based on what you’ve learned, test it, show it, socialize it, get feedback, revise it, perfect it, design it again… Do that all in 4-6 weeks.