Have Design Schools Stop Teaching Design?

Updated: I cleared up a few statements and typos.
Dan over at his Adaptive path blog, has written a interesting rant on the quality of graduates today. He bemoans the lost of thinking designers that can “think, make and do”, and furthermore blames the schools, especially the D-Schools in producing curriculum that do not reflect the real needs of industry.

Oh my D-School ranting, one of my favourite past topics.
Dan’s article provides a great insight and is very well written, and is something I have been experiencing myself when I conduct interviews or receive portfolios. Designers I have seen seem to miss half of Dan’s equation, either just “make and do”, or only “think but not make”. With D-Schools seeming to fall in the latter mix, could it be that the reason for this is its very close attachment to business schools? Looking into this a little more could this D-School issue be similar to the perennial problem the business world has, which is the argument of training managers who can only manage vs. managers who rose from the ranks? Tell me which one you think gets more respect or can do the job better?
Not only this, perhaps the part of the problem here with designers is the same as in any profession, may it be engineering, medical, accountancy, and marketing etc. You basically get two types, the front room or the back room people. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but it’s about employees who are just “another pair of hands or a tool” or you get those that can “think outside of the box” and are leading your charge.
The ability and the how of design, as well as the process or theory of doing it, is a huge and complex problem. Designers have been arguing “what is design” for many years, without any hard conclusions. Basically my point is it is very difficult to manage design if you do not have a feeling for it. And the only way to get it is to have classical design training. That’s where my problems with D-Schools come in. By focusing on design thinking only, this really becomes all talk, and as the saying goes talk is cheap. The moment you have a manger or design leader who really knows what it takes to create a good design it all suddenly becomes a whole different story.
I’ll close this short post with this. With regards to education it all amounts to positioning and industry relevance. Schools struggle to find their niche in a really competitive market, as well as to produce graduates that can find jobs or are employable. With all this design thinking excitement going on, it throws a spanner in the works and makes things even more confusing in a school’s bid towards a good market position.
There is nothing wrong with going to a D-School if that is the education that you want, however the detailed information of how you will apply your education in industry is sketchy at best, especially with the graduate’s roles (or lack of) in design organizations. Perhaps that’s the key, D-School graduates are not really meant for design organisations.
This quote from Dan sums it up nicely with an expansion of the problems companies have with MBAs:

What we’re going to end up with is a generation of “innovators” who are MBAs in MFAs’ clothing, who can neither create or run businesses like entrepreneurs can, nor design products and services like designers can. It’s the worst of both worlds.

So the worry for me is not so much the graduates, but for students ENTERING a program and then find out its not really what he/she wants to do with design.

8 Comments
  • csven

    March 27, 2007 at 1:47 am Reply

    I’ve been following this one and finally weighed in on it myself. We’re in agreement. I think your management example is a good one and it fits my thoughts on this. The only thing is, “classical design training” doesn’t always yield Designers, and we have no professional metric to weed out the one’s who received their degree in exchange for their tuition payments.
    That’s why I find Reputation such an interesting topic. A global Reputation system would benefit our profession more than most.

  • Design Translator

    March 27, 2007 at 8:08 am Reply

    I think so, and I do agree with you. I had after I wrote this post think about what is “classical design training” mean and this very topic is also debatable.
    Hmm, global Rep system, do we have a potential Web 2.0 project starting out? A linkedin + digg system for designers? Designers can sign up or norminate other designers, then members can vote each other base on their familarity, their portfolio, and if they have worked with them.
    Perhaps the voting system can be adjusted on variables of the level of closeness a member have with each other. Furthermore we can have a “thumbs down” as well if the designer is deemed difficult to work with etc. At the end the people who can vote are the people who the designer knows. This way it could encourage designers to invite more of their designer friends.
    Hmm perhaps we should start something like this?

  • csven

    March 27, 2007 at 10:55 am Reply

    By global reputation, I’m talking about what’s already occurring. Things like OpenID and devices that operate (or not) based on the information they have for someone; information that’s increasingly available and which could be accessed. I’m thinking there won’t be voting so much as some kind of passive system. Think PMOG ( http://bud.com/help/welcome ) but don’t call it a “game”.

  • csven

    March 27, 2007 at 10:57 am Reply

    Should include this link: http://blog.rebang.com/?p=890
    The Jane Siberry system was, for me, a really interesting development when I read about it.

  • Design Translator

    March 27, 2007 at 12:53 pm Reply

    My god. I think she has found the way that music download should have been. An honor system, that respects the world and that people are inherently good. Beautiful.
    This struck a chord and all the “nanny” nonesense with the RIAA:

    “I want to treat people the way I’d like to be treated. I don’t like being treated like a child, so I won’t be doing that to other people.”~Jane Siberry

    BTW i visited your rebang 2nd life villa a few weeks ago, but could not find you? Shall we meet at your villa for a chat?

  • csven

    March 27, 2007 at 8:58 pm Reply

    Now take Siberry’s method and merge it with OpenID and that Reputation Management Service model shown by Chui and Hillhorst. Imagine now that someone leeches music but never donates. Siberry would know, and through systems like OpenID she’d be able to identify the freeloader. Research a year or so ago demonstrated how, given a choice, people *will* freeload… until someone goes against the grain and drops a name. Then the human “social gene” (or whatever) kicks in and the dominoes fall the other way.
    Okay, so now you have a net-based reputation system; or at least the beginnings of one. And you have “smart”, wirelessly-connected devices. That gives you a good framework on which to build a Reputation-based economic system.
    (In related news, Citizenpendium goes into open beta today. I have a feeling it will take off. Wikipedia is okay, but it’s too prone to vandalism.)
    As to my spot in SL, I’ll be in this week. I’ve been wanting to finish off a projects in there. Drop me a note when you want to meet in SL. Anytime.

  • csven

    March 27, 2007 at 10:01 pm Reply

    I was typing it incorrectly elsewhere and figured I should check. Yep. Did it here too.
    Citizenpendium -> Citizendium (Link is http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Main_Page )

  • […] are also a little confused as some classifications are incorrect, for example after all that D-School talk, Stanford is classified as a design lead school? Is it not business […]

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