The next century of design education

I found this piece from the CVP of Design at Microsoft to be challenging and thought-provoking. A central idea is ‘what are we learning to do, in design education, and where is it leading us?’ If the Bauhaus was a notable effort to humanize and make a craft of industry, to make an art of function, what is needed when ‘function now extends into the realm of behavioral science’? Also - design education has already been characterized to me (from a professor at an American design program) as ‘ten pounds of flour in a five pound bag’ - so what would be taken away?

The Next Century of Design Education | by Albert Shum | Modus

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of Bauhaus. More than a design aesthetic, Bauhaus was a movement, with its school contributing to an era of thought leadership that shaped our modern world. The founding principles of Bauhaus lauded function: the idea that design should scale and serve society. That impact is still felt today in the way we teach the practice of design. Bauhaus led to the creation of disciplines like industrial design and product design, focusing on people’s needs as a way to inspire form. Methodologies like human-centered design and design thinking respond to the teachings of Bauhaus and align to a certain modernist approach to mass-produced artistry.

As 2019 comes to a close, I challenge the industry in 2020 to move into a meta-modernist approach: to redesign design itself through education. In 1919, the founders of Bauhaus were responding to a profound change in society and culture where industrialization changed everyday lives at an unprecedented scale. They believed something was missing: that in exchange for productivity, we lost art, humanity, and nature. Bauhaus sought to correct this and translate mere objects into artistic — and therefore human — connection. They taught that form and function are not mutually exclusive.

A century later, this theory still holds weight. But the industrialization that necessitated Bauhaus has shifted to the digitization of the planet with an arguably greater impact on everyday lives. The scale of design has bled from the tangible into the intangible. It’s not only the objects we create and use, but it’s also the intelligence held within them. The straining ecological effects of mass production are no longer our only concern. We are now mass-producing feelings at an unprecedented scale.

We create digital experiences that reach millions (often billions) instantaneously, experiences that engage you and “make” you react. Manufacturing feelings has a profound effect on society, creating enormous opportunities to empower, to connect, to motivate, to give joy. But like all technology, it can also have unintended consequences that create harm, isolation, fear, and doubt. Function now extends into the realm of behavioral science. As designers, we influence the entirety of these experiences. We influence society and humanity at scale.

And yet our design institutions still hold to the material tenets founded by Bauhaus. These pedagogical tools are insufficient for the future that awaits us and even the here and now for which we design. Political, behavioral, cultural, sociological, ethical, and philosophical implications are at play more than ever. Every interaction is weighted with unintended consequences that affect the way people move about the world. Given the realities — and unrealities — technology creates, we have a responsibility to address our foundational knowledge and bring more consciousness into design education. Designers in every sector need to be equipped with the know-how to have these conversations.

I believe this starts with a critical design rethinking that brings these conceptual frameworks into our pedagogical standards. If Bauhaus allowed a safe space for experimentation and testing for material designs, this new school allows for the same on theoretical designs. We need a safe space to test these concepts before they alter society at scale.

This is meant as a provocation for, not a disparagement of, the design industry as it stands. I recognize the privilege of speaking from the podium of design in tech. But this also means my biases lie in seeing the impact of theoretical design firsthand. Across the tech industry, we are always learning from our impact on people in the real world, and this is what compels and propels this concept. Inclusion, equity, community, ethics, trust — are these the Design 101 courses of the future? A basis for “good design” under a meta-modernist definition leads to new practices and methodologies that address today’s societal challenges. What follows is a framework for the Bauhaus of the next 100 years.

Human-centered design addresses customer need but not always customer motivation. A new curriculum would teach the psychology behind certain behaviors and how to bring a person’s feelings into the iterative design process. This requires a personal reflection on the assumptions and biases we build into our designs, recognizing the knowledge gap that exists between our work and the customer’s real life. Rarely is there time for this critical analysis within our business cycles, and so it needs to be foundational training that becomes second nature. We need to learn how to continuously ask ourselves these questions:
How might the intended purpose be distorted?
Who holds the power in this engagement model?
Does this design cause harm in any way?
Does this design build or destroy trust?

