Design Education and The Future

  • By OSNS

    Published on 28 May 2012

Educational institutions will have to transform as education processes change.

Rodolfo Capeto contributed, among 22 reflections, to the Icograda Design Education Manifesto update. Rodolfo summarises his thoughts with the keywords: accreditation, critical thinking, crowd-designing, diversity, ethics, reflection and technology. He also summarises the value of the "old" and "new" which is concurrent with that of  Old School New School. 

Here are the best excerpts from his delivery: 

From my perspective - that of someone who uses a foreign-language term to designate his own profession - design is an integrated field: a continuous, flowing space where the most diverse professional paths can exist. Visual design, graphic design or communication design - the more convenient term recently endorsed by Icograda - is a fundamental part of this disciplinary self-reflexivity. As it deals with communication, it may prompt a dialogue that is a critical component of the public image of the field.

One must admit that the many challenges and constraints posed to design educators in the beginning of the 2000s remain. The ethical considerations like social division, environmental change and democracy that must be taken into account in the practise of communication design have only become more poignant in recent years. 

Of course, we all agree that the designer must be critical regarding these issues, must be compassionate and responsible. However, one should take care not to turn these adjectives into 'feel-good mantras' (as seems to be the case for the word 'sustainable' and its use in describing products, services and systems where such label is unwarranted).

A profoundly critical attitude is desirable and, while optimism is ingrained in design, we should perhaps take note of philosopher of design Tomás Maldonado's proposal of a 'constructive pessimism' as one possible outlook in the current context, a sort of redefined optimism. Significant changes are reshaping the public sphere. New nations are emerging as global players. A 'Brownian movement' of micropolitical actions and interests, supported by the scattered communication processes of Internet social networks and mobile phones, is replacing the grand certainties. 

At this point in time, one can detect a somewhat uneasy contradiction between this unstructured patchwork of individual agents and the omnipresent shadow of megacorporations (which profit from them) and states. Historically, these contradictions have been resolved either by a new paradigm or a new accommodation (like tectonic plates that somehow negotiate a tense coexistence).

Universities and higher education institutions might face a period of deep change in the future. As we move into an age where jobs will probably become scarcer, but careers may flourish in fluid ways, universities will perhaps become 'accreditation agencies' of a sort. 

Education and training will need to be provided in many different places and situations, in different countries and environments. Educational institutions will have to transform as education processes change. Future organisations may have a virtual nature, with quasi-independent branches acting as mobile teams that respond to a central nucleus. 

The flow of strategic information between several branches will be required.

How do we foresee and try to shape the future of communication design practice and education in such a context?
Since the so-called DTP revolution of the 1990s, the 'everyone is a designer' motto has come to characterise the communication design field, posing challenges for professionals in their dealings with prospective clients and the general public's perception of the area. 

Designers had to look for a cogent discourse and attitude to reassert the prevalence of the professionally trained creator in a world with plenty of 'professional looking' templates and themes. This challenge is reappearing in a different guise as phenomena like 'crowd-designing' emerge. Some of the perceived dangers to the design profession could, however, be understood as opportunities.

The communication designer should be a critical participant in this new public sphere. It may be the designer's role to facilitate the public dialogue - if only by giving it a compelling shape - that will surface from a fragmentary network of relationships and their contradictions. 

Designers should embrace social and cultural diversity, while resisting the temptation to indiscriminatingly generalise. The designer must be willing to focus actions, so that they do not crumble into ineffective micromovements. Communication design must be strategic design. The strategy should be a critical and ethical approach to social issues, and affirm reason and transparency as means of achieving a new paradigm, rather than an accommodation. 

To this effect, the communication designer - a generalist - will need to have a broad understanding of diverse cultural heritages, accompanied by an attention to technological breakthroughs that may empower others. He or she will not necessarily forsake our currently fragmented communication process, but will weave the disparate threads into a coherent ensemble where some calm can be found amid the noise and bustle - some space for reflection and critical assessment. An awareness of the collective nature of current design processes will lead to nonhierarchical teams able to harness the group intelligence of users and to improve design solutions while, at the same time, reinforcing an innovative vision.

In this new world, a special place should still be reserved for traditional attributes and skills that have long been the hallmark of quality design. A sense of proportion, lively order, loving attention to detail, and impeccable production and manufacturing may be the factors that distinguish leading work in design. Most importantly, the act of designing should continue to be understood as an act of thought.

As the design field, facing new conditions, reassesses itself, and its boundaries shift once more, it is our role, as design educators, to ensure that ethics, quality and thoughtfulness remain significant factors in the mindset of new designers.