10 January 2010

Learning #7: Designers should be schooled in economics and politics. This affects everything.
I recently watched We Are The People We've Been Waiting For and in the film Sir Ken Robinson is one of the many people interviewed. He says, "Education is about the economy." I also took a stab at listening to George Soros speak to an audience at CEU about the future as it might look beyond the recent economic downturn. Today, Roger Martin is suggesting that MBA's get a bit more creative, critical and cultural. After finishing my graduate degree, where I sometimes got challenged about the role of design in another culture, I appreciate the insight that I've gained from trying to figure out how politics and economy influence the work I do.

We're existing in a world we didn't imagine, ripe with complexity, which means we need new ways to filter all that is coming at us. With this in mind, courses on business and politics could only help make a design curriculum more robust. There are some already on this path but there is definitely room for more:

Business Week has a whole lot more. What's notable about them? They partner with industry, which means a student has a place to apply his or her learning. But it can also expose a student to the political influences that are at play when we talk about designing for significant change or impact. Government systems can affect or inhibit this change, so we'd be wise to understand how it operates.

With a significant focus on improving systems in our world, a young designer is often excited about the opportunity to be influential in some way. While one part of his or her education is focused on honing a craft, the other must be about developing a critical understanding of where it fits in the larger context. With all our connectivity, this larger context becomes a bit more complicated. We're now talking about the issues of the big 3: buildings, transportation and food (all directed by governments on some level). If education is the economy and the economy has a political agenda, shouldn't we help designers navigate this territory? What texts should we be giving them? What books should they read? What activities can they engage in?

(The diagram above reflects potential areas of study and are meant to look like balls being juggled around. The size of each circle is not an indication of anything overly specific so I'm open to this visual being redesigned/reframed. For now it can act as a catalyst for conversation. Are there other aspects that should be included?)

One of twelve in this series


kellymk said...

RE: the above illustration, "Social" is the only adjective in that group, making it a bit incongruous with the other points you're trying to make (unless you mean it in that blissful, turn-of-last century sense, e.g. "ice cream social"). You could consider changing it to "society" or "social media" to make it fit with the other terms.

While my graduate program in design definitely encouraged us to think holistically and to tackle "big problems" (often related to political, ecological or social issues), I can't point to a specific text that lead us in a particular direction. It seems that the way our program was structured geared us more toward large-scale thinking and problem-solving, and then encouraged us to apply those strategies and skills within the aforementioned contexts.

Another issue that I feel should be mentioned regarding higher design education is a trend (I hope) in teaching designers to be better multifaceted communicators. Yes, design is inherently visual, but how can designers be expected to have any influence in these "big picture" issues if they are not also skilled in both spoken and written communications?

olivelife said...

Great comments! I used social to cover the ideas of social impact, society, social issues (as you relate to at the end). But point well stated about connecting the best word to the whole visual.

I completely agree with you about the need for multifaceted communication. At our school, students are taking a course on design research methods that requires a written and verbal presentation. Do you think a class on this topic should be included? What would you call that "ball"?