WHAT IS 21ST CENTURY DESIGN EDUCATION AND ARE WE DOING IT WRONG?
Editor: Buck, Lyndon; Grierson, Hilary; Bohemia, Erik
Author: De Vere, Ian
Institution: University Of Lincoln, United Kingdom
Section: Responsible innovation in design and engineering education
DOI number: 10.35199/EPDE.2023.98
Designers are now entrusted with increasingly complex challenges and the stakes have never been higher. The complex and impactful endeavours of modern design reach far beyond the commercial and technical constraints and rewards systems experienced by previous generations: now designers are expected to shoulder the burden of global challenges (e.g. the SDGs), to deal with complex human behaviours and societal concerns, plus the impact of the Anthropocene crisis, whilst navigating (and advocating for) new technologies and the erosion of traditional fields of practice. A model of practice where designers are shapers of society, activists and agents for change, rather than service providers. Contemporary design practice is moving from a model where the designer is at the subjective centre of design decision making, involved primarily in artifact creation, to that where the designer is both an activist and facilitator contributing critical know-how to the design of socio-technical systems. Despite the popularity of television shows that frame design as an aesthetic practice, design is no longer simply about ‘making things pretty’ or ‘making it work better’, cheaper to make, nicer to use, or more desirable, although there is still gainful employment in those missions. And the role is not of problem solver, nor responder to a client brief, instead designers are now required to work in an ambiguous pre-brief environment, where rather than problem solving, or at a higher level, problem framing, the designer is involved (and/or leading) problem identification. This requires competency in systems thinking, a well-established understanding of human behaviours and societal and cultural customs, and a design methodology that employs high level critical awareness and thinking, in addition to more traditional creativity and skills-based acumen. Our graduates need to understand systems, not just users and manufacturing. Designers are challenged to deal with socio-technical ‘wicked problems’ that introduce a new level of difficulty and complexity, requiring adaptability to transition across traditional practice boundaries with new interdependencies and interactions. Does the current model of design education adequately prepare graduates for the complexities of future practice, and do we need to transform design education in order to meet the needs of a contemporary world in crisis? Does an over-reliance on traditional skills and artifact production, with striking graduate exhibitions, work to the detriment of graduates and the profession, masking the urgent need for a comprehensive review of what, and how we teach design? Are we utilising design projects can build cognitive and intellectual abilities, instead of artifacts or services? Should we be focussing more on a non-outcomes based approach to design education? Does the curriculum create opportunities for Epistemic Freedom or does the Eurocentricity of design education continue to be limiting and inhibiting (impacting diversity), and self-perpetuating? This paper examines design education and aims to provide a critical provocation of the curriculum, seeking to understand the constantly evolving paradigm of design practice to identify both the required graduate attributes and models of curricula and pedagogy that ensure that graduates are prepared and armed with the appropriate skillset for future global practice.