The next century of design education

Side note @_YO the instructor for my 3D foundation class was a RISD MFA sculptor, a Japanese American guy named Ken Horii. He was really influential at that point in my life and the RISD balance of craft and concept was present in his teaching.

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I remember that name @slippyfish. I never got to be in a class with him, but he did also teach at RISD at about the same time I was there.

Ken Horii is a professor emeritus of Spatial Dynamics in the Experimental and Foundation Studies Division at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island (1993-2020) where he worked with first year students, all levels of undergraduate and graduate students in departments of design and fine art across the college and with RISD/Brown dual degree students. He was Programs Head for the EFS Division for 10 years.

Horii was a visiting artist teaching special projects in the International Art and Design Program at the Samsung Art and Design Institute in Seoul, South Korea, a visiting lecturer at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts and the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts in Shanghai, and a visiting professor in the International Master of Fine Arts Program at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, China.

Honestly, I think it has taken me years to appreciate what I learned in that foundation year. As I keep reflecting on it, and as I have taught at the college level myself some, I keep understanding it a little more.


who then of course went on to teach at the Harvard Graduate School Of Design from 1937-1952.

Side Note: If you have a chance to visit, Gropius’s house outside of Concord, Mass is open to the public and is set up the way he and his family lived. I’m not sure if she is still alive, but each season his daughter would come in and rearrange things a little based on what the family used to do.

What is being referred to as positionality statements here in this thread applies to research theoretitians and praxis pros who rely heavily on reflexive evaluations of themselves and their research during the research process in order to measure ethics. Having said that, Shon’s work on Reflective design practice is more appropriate for undergrad design students and designers alike imo. Design Theory class is where much of this material can be covered in a semester.

We are witnessing the reflexive approach through positionality statements being pushed further downstream in higher ed currently and it is tangent to what Shum had observed in the corporate design space at MS I conjecture. For mainstream normies, this translates to defining ones identity. This would come before building talents, skills, knowledge and abilities. Hence my objection to positionality statements for undergraduates who are currently exploring who they are or might want to become. If you over define yourself too early as a designer you lose out on valuable learning during the process I have observed. Those who enforce their identity on others are more inclined to constantly inject the defined self into the design process in order to exert power and control over others.

If you want to know more I suggest digging into the Frankfurt School in Germany during the early part of the 20th century. It is where Critical Theory began and the germs of social emotional learning theory took root which has now proliferated all over much of the west. Herbert Marcuse is among the scholars from Frankfurt who contributed to modern education pedagogy in the USA. As an aside, both the Frankfurt School and The Bauhaus were shuttered by the Nazis for similar reasons.

@_yo awesome - thanks for the added detail.
My bad - he went to RISD after Syracuse, but did his education at Cooper Union and Wisconsin.

‘Professor Emeritus of Spatial Dynamics’ is an impressive sounding title. His work (on the website) is really neat.

Regarding the germs of social and emotional learning theory I would push forward the German Friedrich Fröbel who at least named Kindergarten.

@_YO I will check out the Gropius home. Didn’t know anything about it thanks.

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The unifying vision is there. We’re not grappling with "persuasive design, dark design, addictive design, and the plethora of individuated ills of fragmentation, tribalization, etc… " These exploitative techniques and their consequences are profitable.

Design education itself is a highly designed product that handily deserves the label of ‘persuasive.’ Are you going to take a stab at a design career out of high school or pony up $60-200k? What does an ethics class have to say about modern manufacturing or mass data collection? What is a designer with a heart of gold going to do for stock value? Once hired, your job is to generate more value than you are paid so the boss thinks you’re worth keeping around- and the difference between those values is ideally as high as possible.

I think I have some personal issues around this I’ll have to work on :grimacing: - it seems you realize some of the contradictions here:

The average cost of childcare in my city is $15/hr (over 30k annually). Health insurance is a huge burden. Parental leave is brief and not guaranteed. Employers hold total power over most American workers. Ethics can feel like a luxury when you could lose your livelihood and healthcare in an afternoon for not following orders.


I think there is value in knowing the distribution of power and control, but I personally wasn’t taught any of that in my university years (2007-12). My education consisted mostly of what you describe here, color, form, communication… and I’m surprised you mention culture/demography, considering your next paragraph. “A dash of complexity theory” is a great quip. The idea that anything resembling Marxist Socialist Communism is being taught in schools, or that Marxist Socialist Communism is the motivation behind for-profit schools cannot be taken seriously. As far as I know, Marxist Socialist Communism is not “when people go into debt,” or really anything other than a phrase designed to spook old people.

If ‘emotional wellbeing’ is an unworthy priority, what is a better measure of a product/service’s success? My most recent ‘design education’ experience was Google’s UX course, and I think they make a convincing case for considering a broad array of users and designing around diverse needs. Despite the emphasis on early research when budget allows, I have a strange hunch that the “DSM, Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology et al” might not be as detrimental (or generally as present at all) in a design process.

