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Entries in design education (3)

Monday
Jul022012

IDSA Educators' Papers On Line!

I may be revealing my geek side here, but as a past IDSA Education VP (and as such, responsible for putting on two educators' conferences and overseeing the peer review process of the content) I am thrilled to see IDSA's new gallery of educators' papers on line. I've attended these conferences for years and perhaps the best-kept secret in the design world is the IDSA National Education Symposium. Every year I hear something that directly helps either my professional or teaching practice. On the "big stage" of the IDSA National Conference we might see showy keynotes from well-known figures (and if they're designers, that might be a show of their portfolio, and while I'm not complaining, this can be a little ho-hum and nothing-new-here, I'm just sayin'...). The real depth and weight can often be found in the educators' sessions, but these are thinly attended by the main audience. 

Is there a misconception about design education? Perhaps. For as long as I can remember, professional practitioners have complained that design education is slipping, ineffectual, just not preparing students for the so-called "real world." This used to bother me. From my perspective, teaching at Art Center and every year looking at the work of students and educators at schools like Cincinnati, CCS, San Jose State and CCA, I see the opposite. I was told by educators older and wiser than I that this is typical of many designers - the minute they graduate they start complaining that design education isn't the way it used to be when they were in school. To these folks, I'd like to suggest that they visit one of the aforementioned schools and subject themselves to today's packed-full curriculum. The longer they've been out of school, I'd suggest they'd find greater difficulty in handling everything that we ask of students today in these programs.

The heart of the problem might be that most designers don't see the best portfolios. The A students usually have jobs before they leave school. The next rung of students look around a bit, show their work to a few offices, and then get hired. It's the C students - and, unfortunately, graduates of weaker programs - who travel all points of the compass showing their work to everyone, and finding great difficulty getting hired. It is these portfolios that most people see.

There's another truth that might be harsher for practitioners to swallow - the really good students rarely apply to the weaker offices. If your office has a reputation for being a terrible place to work, odds are that there is a parallel universe of great design portfolios that you've never seen. Think that one through before you are tempted to go off about all design education.

End of rant. Back to the educators' papers online at IDSA.

Most of the time, regular attendees of the IDSA National Conference shun the educators' sessions like kids avoiding vegetables. (Could it be connected to the bad view of design education I mention above? Who knows?) But the secret (every parent knows) is to make the educator sessions (and the vegetables) indistinguishable from the regular fare. The last educators' conference I chaired was in Austin, where we experimented with integrating the educators' presentations seamlessly with the rest of the conference. I remember asking someone with a practitioner's badge whether he'd had a chance to check out any of the educators' sessions yet. He gave me a guilty look and mumbled something about needing to go to sessions that had relevance to his work. I said, "That's ok - don't worry about it. By the way, of all the sessions, which have you liked best so far?" He brightened, and named one of the educators' sessions that he'd attended, thinking it was a "regular" session. Touché.

These papers are all archived at the national office, and in the past were intermittently and incompletely available on the web site. I am so glad to see this resource in entirety, finally accessible. 

My congratulations to Kurt Howard, Ben Chisholm, and Colleen Browning, the unsung heros of IDSA's national office staff who are, bit by bit, adding gems like this to the IDSA site. Good job, folks!

Tuesday
Nov172009

Design Thinking

Dev Patnaik's recent post at Fast Company.com about reinventing the MBA caught my eye this morning. In an interview of Roger Martin, of the Rotman School of Management, they discuss the idea of bringing Design Thinking into the mix of what a business degree should include. The discussion is an excellent one, and if you don't have the time to listen to it in the video, at least read Dev's summary at the Fast Company site.

This idea, Design Thinking (which I define as the sort of creative problem solving / lateral thinking / & so forth taught in many—but most definitely not all— design schools), looks like the new darling of the business press, and I welcome that. The more we can integrate this sort of thinking into all of our problem-solving processes, the better off we will be. But when I reflect on what's missing in today's business management, I see another, perhaps more important omission.

