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What s Next in Design Education

The Design Journal
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What’s Next in Design Education? Transforming
role of a designer and its implications in preparing
youth for an ambiguous and volatile future
Ramneek Kaur Majithia
To cite this article: Ramneek Kaur Majithia (2017) What’s Next in Design Education?
Transforming role of a designer and its implications in preparing youth for an ambiguous and
volatile future, The Design Journal, 20:sup1, S1521-S1529, DOI: 10.1080/14606925.2017.1352676
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14606925.2017.1352676
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Published online: 06 Sep 2017.
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Design for Next
12th EAD Conference
Sapienza University of Rome
12-14 April 2017
doi: 10.1080/14606925.2017.1352676
What’s Next in Design Education?
Transforming role of a designer and its
implications in preparing youth for an
ambiguous and volatile future
Ramneek Kaur Majithiaa*
Pearl Academy, India (part of Laureate International Universities)
* Corresponding author e-mail: [email protected], [email protected]
Abstract: In today’s dynamic world, it is imperative to monitor and map trends that
have far-reaching impact on the larger society and the resulting implications on
preparing design students.
Definitely the future requires a different skill set. Employers are more and more
looking towards hiring quick learners who can easily swing from one role to another
and in the process be more productive for an organization; a definite shift from
specialized subject skills that are the primary outcome of a design education,
towards life skills.
This paper outlines the results of a qualitative study examining
- Design education: what needs to change
- Employability trends: expectation from a young graduate
- Potential skill sets for the future
This paper further discusses the need to reconstruct the education model to
prepare a student to respond quickly to opportunities for expanding the influence
of design in places we can’t yet imagine.
Keywords: Design education, Responsive designer, future of design,
employability, Design practice
1. Introduction
In today’s complex, dynamic and interconnected world, everything is in a constant state of flux;
Boundaries are blurring, ambiguity is increasing, leading to a range of complex interdependent
environmental, social, political and economic challenges. VUCA, short for volatility, uncertainty,
complexity, and ambiguity, and a catchall for “Hey, it’s crazy out there! (Bennet & Lemoine, 2014)
has become the catchword to describe the present day economy. New generation is setting new
standards and are pushing us to re-examine connections between use, consumption, social
© 2017 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under
the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
behaviour and individual meaning. This present day situation has given rise to various macro trends
that are sweeping our world.
Technology has swiftly taken over our lives and is rapidly transforming the world around us. Everyday
interaction with technology is becoming fast and inexpensive, changing the way we live, work,
consume and relate to each other. People are willing to embrace complexity and are moving towards
responsiveness highlighting a need for humanizing technology. Cities are swelling up and so are the
needs for developing automated yet more user-friendly services and sustainable urban environment.
Businesses are getting more and more influenced by technology and taking newer forms to bring
convenience for consumers – be it online shopping, music, transport, travel etc.
There is rise of the ‘Digital Natives’; also known as Generation C, these young people are born in the
digital world and are going to become a bigger part of the population. According to Prensky (2001a),
“Digital Natives are distinct from previous generations; they think differently and have developed
new attitudes, aptitudes, and approaches.” This generation of ‘always connected, tech-savvy’
youngsters despite having less attention span will create and consume vast amount of information.
They are quite fidgety with their gizmos, and rather comfortable in odd hour engagements and multitasking. They are adept at embracing change and are redefining the human values and relation
between real and virtual spaces. Simple social interactions have been redefined with the advent of
the virtual space: one-to-one communication or group interactions are all possible virtually through
instant messages, voice calls, video calls, social networking sites and many more ways. “Unlike
Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants had to learn and adapt to using emerging technologies rather than
seeing them as natural tools as part of their given world” (Prensky, 2001a).
The Longevity Boom is staring at us with a day and a half added to life expectancy every week,
increasing life expectancy and aging population. With advances made in medicine, nutrition, and
safety, the world population is living longer than ever. Driven by falling fertility rates and remarkable
increases in life expectancy, population aging will continue, even accelerate. While global aging is a
giant leap forward for mankind, longevity also presents economic, social, and health challenges,
especially in already overcrowded countries (Wheeler, 2010). The rapid increase in the size of older
age groups means changes in personal needs. It would mean multiple careers, life after retirement
will be around 30 years. You would need skills for a career that may last 40-50 years.
Online learning/ On demand mobile based learning is making its way into the education arena.
Within the next five to ten years certain wireless technological advancements will make true mobile
education on demand a reality. Students enrol in online classes because of the need for scheduling
flexibility, work-life-school balance, costs, and convenience. Keeping in mind the characteristics of
our learners and the fact that we all have ever-shorter attention spans, personalizing experience is
becoming very important with this online generation.
According to Steve Jobs, if we don't cannibalize our products, somebody else will. Therefore, how
quickly you’re able to innovate becomes important in todays world. The pace of innovation will
create an ever more digitized world. Most jobs will be taken over by machines with complex
algorithms and artificial intelligence, creating a divide between those who will be replaced by
machines and those who cannot be replaced.