I think Niti’s point is that the PPT research methodology was created and flourished under those conditions so transplanting it to someplace like the USA may invoke problems. Like, we don’t take those things for granted but if you did or could, what would your research find?

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Can you elaborate on what you mean here? It’s difficult to discern when having a defined identity becomes a problem, or how one might “enforce their identity on others” or “inject the defined self into the design process in order to exert power and control over others.” Is this distinct from having a style or voice?

Your link about Critical Theory and the Frankfurt school had this nice passage that seems to match with your disdain for modern Marxist Socialist Communist society:

One of the core concerns of the scholars of the Frankfurt School, especially Horkheimer, Adorno, Benjamin, and Marcuse, was the rise of “mass culture.” This phrase refers to the technological developments that allowed for the distribution of cultural products—music, film, and art—on a mass scale. They objected to how technology led to a sameness in production and cultural experience. Technology allowed the public to sit passively before cultural content rather than actively engage with one another for entertainment, as they had in the past. The scholars theorized that this experience made people intellectually inactive and politically passive, as they allowed mass-produced ideologies and values to wash over them and infiltrate their consciousness.

If only these germs of critical thought could stop or transform the relentless march toward mass production and digitalization, eh?

I think it’s worth mentioning as people “dig into the Frankfurt School in Germany… where Critical Theory began and the germs of social and emotional learning theory took root,” that the Frankfurt School, Critical Theory, and “Marxist Socialist Communism” talking points are related to the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory. This paranoia is an echo of “Germany-during-the-early-part-of-the-20th-century” propaganda. So dig carefully because you might end up in some weird places.

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Yes- It’s an interesting question! I find the premise of Americans with healthcare and a social safety net to be hilariously farfetched, so I kind of focused on the existing US experience. I personally find that people make more ethical decisions when they are not under extreme financial pressure, but I’ll have to do some more research.


I feel fortunate to have had some helpful instructors (yes, higher learning academia, yes, state-funded university, yadda yadda) who guided our cohort through some of these topics, especially in a course called Theoretical Foundations of HCD. Along with CT we covered Foucault, feminist theory, and the nature and transfer of ‘power’ in societies. (We didn’t cover Marcuse.) These topics were just one week, sandwiched between other subjects like Distributed Cognition (my favorite) and Practice Theory. Studying the subject in this context enabled us to understand it as just another milestone, a way to understand and analyze societies.

For various reasons over the past ~5 years, individual soundbites have been co-opted into overtly poisonous attack points, processed for talking points on the news networks. I understand the average person isn’t doing graduate work in design theory and may not have the inclination to attempt a deeper understanding of what’s being said or written. But yeah, you can connect Foucault or Marcuse to some scary diabolical shit.

(I hope this thread/forum can remain a place for reasoned discussion as pertains to important topics in design education.)

(…and FWIW I’m not in favor of positionality statements taking priority over what students need to get jobs, but appreciate the reflection involved)

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I beg to disagree. You are, I think, refering to personal identity.

What if we consider the crafting of a professional persona, as evidenced by a combination of portfolio, design analysis of one’s contribution to academe, and a CV - as a form of visual and communication package design?

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Hofstede is very helpful in these analyses. For instance, rural Kenya is a situation without a safety net or state support as in the Nordic welfare state of Finland but it is oriented socio-economically towards cooperation rather than competition, and dog eat dog isn’t even what wildlife in the savannah does, so we have no idea where it came from? Emphasis on lone wolf heroics and individualism can be distinguished.


Many Eastern socities actually have a cooperation based model of working and living.

If you combine developing world level low-wealth with dog-eat-dog competition people actually start to die because of it very quickly.

Me-first selfishness only works in societies with high wealth.

In poorer societies, cooperation harks back to the very early days of man learning agriculture, and to some extent the poorest societies have not managed to progress particularly further than early agricultural practices.

There are cultures where any attempt to treat others in a dog-eat-dog way will turn the whole community against you.

The very survival of the community is threatened when cooperation and helping other members of the community starts to slide.

At least that is the perception in certain cultures.

This is the same thinking in rural Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda where I have done fieldwork.

And, speaking from Finland, its the same mindset here.

Harsh environments and adversity in living memory may be influences at work, as well.

A year and a half after I revived this thread, I’m reviving it again. Over the past year or so, I’ve completed the bulk of writing up my dissertation research in the form of journal articles submitted for peer review. I’ve been targeting the top design journals (academic).

Now, as I begin the last mile synthesis and summary - the knitting together all the diverse strands of knowledge pursued and produced - I find myself taking the perspective of a professional practicing designer with roots in industrial design and before that production engineering, with exposure to the Bauhaus philosophy in both the graduate design programs I was immersed in.

