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I had the pleasure of moderating a lively panel discussion on Saturday, April 9 as part of the Faculty Forum portion of AIGA Minnesota’s Portfolio 1-on-1—one of the largest and longest-running student design events in the country. 210 design students from around the upper midwest converged on downtown Minneapolis for two days of workshops, studio tours, and (as the name suggests) one-on-one portfolio reviews. The speed at which the event sold out this year is an indication of the robust state of design education in this region.
The Faculty Forum—attended by more than 30 design educators from a variety of public, private, traditional, and for-profit institutions—was kicked off with an invigorating and provocative keynote presentation by Tom Fisher, Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. Tom took us on a fascinating tour of the challenges and opportunities of design education in a time of change, in part by reflecting on a previous time of change—the invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s. Fisher emphasized this challenge by pointing out how most design students now are digital natives, “it’s almost as if our students are natives in a different land.”
AIGA Minnesota President Seth Johnson picked up on this thread of Tom Fisher’s remarks by elaborating on the significant challenges present for design educators, “The 30,000-foot view provided by Tom Fischer was inspiring and right on target. But I still struggle with comprehending how old-world educational models will respond to the quandary of implementing the changes he’s describing. That’s where the real conversation is — and the real work, too. I’d argue that, unfortunately, most academic programs (and the institutions that own them) simply aren’t set up to quickly adapt to the fast and changing pace upon which our society is now based. What incentive, for example, is there for a non-digitally-native tenured professor to completely adapt her skills and methodologies to meet today’s demands, especially when she needs to continue to teach yesterday’s curriculum to students currently in the antiquated program?”
Tom Fisher’s remarks were followed by a lively panel discussion and Q&A featuring veteran local designers Bill Moran of Blinc Publishing and Bill Thorburn of The Thorburn Group, as well as educators Paul Bruski of Iowa State University, and Alex DeArmond of University of Wisconsin-Stout. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), the panel brought the conversation from the stratosphere down to ground level with a strong focus on the importance of the tangible elements of graphic design like typography. For me, the interesting tension of the session was drawing connections between Tom Fisher’s big vision and the reality of what is happening in the classroom.
Keith Christiansen of St. Cloud State University followed up by email with this comment: “I had the impression you left one question dangling…how do we as design faculty teach social media? It’s definitely important to factor in. I bring it up in my classes and have sited the Geek Girls (Twin Cities-based bloggers and social media gurus, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker) who view it as a new paradigm for communication. The analogy is like in a party where you meet with people in short exchanges and the rule is you can’t be a bastard, over hype or be obnoxious or the Facebook/Twitter crowd will freeze you out. If a client lies or misrepresents, the news will be spread immediately. In other words one has to be empathetic, somewhat cool, useful, provide value and above all reliable, trustworthy. This is a simplistic view of course but I am attracted to the virtues of it as a new communication model. I share that with students and Integrate it with problems posed to them in terms of their projects-how they come to their solutions matters.”
University of Minnesota professor Steven McCarthy followed up by email with this comment: “We didn’t touch on the role of research in design education.” Here’s a link to a recent Eye magazine blog post by Steven on the topic.
Special thanks to Jennifer Price and John Vorwald of AIGA Minnesota for organizing the Faculty Forum. There was definitely an interest on the part of the educators in attendance to continue the conversation!
It was an unexpected surprise and pleasure to be asked to present at the Dot Dot Dot event by the School of Visual Arts MFA Interaction Design program last month at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn. The vibrant format included (roughly) 10-minute presentations by five different entrepreneurs each working in a different creative profession. I was joined in the program by Jay Parkinson, co-founder of Hello Health and founder of the new design consultancy The Future Well; Laureen Barber, co-founder of the restaurant Blue Hill Farm in lower Manhattan; Yancey Strickler, co-founder of Kickstarter; and Robert Fabricant, executive creative director of Frog Design.
Despite the restrictive format (or maybe because of it), the evening was rich with big ideas about how designers and creative thinkers are solving thorny problems. I’ve written about Jay Parkinson before and I continue to be blown away by his pragmatic grasp of the health care system and how it can change for the better. I am hoping to write more about Kickstarter in the near future because it is another sign of the encouraging trend of peer-to-peer lending as a new possibility for start-up funding. Blue Hill Farm is quite simply exquisite in every possible way (and I can now say so with absolute authority). And Robert Fabricant’s refreshing portrayal of the creative process was filled with wisdom and wit.
Here’s Jay Parkinson’s presentation from the event. The rest of them can be viewed here: Dot Dot Dot: The Entrepreneurs
Bruce Nussbaum, contributing editor for Business Week and formerly the publication’s editor of Innovation and Design, is everywhere these days. I am continually getting directed to his blog, Nussbaum on Design on the Business Week site, and I also came across a very good video of Nussbaum at the recent ITT Institute of Design Strategy Conference (a preview of which is embedded below). Nussbaum is one of those freakish “Tom Friedman-esque” characters who has the ability to clearly recognize big trends without the benefit of years or decades of hindsight. He’s particularly tuned in to design thinking and how it is evolving as an area of practice.