Design thinking is limited in its process-oriented application. An expansion of our design practice includes awareness of broad systems and theories and those functions in society. This requires an evolution on the part of designers to understand the trends that drive our work. This includes areas like these:
Neuroscience: Digital design holds intrinsic implications for habit formation, focus, and attention. Learning more about these neural pathways is critical to curbing faulty design.
Economic theory: The definition of capitalism itself is evolving, driven by technology, the future of work, and the rise of automation. As designers, we take part in changing these systems, and we need to teach responsibility for their effects.
Privacy law: Understanding the global forces behind policies such as GDPR and the Right to be Forgotten informs future trends for data collection and customer trust.
Sustainability: Learning from the ecological challenges we’ve created serves as a blueprint for cognitive sustainability — using our resources responsibly and regulating for humane practices.

Diversity and inclusion are top of mind in the industry, yet we often hold a local view of diversity. In doing so, we are bypassing a critical consideration of the heritage of indigenous societies and a global perspective that informs more inclusive design. We need to recognize that the majority of digital experiences are designed with a Western lens. Back to the definition of “good design”—what does that mean in the context of scale? How can we embrace the diversity of cultures to uphold their values? Again, there are basic questions we can ask ourselves to begin decolonizing design:
Who is this really for?
Who will this reach, and who might be marginalized?
Is this a re-imagined design or a re-appropriated design?
What cultural value is lost by mass-producing this experience?

2020 vision
As we enter the next 100 years of design education, this is one perspective on where to take our current approach. If the industry has moved us from “less is more” to “more is more,” this is a call to define the next industrial revolution as something more meaningful. Exponential production is not a solution — we need to capitalize on learning more together.

This is on us.

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The emperor has no clothes…

Thanks for sharing! I realize my view on Bauhaus was still a bit too short-sighted, because of my own interpretations of it, even after having studied it extensively.

I am also part of a community of future-forward designers with a similar perspective. Design of the future is first and foremost embedded into human society, and should be tested as such. Quality or ‘good design’ as coined by Rams does not come from a match with abstract principles, but from the meaning experienced in interaction. Design education then becomes a large testing ground for new concepts, classical ID merely a way to achieve realized experiential prototypes.

My largest sentiment about design education is how designers are being developed as people.

  1. With our work becoming more and more multidisciplinary (read complex), how do we achieve a sort of liveable simplicity. How do we retain focus on our own core competences without becoming isolated from the rest - isolated pawns are weak players in the end. We tend to become blindly absorbed by corporate mills approaching design way too superficially. Also, design education seems to progress from team work to individual projects, but then in the real business world we tend to have less power because we have acquired the tendency to operate autonomously. So there needs to be a continued emphasis on cooperation.

  2. Design education pretends to deliver it all to designers, just within 4-5 years of time. It needs to stop the pretense and see that education needs to continue through one’s entire working life (though gradually fade out in terms of time and effort required for it). What can students really pick up from a two-week ethics, philosophy, business, or HCI course beyond just some awareness? One of the core things education needs to do is emphasise and make sure that it never stops, even though there is the graduation event.

I’m glad they mention the diversity of cultural values and their tendency to view things through a Western (read North-American) lens… North-American values and motivations are only one point on a quite vast spectrum and this text rieks of it :slight_smile: Are feelings actually meaningful or are they simply programmed into us by the corporate conglomerate, so we will believe in them and as a result literally buy into them as commodities? Of course there is for-profit but there is more. And money will flow in the end anyway.

Why don’t we focus on the real problems. I mean, first of all Windows has to work well as it’s most of all a productivity tool rather than a ‘bringer of experiences.’ Stop the pretense please.

So I’ve spoken :slight_smile:

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classical ID merely a way to achieve realized experiential prototypes


Couple comments:

we tend to have less power because we have acquired the tendency to operate autonomously.

  1. That hasn’t been my experience with design education over the past two years; it progresses more from individual, to pair, to group. Along the way there’s something to be gained from interpersonal dynamic pattern recognition. In a small way that provides gains beyond the grade. I get your point though - in many orgs without developed design teams the designer could be operating autonomously, an ‘army of one’.

