Teaching Design

This post is the flipside of what gets discussed a lot here - being a student.

I’ve done already several mentorship activities (both in a professional and educational capacity). Plus I did a course (posted a while back) teaching design to a grade 5 class.

This fall however, I’m embarking on a few new endeavors of a higher level.

  1. I’ll be teaching a 4th year Industrial Design Minor course at my alma mater (Carleton School of ID) on footwear design (as they say, teach what you know). It’s a 6 hour per week course (2 hr. lecture, 4 hour studio) and I’m still working on the lesson plan, but plan to pretty much cover the wide scope of footwear design from a working designers’ perspective. Everything from sketching and rendering to trend forecasting, mass production technologies for footwear, technical drawings, specs, etc. Projects still to be decided.

  2. I’ve also been invited to teach a 2 week course on innovation at CEDIM (a design school in Monterrey, Mexico) this Nov/Dec. The course outline is set, but I have yet to get into planning the specifics of the content and workshops.

While it hasn’t been that long (relatively) since I’ve been out of school (9 years or so), and I do keep up with what current students are doing (attending grad show, interviewing recent grads and the like), I’d welcome any suggestions or recommendations for teaching content, procedures, advice, marking schemes, etc.

I’m not at all concerned about the courses or content, but bits of wisdom from those others who regularly do this level of sessional lecturing would always be greatly appreciated.

All that being said, I’m really looking for to these opportunities and the mind trip it will be to be back in school, but on the other side of the podium, so to speak. Somehow I think that just being back in that environment where you went to school (that gave so many positive and strange memories) is enough to give anyone a complete head trip.



I was an adjunct faculty member at a design school for a couple of semesters, not teaching a studio but 3 credit ID courses. I found that planning out the entire semester helped me a lot… I knew every day what the class would be doing. That way, in those weeks that my regular work was really crazy, I already had that class planned in the big scheme of things. Also, one class for teaching and one class for in-class work to re-iterate seemed to be a good balance for my workload and theirs. Reminding them how the “real world” is for designers captured their attention every time, and I tried to make the projects and responsibilities similar to what they would be expected to do in an internship.

Some of the other teachers did a lot with screen captured videos as well, more for the technical demos though. They could prepare it beforehand and get it perfect, then show it in the class, post it online, and use if for other classes.

Good luck with your classes, I bet you’re going to enjoy it

Swissmiss asked a similar question recently on her blog, it got a good response, might be worth a read.

I have not done any real teaching as a Professor or as an adjunct, but I have taken multiple design projects from work and given them to both my old school and a local design school in NYC. I think the biggest thing I wanted to teach the students was how a client/designer relationship would work. Others were how they would translate corporate marketing data, and what a real world situation would feel like. When we go to these school we set it up as if they are a design agency that is working for us. They get the same style brief that we would give an outside firm, marketing will come in and give a talk around the brands that they will be working on, and everything is set up in phases for them to present their work. We usually suggest that the professor break the class up into teams that are between 2-3 because we find that this simulates the real world as they probably would not work alone if they worked at firm,

The big thing is that even though it is set up to be “real world” we still try to be as hands on as possible. We generally kick the meeting of with a cross functional team from our office and this team will also be at all presentations. But we will also do a few working sessions which will include myself and another designer. I guess the real important part of this is to make sure the students learn something and I have to admit that I learn quite a bit and get extremely inspired during these projects. There is no better way to recharge your batteries than to watch a bunch of fresh design students work. My biggest suggestion is to make sure all the situations you have them work on are real or could be real. Run the class as if they were you interns. (not saying create a sweat shop for ideas :smiley: ) I think the more real experiences students are exposed to the better they grow as designers.

R, I think you’ll find teaching to be very enjoyable, satisfying, frustrating, challenging, surprising, etc.

The first day is key and when meeting a fresh group of students on day one, they’ll be sizing you up. It needs to be really clear that you’re there to teach and lead them, because you know a lot more than they do. Yes, teaching goes both ways, you will def learn a lot from them, but for that portion of the day that they’re with you, they need to trust you and believe in you. They’re potentially going to be spending long hours and grueling nights, and they need to know that it’s going to be worth it, that they’ll grow, that you respect their effort even when they results aren’t great. it’ll be great, I’m sure.

That’s great R. I love teaching, wish I could do more.

I think for me, the most important things for me were to

  1. communicate my expectations for improvement and professionalism. (ie, the best kid in the class had to improve as much as the worst kid if he wanted that grade. Crits started precisely on time, anything 5 minutes late is marked down, come prepared with materials wether that is to sketch, or tacks to pi up work, have a reason for everything ie if you can’t care enough to use 4 tacks the same color, I can’t care enough to grade the work)

  2. bring in lots of local guest speakers, demos, critics…

  3. balancing that hard hitting, fast paced projects and strict boundaries with multiple one on one sessions to really connect.

One of the most fun things for me was the syllabus… structuring a clear progression of projects that built on each other in skill and though process, and planning alternating lectures that helped turned the lights on along the way. R, I think you will be great at it!

Thanks Yo,

Some good advice. I’m totally all over those points, and funny, but I find making the syllabus great fun too. Other teachers I spoke to always found that funny, but maybe it’s the planning side of being a designer that comes out…



Just wondering if it was worth mentioning some brief points/tips on how to get business, setting up freelance ie taxes/invoicing etc and general professional advice on working after leaving university ? I know a lot of students over here would like this sort of advice on their courses, but not sure if this will be the aims of your teaching and definitely reiterating Yo’s post on bringing in outside critics/lecturers is very invaluable…just venting ideas that might help…

Director @ iD34

FYI, course is up and running (first class yesterday). check this thread where I’ll be following the course in more detail-

Thanks for all the advice and support.