In this blog post, he discusses the trend of design thinking and validates that this—rather than the creation of designed artifacts—is where the real activity and movement is happening for designers. And he’s quite bullish about it, pointing to several examples in the public and private sectors—domestically and internationally—where designers are playing increasingly central roles.
One area Nussbaum calls out as not keeping up with the pace is design education. I’ve discussed the immense challenges facing design educators many times on Merge, and Nussbaum’s critique is further evidence of the complex puzzle educators must solve to integrate this new strategic component into a very crowded curricula. Nussbaum cites the example of where businesses are turning to find help bringing design thinking into their organization—they’re turning to the leading design firms, not the leading design schools for guidance.
From the entrepreneurial perspective, there is an intriguing nugget of Nussbaum’s post in which he eludes to a new venture capital model being driven by designers. He highlights Fuseproject, Yves Behar’s amazing firm, as one to whom venture capitalists are turning to help identify new trends and product ideas. This puts the designer in a very influential position.
“A new VCD (Venture Capital Design) model is emerging. Yves Behar’s fuseprojects and others are funding new brands either directly or with partners. Designers are using their talent for spotting new trends and their ability to translate insights into new products and services to directly create new brands, instead of doing it for large companies.Venture Capital firms are turning to Behar and other Designers to bring them brands and concepts. This is a new role for Designers.”
Check out the site for the ITT Institute of Design Strategy Conference for more great videos, including a conversation with outgoing P&G CEO, A.G. Lafley.
I had the pleasure of spending some time last week with Tom Fisher, Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. We had a wide ranging conversation touching on many aspects of design. Graphic design is one of the seven programs within the College which also includes the highly regarded architecture program. While Tom’s background is in architecture, he displays a fluid knowledge of the full design spectrum and how they relate to each other, “I see a lot of blurry edges in the design world,” he said, referring to the overlap between the design disciplines. “With that said, it’s vitally important for a young designer to establish an area of focus and expertise before they begin to branch out.”
One area I was particularly pleased to hear Tom address is the amount of collaboration between the College of Design and other academic areas, like the medical school and the humanities. “The leaders of these programs are seeing design as integral to preparing a student to go out into the world. What’s really exciting is that they are the ones initiating the dialogue.” He spoke at length about the possibilities for cross-programming with the Carlson School of Management, another U of M program with a national profile. “Alison Davis-Blake, the dean of the Carlson School, and I have had some very exciting conversations about bringing design into that program. She really sees design as a way to distinguish the Carlson School nationally and I think we’ll be able to play a key role in helping her fulfill that vision.”
iPhone Games for Designers
In a follow up to last week’s post about iPhone app development, I noticed a link on the @Issue blog (which is beginning to come together after a slow start) for iPhone Games for Designers which sent me to the site for FORMation Alliance. They’ve got a few cool game concepts with a graphic design theme, like KERN, a mindless but fun game for type geeks which I had previously downloaded on my iPhone. Frankly their site is written in such indecipherable design-speak that I couldn’t get a very good grasp of what FORMation is all about, but it’s worth a look nonetheless.
As I’ve written previously in Merge, the issue of how design educators address entrepreneurship is a real puzzle. Aside from the requisite “professional practice” course that most designers endure, there is little-to-no discussion of the core elements of building a business. We’re seeing some truly innovative graduate-level programs emerging especially in the industrial design area, such as the much-heralded Stanford D School and lower profile entries, like the University of Cincinnati, Design, Architecture, Art & Planning Program, and California College of the Arts. The Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts is one of the only programs I’ve found that has roots in communication design.
At the undergraduate level, the picture is even more bleak. With the exception of bright spots like the University of Illinois Chicago, I’m not seeing a whole lot of emphasis on innovative business thinking in communication design programs (please, tell me if I’m missing something obvious). One encouraging sign is the increasing number of programs that offer collaborative programs either within a school or between schools, like the split major that a student in the Washington University in St. Louis School of Art can achieve with the WU Olin School of Business.
There was a recent flurry of Twitter activity around a blog post by Ryan Jacoby, a business designer and one of the leaders of the IDEO New York studio, who has created an experimental curriculum for an advanced degree in Business Design. It seems to be built on the framework of an MBA curriculum, but implemented through the lens of design thinking. It’s a very fresh approach infused with a surprisingly playful attitude with courses like Organizational Design and Culture (Charts & Farts). Check out the extensive commentary on Ryan’s post, which really extends the conversation nicely.
Here’s a helpful reference from BusinessWeek of top D-Schools (which seems to have a mostly industrial design focus).
This is a significant challenge for communication design programs. The successful designer of 2015 and beyond will not be able to rely solely on her ability to help solve her client’s creative or strategic problems. The landscape for designers will be dramatically changed by then and the design success stories will be about designers bringing innovative products to market. Thus far, however, there simply aren’t enough places for designers to learn the skills that will prepare us for this reality.