I think we're long overdue for a renaissance of the ideas of Peter Drucker. On my drive home yesterday I caught the public radio program, Marketplace, and heard Kai Ryssdal's interview of Harvard Business School's Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who has written an article about the continuing relevance of Drucker's ideas in this month's Harvard Business Review.

This week we are celebrating (along with the 103rd birthday of Eva Zeisel, of course) the 100th anniversary of Drucker's birth. Most will know about Drucker, who was considered the father of business management. I found this short interview an excellent review of Drucker's ideas, some of which we are in sore need of today:


As Kanter says, "First was the importance of a company having a sense of mission or a purpose, and that's not identical with its strategy, it's not identical with its business model, it's why it exists and what social good or greater good that it's serving." Most important, he did not hold that management should concern itself solely with serving shareholder needs: " He talked about all the responsibilities of management, so shareholders were certainly one for businesses but also employees, customers, suppliers, and society in general.

Ryssdal: what Drucker would say about "the context that a lot of businesses find themselves in today of really having to cut their costs and get their share price up, maximize their profitability?"

Kanter: "Peter was a very big believer in management by objectives. ...you know what your goals are and then you organize to get those goals met, which means to that you do have operate efficiently. But it also means that you don't sacrifice the long term for the short term. So ever since he started writing about high CEO compensation in the 1980s, he said that companies were often not fair. They often did have resources, but they were concentrated at the top. And that letting the shareholders, but also executives, walk away with the lion's share of the profits rather than reinvesting them, that would not create a productive future for business."

So my question is, who is enacting Drucker's ideas today?

Sunday
May102009

A Peek Behind the Curtain





I've struggled for years to accurately convey the complex picture of industrial design at Art Center—the reality behind the hype. We are sometimes viewed as shallow stylists, mostly because what people see of our work are slick photos of final models. Rarely do people get to see the process that we employ, and the thinking behind it. This isn't limited to us, by the way—if you examine what gets published about industrial design, you'll see an endless parade of glamour shots of the latest shiny thing, and the criteria used for the curation of this work seem to revolve around the hot image it will create in a magazine. This shallow picture isn't helped by the fact that we at Art Center are often running at such a pace that we—students or faculty—rarely get out to share with others what we're up to.

Industrial designers complain that people misunderstand what we do. Part of the blame lies with us. We struggle to appear in publications that limit the view of our work to the single glam shot. If we're not careful, we might wind up like those architects who seem to design a building to create a photo op for the cover of Architectural Record—not to provide an optimal experience for the people who will inhabit the space.

For years I've admired the way that IDEO crafts their own story. Through artful self-publication as well as controlled use of traditional publishing outlets, they have created the image that we have of them. They are not known for any particular design; they are known for their innovation process, as they should be.

What's a designer to do who doesn't have the firepower of a major office as backup? Check out the blog of industrial design student Stéphane Angoulvant. In January 09, at the beginning of his second term (or the second half of his freshman year), he decided to start a record of his work at Art Center, project by project, course by course. 

We get to look over his shoulder as he tackles each assignment, understanding not only the process he uses to solve the problem but also the rationale for the assignment in the first place, how it fits into the stream of coursework that makes up the curriculum. He does this without undue self-aggrandizement but with quiet confidence and clear-eyed excitement. As he says in his kickoff post, "Just want to keep it simple here and post what I can from my ongoing design projects." Following his posts I see the world that we have created for our students from the student's-eye view, and at the same time get to revisit the fun of my own experience learning the design process so long ago.

Following a notice on Coroflot earlier this year, the blog has acquired an enthusiastic following of fellow students and admirers. By the time Stéphane reaches his 8th term, he will have already created that new requirement for career success—a solid web presence.

I find this profound in so many ways—seeing the world of the Other from their point of view (which is what my research methodology is all about), seeing the organic start of a designer building what will eventually become his career and his reputation, and perhaps most interesting, seeing how young designers gather together in communities of shared interest. IDSA, and all who purport to be gathering places for designers, take special note of this last one.