One of the core things education needs to do is emphasise and make sure that it never stops

  1. I don’t disagree. This could apply to all education domains. Many people are just after a degree. You’re in a degree program (as opposed to a certificate or two-week crash course) because you have “approximately one million questions” (steph ballard) about the field and want a venue in which to stretch.

I always cringe a little bit when someone who has built their design career outside of design education comments on…design education. It is difficult to take somebody seriously when they are commenting on of all places the internet, but have no evidence of teaching experience, academic publication or curriculum development from the inside. This kind of social commentary does not lend constructive criticism to the profession of design, nor does it to design education.

This designer from Microsoft feels guilty and it shows in his essay. He is very much in tune with feelings and emotions. His essay reads like one long psychological projection. He feels guilty about what he has participated in the creation of over the last 20 years. That creation is the way in which we now interact with one another on a daily basis via. the digital economy. He thinks we are responsible for manufacturing feelings? Hmmmm? The rise of outcomes in design is fairly new in design academia, and we are now seeing them enter the mainstream of business as the internet and social media has matured. I would say that he has been overly influenced by the entry of psychology, sociology and anthropology into design. This is also a new phenomena, and these disciplines are now spilling over into all areas of design and influencing how design education is to be directed in the 21st century. In no place in his essay does he mention the mountain of literature and documentary detailing the 20th century history of propaganda. To be ignorant of how propaganda is designed, developed and deployed in society is to not understand some of the contemporary issues that are now bubbling over in academia and the education space.

Furthermore, the Bauhaus is something that many designers just cannot let go of (thanks to propaganda). The Bauhaus school has served its purpose in the 20th century, so lets leave it there as part of the historical record. In the postwar era of Europe, the economy of Germany needed a way to rebuild after world war II had flattened the infrastructures of many nations. Surplus methods of every kind had been more or less perfected in the war economy’s factories and the focus of that productivity needed to continue on into the development of a 20th century consumerist economy. There is really nothing additional that the Bauhaus has to offer the 21st century of North America or Europe as it is an entirely different global economy now where most consumer hard goods are produced and increasingly designed in East Asia. If anything, it is the nations of East Asia (and soon to be Africa) that will be seeking to leverage what the Bauhaus gave the design of physical goods a century ago while simultaneously blending those efforts to build the largest digital surveillance economy the world has ever seen.

For anyone who is following the diversity and inclusion debate, I highly recommend Heather Mac Donald’s book The Diversity Delusion. It provides a glimpse into the recent history of how race and gender pandering corrupt the university and the culture in the USA. I have spent 10+ years teaching design in the USA and an additional 12+ years teaching design in Asia during my time spent in and out of academia. Many educators, scholars and practicing designers have been hard at work for the past 15 years trying to evolve the way in which students experience design education in many universities all around the world. I would say that it is corporate design that needs a little deprogramming and designers need to stop listening without being critical of certain voices who are well funded and have the aim of programming society to suit their technocratic agendas. The pendulum has swung as far as it can go.

I think the writer Shum would benefit from spending (and giving) some time at UWashington, UOregon or even Emily CarrU. His lack of perspective and glaring bias from having his eyebrows singed by big-tech in America shows that there is a problem, but the fire is not in corporate high-tech entirely nor is it found in education as well. Having said that, many of you know how badly the dumpster fire was to change secondary education in America by the Gates foundation. It was an admitted disaster by Bill Gates himself. Gates Foundation Apologizes Once Again for “Learning Organization” Missteps - Non Profit News | Nonprofit Quarterly Let’s hope their efforts show improvement as they make a foray into higher education.

There is something in the water up there in Seattle , it just has not borne the scrutiny that Flint, Michigan has… Lets hope they do not wreck higher education this go around The Gates Effect.

Does anyone need full immersion to form an opinion on a subject? Cringe at whatever you want, but he’s a powerful figure even if he’s not a lifelong academic. If you want to talk to the guy, you can comment directly and tell him to mind his own business. (Thanks to the internet “of all places”)

That said, I appreciate your input as someone very much in the field. Your quick blog on teaching at the end of 2017 shows you’ve been advocating design skills and watching it pay off.

