The Future of Design Education [2011] – Teal Triggs


Graphic design curricula must be flexible and responsive. As designers and educators we must strengthen the relationships between design and the sciences, between design and business organisations, and between design and relevant communities. There is little doubt that the design paradigm will continue to shift, as will the current economic, social, cultural, environmental, technological and political contexts in which it operates.

We are witnessing a time when the graphic object is no longer the sole outcome of design practice. Posters, billboards, publications and navigational systems are still the domain of the graphic designer, but increasingly designers are involved in generating services, information visualisation and visual experiences. Designers are moving away from tangible object-orientation and toward experiential or service-oriented design solutions. As global contexts change, the need to form closer working relationships with those outside of the discipline, in fields like ethnography, psychology, human-factor research and policy making, increases. This understanding of co-operation may be broadened to include the participation of targeted communities that have local knowledge which can inform and shape a project and solution.

We are also witnessing the methods and processes of design being successfully adapted to other academic disciplines. For example, business management courses have adopted design thinking as an integral part of their postgraduate curricula. Specifically, new courses in ‘design for social business’ focus on the strategic use of business models and design processes in order to create goods and services with social goals. New programmes are also integrating design, management and engineering in order to meet the needs of public and private sector organisations. This approach is most successful when design is considered as beneficial as the disciplines it is partnered with. Design is a collaborative process.

Thus, the designer is a ‘connectivist’ with an inherent capacity to establish and foster links between disciplines01. Design thinking and critical practice should form the basis of how we approach contemporary social and economic challenges. These skills inform how we identify and act upon situations where design can improve the wellbeing of a community, and provide solutions to economic, ecological and cultural sustainability-locally and globally.

While the inclusion of graphic designers on interdisciplinary teams might appear to blur discipline boundaries, subject disciplines continue to flourish and provide a foundation for specialist knowledge. What is emerging and needs consideration is the potential for ‘new’ knowledge areas in the hybrid fields between disciplines and in new forms of media. Designers can contribute to these subject developments and have a key role to play as facilitators of knowledge exchange through information visualisation and communication with relevant stakeholders.

We should certainly not dismiss craft and its ability to shape and inform new directions within the profession and the education of designers. Craft should embrace notions of the maker’s hand in production to provide a unique, individualised experience. The physicality of creation illuminates how direct knowledge is gained about materials and processes. Craft is also associated with the production and maintenance of a quality output – this applies to more traditional methods of creation, as well as digital and technology-based techniques. We should not replace, but rather augment specialist disciplines and work with teams that embrace a generalist understanding of design and those that have craft specialisms. The synergy between these two tiers of knowledge will provide the foundation for design.

But how do we move forward in developing new curricula? Design writing and critical engagement should be an integral part of a designer’s education. Emphasis must be placed on ‘how design is practised’ rather than on adhering to a particular style. In other words, understanding academic criticism and applying critical thinking skills to design challenges is crucial for a designer. In addition to fostering understandings of narrative, storytelling and critical self-reflexivity, design practice should promote design writing to address the needs of multi-platform content delivery. Designers will need to interpret vast patterns of information and will be required to develop analytic tools for communicating the complexities of data.

In the 1990s, design suffered from an image problem. The epithet ‘designer’ meant something flashy, hip, expensive and, ultimately, beyond most people’s reach. We have moved on from that and established a socially aware vision of what design can be. In education, courses are orienting themselves toward socially conscious design and, in a political climate where every academic discipline is being scrutinised for its ‘usability,’ this seems especially apt. Arguments about the politics of such an approach aside (the British government’s insistence on ‘The Big Society’ is a source of much controversy) this is our current situation. The challenge for design education is to adapt and to critique. This has always been its core aim, but it is now more relevant than ever. Illuminating the need for self-reflexive and critical skills in design education must be the central plank of this project.


  1. Cahalan, Anthony. 2007. The Future of Design Education, AGDA, 1 February. ttp:// [17 April 2011].