Doomed to embrace failure?
Redesigning any kind of education system is hard, and practically impossible to do in a one day seminar. Strangely that was the primary reason why I did not hesitate even a second when my tutor Joshua Trees asked me to join him at the Redesigning (Graphic) Design Education conference at the University of Derby.
A sentence printed on one of my skateboard T-shirts says “only thing that is constant is change”. I am not sure if the makers of the shirt thought of the deeper meaning of the sentence they had borrowed from ancient Greek philosopher Heralictus, but reflecting that thought on a sociological context it is easy to see why redesign to any existing system would not be permanent: an independently thinking person will eventually find faults in the system, no matter how brilliant it would have been at the start with. Pretty happy first thought, right?
So there we were, ready to redesign the design education at once. At this point it is probably already needless to say that we did not do so. Now, let me go back a bit: even before ending up to this notion the complexity of education is something that I have been thinking a lot. By having work experience prior my current studies and continuing to work in the industry besides the course has made me look at education in a somewhat broader perspective. As we know developing any kind of education system in this changing world is certainly a challenge. Our technological capacity doubles in such a vast amount of time that not a single education model can realistically keep up to date with the flux. This is exactly where design education is in trouble: the balance between the conceptual and more practical (vocational) training is something that seems very hard to achieve in the modern world.
During the conference it became evident that most of the problems the various graphic design courses in UK were based on institutional problems — which is hardly surprising to anyone. So before redesigning any design education we should probably be able to rethink about the structures behind the educational system and institutions. That is certainly a bigger bone to chew as it seems that even the radical means such as demonstrations do not manage to gain the desired effects. However, instead of only blaming the dark matter I think we could solve many problems locally by making the communication channels more transparent.
Looking at this from a students’ perspective I can say that in reality most students would be generally a lot happier if they were just more informed about the institutional issues. For example the national problem of students getting too little tutor time is mostly a matter of explaining the nature of independent learning in higher education, rather than the need of having someone constantly holding the student’s hand. The other side of the coin is that when the students finally get their tutor time it should be used on constructive criticism, which is sadly often not the case. But as students it is our responsibility to demand that feedback if it is not presented. To quote a certain Austrian designer: “Complaining is silly. Either act or forget.”
One notion on the industry perspective is that the reality is also that design positions are rarely handed out based on any university degree grades; it is the quality of the work that counts. And every professional knows that many times personality drives even further than the great work. So should we then focus more on educating people how to be? Should we focus more on the holistic experience of being a human? Well one thing is for sure: the more I think about these issues the more I seem to have questions than answers.
Ps. I am also interested in the notion that by this day the question when not to design is still somewhat off the table…