That’s powerful and it’s a very different perspective than Shum imagining college students getting into global-scale issues.

I think both views are valid. I don’t know where I’d be without skills you advocate like collaboration, rendering, mockup, drawing and presentation… But of course I appreciate a bigger-picture approach to design. I think Shum is right to point out that design and things like behavioral science are linked and that considering the consequences is important.

From what I’m reading here, it sounds as though you have some strong feelings about a vague but nefarious ‘propaganda.’ Can you tell me more about that?

Heather Mac Donald’s career is devoted to abusing statistics in an effort to disparage minorities in the US. The Diversity Delusion is all about how being called racst is the real racsm and that systemic oppression is not real. So far this year she’s been seeking attention by angering college students and supporting ‘stop and frisk’ policy. While her carefully curated data can appear authoritative, I would personally advise against taking her work too seriously because of the pervasive bias toward ‘conservative values.’

Both of these links were good reads. The Gates foundation has an obvious connection to Microsoft and the topic at hand. The power held by the Gates foundation is difficult to comprehend and it leads to many more questions about whether or not any one person should have so much power, even with benevolent intentions. It is antithetical to democracy and a startling demonstration of inequality.

I found Shum’s mention of the ‘Economic Theory’ to be expertly watered-down:
“The definition of capitalism itself is evolving, driven by technology, the future of work, and the rise of automation. As designers, we take part in changing these systems, and we need to teach responsibility for their effects”
It sounds like he’d follow it up with “just sayin…” to emphasize his disinterest in discussing it further.

I think Shum’s points in general weren’t anything controversial. It’s wise to consider the unintended consequences of technology. That is a lot to consider when distributing products at the scale of Amazon/Facebook/Samsung/etc… I find that the hard part comes when this thoughtfulness is obviously at odds with the short-term interests of massive capital. Many designers work to create or develop products that can actively harm the end user or even the Earth itself-- and don’t have a say on impact or even a voice to question this. Education towards holistic thinking is a nice aim, but I agree with Stephan that the ball isn’t exactly in the court of designers at that level. Even the CVP of Design at a $1,000,000,000,000+ company is trying to pass the responsibility to schools-- totally bizarre.

Even the CVP of Design at a $1,000,000,000,000+ company is trying to pass the responsibility to schools-- totally bizarre.

That’s a really good point.

I hate these elitist screeds about education. Here’s some things that popped in my head:

  1. Diversity. Smart people are aware that most of the world is not white, not American and doesn’t speak English. I ran across this excellent blog piece earlier this year doing some UX research:

UX Design Across Different Cultures — Part 1

I get it though, a lot of managers don’t know how the sausage is being made and assume they have a more global inclusive worldview than their underlings. Don’t worry: your employees are probably 10x more aware (and likely more in touch) with your market than you are.

  1. Bauhaus is the past. I think we need a new arts & crafts movement / art-nouveau movement. I hope we can democratize the tools of design and get a focus on natural patterns. I think music is already leading this (although with mixed final results). In almost all genres, music is being made at a small scale. Things like Spotify and SoundCloud are giving makers a way to share what they’ve done. I guess Instagram is starting to do that for design, but we can go so much further.

  2. Lasting change happens bottom-up. The 20th Century was getting things massive and pushing it down people’s throats. Now, people have better BS detectors and more choice. It’s getting harder and harder for companies to fool enough customers to sustain. The 21st Century will be about building and sustaining trust. That happens person to person from the ground up.

Same goes for design. If you want to change it, get little wins and build on them. You won’t get them in school, but in board rooms.

  1. I got my BS in 2002. We had multi-disciplinary team projects then. This is nothing new… Strange that people think this is a problem.

My experience was that no one knew enough (including me) to make the experience that worthwhile. Also, in every group there was a freeloader who partied while the other three of us broke our backs on the project. I’d rather encourage personal responsibility.

I had an idea awhile ago to change design critiques to a more realistic exchange. The teacher should act like a real client. Challenge the student more. Change the project arbitrarily. Cross your arms and ask the student for a miracle. Those were the hardest things I learned in the real world.

