As we investigate the relationship between design and business, the topic of education has come up. Traditionally designers are trained in things like form fundamentals, spatial relationships, illustrating skills, fabricating techniques etc. These skills have been critical to the traditional roles of designers and still are important elements of what designers do. Likewise, business students learn fundamentals of business models, analysis tools, accounting and others. These tools remain useful in a world of such things as financial planning and acquisitions.
However, as the lines blur between business and design responsibilities, the question is whether traditional education is properly preparing today’s executives and designers to drive innovation. The most successful solutions for services, products and experiences take a holistic approach and consider all the potential influences. To do so effectively, you need a team with a unified understanding of these elements. A business executive is not going to understand the subtleties of how forms impact perception, nor is a designer going to understand all the financial implications of a decision. Yet both sides need to have an awareness and respect for their validity in the big picture. Has education kept up with these industry changes?
We are starting to see business schools and design programs recognize this need. A couple of years ago, Businessweek had an article about this very topic. It’s an alphabetical list with brief overview of 30 programs across the globe. These exemplify a good start to the transition in education, but clearly they are at the leading edge of education. The majority of education programs hold on to traditional approaches, perhaps in part due to a lack of innovative thinking or because it is simply easier to hold on to the status quo. Even some of the programs on this list represent small components of that school’s overall educational approach. What can be done to make changes to education on a large scale?
For even the leading design-business programs, finding enough space on the schedule to train design and business students in what is ‘required’ is a massive challenge. Part of the issue is in what skills are most important to be introduced in an educational environment and which are best learned in practice. But there are also so many other things to consider…Should education programs be lengthened to accommodate more exposure? Should a semester long internship in a professional setting be a requirement?
There are many questions, and we have been asking our interviewees in both academia and professional practice. We want both design and business perspectives. We’re looking for their insight, as well as yours!
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