Things have been bubbling around below the surface over the past couple of weeks but I’d been too busy finishing the edits on manuscripts for a may31 deadline to give them the time and attention they needed. They’ve finally come through this weekend although I promised myself spring cleaning ;p instead of theorizing.

Knowledge production, knowledge products, and design

By design, here, I mean the practice, the processes, the wandering around lost and uncomfortable in masses of front end data (if you like to do front end inquiry before initiating concept development, like I do), before arriving at some mythical Aha! (eureka moment) that releases you from the burden of ambiguity, uncertainty, and unknowns, and you can see where you need to go and how to get there.

By knowledge, I mean the formal definitions of what is legitimate and credible knowledge produced through the scientific method and is all kinds of stuff like replicable, reproducible, etc whatnot that, if you ask me, goes directly against what designers do in their own journeys from starting on a blank page through to finish.

Scholarship has been making me dumb as a designer, too afraid to conjecture, imagine, daydream and ponder… education in the formal academic system is designed to curb the very tendencies that make designers creative. Not artists or engineers, IMO, but designers specifically, as they fall between the artist and the engineer in “applied knowledge production” which is part of the designer process from 0 to 60.

So why are you rambling here? Get a blog

The scholarship of this spring semester really brought home to me that there’s an increasingly large disconnect between designers in practice and their professors in school. I’ve been away from the US scene for too long to speak on that but here it feels like a huge gap and one that is worrying for the future of design education.

25 odd years ago doctorates in design began to emerge as degree programs in universities. in the US, the first was the Institute of Design Chicago in 1998. (for context, I did admissions there from 2002 to 2005, so I’m speaking from an unusual intersectionality of exposures to design education - student and staff and fly on the wall in faculty meetings that guided the future that interestingly I’m experiencing personally now as a doctoral student looking at design as a discipline)

However, teachers of design were still practitioners or from industry or with portfolios etc.

Now, as PhDs in Design began to graduate and the need for departments to show their “scientific creds” converged, you cannot teach design without a PhD at the university level.

Think about that.

I have had nothing better to do than to think about this as my 30 odd years of industry experience clashes with what is considered “design” and “designer education” at the higher education institutions.

You’ve got people with NO portfolios whose PhDs were granted for researching designers at work (mostly WIERD students) now hired as design professors.

You get journals full of design research that aims to fit the standards of a scientific discipline and peer review rather than truly innovative and novel knowledge advances that ironically designers themselves are known for.


Every designer generates new knowledge in myriads of ways through sketching, prototyping, playing with post it colours and positions, etc Even the research on these ‘designerly’ methods is then packaged for peer review and scientific standards.

What it seems to me that I am seeing happening is that everything that made design what it was - creative, innovative, chasing emerging or unpredictable outcomes not hypothesis, non-verbal communication of complex concepts etc etc is being suffocated to death in the academy

And there is nobody there to argue for its continued existence because they are themselves now the product of this same process given the whole PhD thingie of the past 25 years

Now when I stand there and look ahead, I see the death of the design studio in the university

Another 5 or 10 years and any designer who attends a proper university is in danger of being taught by those without portfolios and no guarantee of having the aesthetic sense (“the eye”) of a designer

this is the future I see


Thanks for sharing and its unfortunate to hear you feel this way after studying so broadly around the world. I recently talked to some ID students from Auburn and I was sad to hear they did not trust many of their professors because very few of them had any actual working experience in design. I can only speak of the US, but I think its unfortunate that a design education can only be acquired in a university setting. I would love to see easier and more equitable pathways to give those interested the skills to contribute outside of the academic setting. It appears the current academic system might no longer be the best environment to develop designers and we as a community need to develop something new. Personally I think something that closer aligns to the trade or crafting education would be great to see in practice.

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Well Niti, some ambivalence at a major transition point is to be expected. My decades of watching the profession and academia evolve leaves me with a certainty that the future will be unexpected, but ID will persist.
ID departments have come and gone over the years, my own was phased out even though it was enrolled to capacity, only for two more departments to open at smaller universities in my same state later on. Same for consultancies.
I do think that programs located at academically first tier schools place extraordinary pressure on faculty to publish and present at conferences, at the expense of skills based classroom teaching. But they only accept very bright and motivated students believing they’ll sort things out on their own.
Dont forget about those departments that require co-op practice of students, or corporate sponsored studios from faculty. That will always keep at least some folks grounded in reality.
The future of ID practice and education is clouded by the impending AI revolution, global social and economic uncertainties effecting business in general, population decline among the industrial first world nations and the environment.

we need solid thought leaders spending all their energies redefining curricula that not only prepares students for their first job, but also their last (whatever that might be) so take courage.

From a somewhat unrelated thing I read on LinkedIn this morning about IDEO, maybe we need ‘practice leaders’ more than ‘thought leaders’ based on how its going now.