This is the closest example to what you are talking about that I have heard of. I would have hated it, but it would have been incredibly beneficial.

Handing the project off is a good idea too. Kind of like firing one consultant and hiring another to finish it. God, I hate those projects!

I’m going to strongly disagree with this. Do you honestly believe the most successful companies, Amazon, Apple, WalMart, Facebook, Tesla, etc. make the world a better place? People think reality TV is indeed real and for proof, we have a reality star in charge down here.

So no, people will fall hook line and sinker for anything that promotes their self worth and with the “information age”, the job doing so is much easier today than yesterday.

So my question is pretty simple. Do we continue with our current education system to further this exploitation? Knowing if there is a retraction in the vaunted capitalistic system, it will have grave consequences.

Pardon my cynicism this morning. Too much gray weather in these parts. :frowning:

iab: I meant that we are moving a certain direction towards companies needing to build trust. We’re not there yet, although all the examples you list certainly try to build trust. Tesla promises a carbon neutral future, Facebook promises to connect us with our friends, Wal-Mart has a sustainability and charity section to its website and Amazon allows user to post even negative reviews. Are all of these honest attempts? No, but they exist because customers are demanding change.

I hope that governments will create requirements for more honesty, transparency and responsibility. We’ve already seen some attempts at this, although with mixed results. (EU privacy laws, Canadian carbon taxing, etc.)

And finally, I don’t think design education can solve society’s problems, but I think we can make life a little better.

Been lurking in here and refraining from commenting. I only have an anecdote to add. I had a group of 9 U of O students in the studio last Friday. One of them asked me what I thought about getting a PHD in design, so their design degrees stacked, undergrad, grad, and post grad. My response was I’m sure the banks would love it because he would be in debt for the rest of his life and that it would probably eliminate him from most design jobs.

His question got me riffing, in a way his professors probably wouldn’t totally approve of, on what I would consider the best design education. My thought was if I had to do it all over again I would probably get a 2 year liberal arts degree in a major city like NY, London, or something where I would just be exposed to culture right out of a fire hose and read a ton of literature, study some social sciences, and take some foundational art classes. After that I’d volunteer to “intern” or “apprentice” for free for 2 years for professional designers. Maybe 6 months here, 6 months there. I know, “work” for free… but how much would I have saved by not paying tuition for those 2 years? It would be a net positive vs paying for it for 10 years. At the end of those 4 years of academic learning and apprenticeships I feel like someone would be ready to go off and get a great position in design.

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That sounds like how the high-end cooking schools want to do it, or at least how the late great Anthony Bourdain described a good experience. Get a little bit of knowledge, just so you don’t hurt yourself. Go bust-ass in a couple of great places. I’d amend yo’s take by having them return for a year or two more (I don’t know what this degree is called) with classes heavily emphasizing and synthesizing what they just experienced in the working world and putting it into a productive context. There could be core design trajectories in business/managerial or technical paths but either way there could be an infusion of some big concepts as described in the OP around responsibility, around “what if ten million people use your product?” My point is, once you know something, and have better questions, and are still young, eager, and motivated to chase these questions, the school context makes sense.

I think academia could do a great deal in solving society’s problems. They are the research arm of society, private industry is most definitely not. I have had the most fundamental question unanswered for at least a decade, maybe 2.

What is sustainable?

Answer that and it will go a great way to understand the finite resources available and then it will be easier to determine the most effective way of distributing them. The current free-for-all will end in collapse. Don’t know when, but what happened on Easter Island can and will occur on a larger scale.

Quite frankly, even with all its flaws, I certainly trust academia to answer that question over private industry. Without growth, private industry collapses, it is a central conflict of interest. And while I don’t know because no one has defined sustainable, my very strong suspicion is there is going to be a contraction in order to create sustainability. Tesla’s carbon neutral promise is merely signaling. Facebook is tribal. WalMart and Amazon encourages, promotes and even deifies consumption. I certainly don’t trust any of them to the keys of the kingdom.

