The Future of Design Education

The Future of Design Education (image courtesy of FIT)

Read Time: 2.5 minutes

Last fall, educators Don Norman and Michael Meyer were in the thick of writing “Changing Design Education for the 21st Century” when the novel coronavirus struck. Their deeply considered research was published in late February in the Spring edition of "She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation," from Tongji University Press, and more broadly in April across social media channels.

How we educate future design professionals in any given design discipline—interior, industrial, experience, graphic, landscape, et cetera—has been a matter of discussion and debate for more than a decade. Educators and practitioners alike have known that America’s education system is broken. And now with the world on fire, we’ve reached the boiling point. Our community is exhausted by hearing the rhetoric of change because we are lacking the initiatives needed to bring about real positive movement.

“We must rethink the way designers are educated,” says Norman who is professor at University of California, San Diego, director of Design Lab, and author of "The Design of Everyday Things," is to rethink how designers are educated.  According to the website and initiative that Norman recently helped launched, The Future of Design Education,the challenge is this: “New needs continually arise, along with new tools, technologies, and materials. Designers are starting to address some of the major societal issues facing the planet. Does design education prepare them to work with and lead the multidisciplinary teams required to work on these complex socio-technical systems?”

The answer is no.

“Our initial committee was too small to address these important issues,” says Norman, so they have expanded the working committee and are calling on those interested in building a better system of design education to come forward. In an effort to create a rich diversity in age, gender, race, areas of interest, socioeconomic status, and political views, you can nominate yourself or someone else on the website. Nominations are open until October 1, 2020.

To date, they have received close to 300 names from all continents, including:

  • Africa - 7
  • Asia - 55
  • Europe - 69
  • Latin America - 17
  • The Middle East - 8
  • North America - 127
  • Oceania - 11


“We definitely wish to make understanding different cultures a major theme, which means the decolonization movement will be covered, as well as pluralism and the monoculture that now exists," says Norman. Step one in the reform of central biases is to begin understanding that we’ve colonized the world in our own societal and cultural image, and we judge others by how we grew up. He references two books for those interested in educating themselves and broadening their understanding of current issues: “Monoculture: How One Story Is Changing Everything” by F.S. Michaels and “Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds (New Ecologies for the Twenty-First Century)” by Arturo Escobar

Can we create positive and lasting change? Norman thinks so.

First we listen, then we plan; finally we act. “We’re designers,” he says. “We know we don’t get it right.”

And that’s the good news. We’ll watch and keep changing until we get close.


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