Again, another gray day. :frowning:

Yo: I’ve had the same thought, but I think a few years design education was still necessary in my case. I think there is a benefit in doing some design projects with no specific goal. In the professional world, where time is profit, I’ve often been encouraged to hop to the final concept. In school, it was beneficial to be able to explore and make mistakes, but only to a point.

iab: I think academia can solve a lot of things. Design academia, a few. I think design serves a great purpose, but we’re limited. I often feel like the smog pump on my VW. Sure, it reduces pollution, but most of the pollution is reduced because of the fuel injection, the ECU’s programming, the catalytic converter, etc. Or to give another real world example, designers made the Cybertruck which will likely contribute nothing to reversing climate change. However, the engineers and scientists that develop a practical hydrogen fuel cell will change world history.

Lastly, combining what both of you said, I think a few years liberal arts, math or science education would make better designers who are more capable to making substantial change in the world. I’ve met a lot of designers who can do the craft, but few that have the skills and knowledge to shape their organizations or the world.

According to OECD 60% of research comes from industry. Only 20% comes from universities and the remaining 10% comes from government.

Academia is fighting a losing battle currently as funding continues to be cut at the state and federal levels. Inside of North American universities, administrative bloat and the redirection of remaining funds into programs to boost diversity and racial balance on campuses will continue to erode further science and technology grants due to the lowering of credentials and research abilities of those asking for funds. Those funds will be directed over to Asia where direct foreign investment has been on the rise for over the past 50 years.

Industry has always led research…academia is structured to produce workforce for industry. Academic research is there to study those who move through the university and affect the fields they are focused on producing workforce for.

Having said that, the merging of industry and academia continues to overlap further each year. What will be interesting to witness in the 21st century is how corporations will begin to overtake existing traditional education systems all together in order to grant access to information that the corporations own and control in order to usurp the role traditional education has occupied in order to shape the workforce of tomorrow.

Tell me more about how every dollar of funding for North American universities is eaten up by administration and diversity programs.

Industry-led research is mythological. Government research is the basis for a huge portion of profitable technologies currently on the market: the computer, the microchip, the internet, gps, materials science, AI, speech recognition, medical imaging, satellite imaging, the human genome project, airbags, etc… Important technologies were handed over to private business and were successfully marketed, and very little of the resulting profits found their way back to the source. It’s still true that government-funded research is now tragically low… but it’s hard to trust ‘industry’ to invest in research when marketing or regulatory capture have better returns … and even marketing and public relations owe a lot to government development.

On the campus I attended, there were already buildings named after corporations. I was enrolled in a design course involving a ‘collaboration’ with a nearby company. In this example, the collaboration dissolved halfway through when the professors discovered (a little late) that the company intended to own all intellectual property. This was a good thing for our portfolios but we also missed out on further collaboration and insight. I imagine this isn’t too out of the ordinary, just like unpaid work for school credit was common when I was in school ten years ago. I’m not sure if that’s still the norm.

I’ve taken part in some R&D tax credit applications. Those industry numbers are padded and probably include a lot of marketing and manufacturing costs listed as “R&D”. For example, all the major inventions of lithium batteries were done at Oxford, Stanford and the French National Centre for Scientific Research, not Tesla.

all of this can and should be negotiated with the school. It is pretty common that a company doing a “sponsored” project will own all the IP. How is that right you might ask? Well technically, the school owns the IP of anything you do while you are there. And in the case of those sponsored projects, they have sold it, usually for a considerable amount of money. I’ve done sponsored projects as a corporate exec and insisted the students keep the IP and in exchange we also only donated time and materials, things that students could use. But if the school is asking for $100k, the company is going to probably ask for the IP in return.

It is a really weird system… or ecosystem, maybe more like a constellation of entities that have similar practices. I was asked by an administrator at a school just this week to be a “coach” for a group of students. The request was to spend time with them on a regular basis and exchange feedback, sharing my knowledge and providing a lot of value. I replied that I would love to and quoted my hourly rate. To which I got a response that it would be a volunteer position… funny, I’m pretty sure the students are paying to learn and now you want me to teach them, for free? Seems like a bad deal for everyone except the school.