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality is planned to take our interaction with technology a step
further by offering experiences built around natural modes of interaction such as posture, gesture,
and gaze, thus shifting attention from a glass screen in our hands to the real or simulated world
around us (Kunkel, 2016). This will impact the world of business and help create immersive
experiences in various ways. The potential rise of virtual reality and other new technologies – be it
What’s Next in Design Education?
driverless cars, new medical practices or robotics – may allow the birth of new industries, bringing
with it jobs, investment and growth (Pomeroy, 2016).
People are realizing the need for intervention to improve lives and address issues that transcend
boundaries. Societies today face common challenges in delivering the best possible quality of life in a
way that is economically sustainable. This need to address the on-going dialogues from the
environment has led to blurring of boundaries between existing disciplines and highlighted the need
for collaborative approach. With so many changes, newer careers are emerging thus making
traditional jobs and skills redundant. The impact of this change is felt by both students and working
professionals – who in turn are finding ways through continuous up-skilling and reskilling to remain
relevant for the jobs of future. It is therefore imperative to understand the context and causes;
monitor and map trends that have far-reaching impact on the larger society, and the resulting
implications on preparing design students.
2. Indian Context
As per the EY-FICCI future of jobs and implication on higher education report, “India
is poised to become the third largest economy by 2030, with one of the largest and
youngest workforce in the world. Owing to rapid technology penetration across
sectors, a major overhaul will be required in the country’s job-creation and skilldevelopment framework to make the workforce ready for the evolved nature of
According to India higher education report, by 2020, “90% of India’s GDP and 75%
of employment is expected to be contributed by the services and manufacturing
sectors. Technological advancement will make several jobs redundant while also
creating new job roles. This structural shift in employment will increase demand for
sophisticated workers, innovators, and thinkers who can thrive in a globallyconnected and dynamic economy.“
“India today has the 2nd largest (500 million), youngest workforce (under 25 years) 10 million added
every year” (uk-india british council report).
The rise of middle class in India has been a phenomenon driving the overall economic growth and
consumption in India. As per the British council & India design council report released on Future of
design education in India (2016), the positive demographics, rising awareness about education,
openness to explore and pursue alternate careers and propensity to spend more on higher
education, the design education sector in India will be extremely attractive in the coming years.
Higher education system in the country has a big role to play in preparing the young for the
development of the economy of tomorrow. With the ever changing job market and the industry,
flexible ‘new age’ courses are gaining favour among learners as compared to traditional courses and
skills. Learners of today are increasingly opting for non-mainstream new age alternate career
options. Hence it is crucial that the higher education system adapts itself to the new paradigm of
imparting life skills and analytical thinking process amongst the young learners of today.
India design council and British council report on Future of design education in India (2016) shares
that the number of design aspirants in India is increasing every year. This is essentially due to
openness to pursue alternate careers, employment opportunities, and increased affordability of
higher education. There is greater opportunity for international collaboration as Indian design
institutes are willing to explore partnerships with premium design institutes across the world to
impart valuable experience to its students. The Indian government also recognizes the role these
partnerships can play in nation building and has offered increased support.
Design education has matured to reach a point where it can imagine, contribute within a wider
scope, and take on complex real world problems. Design in India has its roots in craft and culture.
Designers are taking on the larger role to provide design solutions and bring positive change in the
lives of people. “Starting from an understanding of the people and their concerns, designers are now
concentrating on improving human experience. Design today is more human-centered and more
social, more rooted in technology and science than ever before” (Don Norman 2014).
3. Future of Design Education (in India)
As Dewey noted, “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”
Higher education colleges, where a large number of youth start to question and form their own
views/ opinions, play a key role by encouraging new ways of thinking about – and being in - this
Key issues in design education are in constant change and these need to be monitored and mapped
into current and on-going courses for the curriculum to stay relevant and stimulating for both
students and faculty (Ranjan, 2014). The rapid changes are challenging the higher education system
to keep pace with the industry requirements and learner aspirations. There needs to be a shift in
focus for the higher education system towards preparing the learners of today by enabling them with
the skills of tomorrow. With the role of educator being re-defined in this technology driven age,
design faculty needs to be introduced to a variety of teaching methods and may need exposure to
innovative/new-age tools and methods. There’s a shift under way in large organizations, putting
design much closer to the center of the enterprise. This new approach of applying the principles of
design to the way people work, is in large part a response to the increasing complexity of modern
technology and modern business (Kolko 2015). It is therefore crucial that the higher education
system adapts itself to the new paradigm of life long learning - imparting life skills and analytical
thinking process amongst the young learners of today to adapt easily to evolving global workplace.
3.1 Design Education: what needs to change
Keeping in mind the impact of technology and consecutive changes, design curriculum of the future
needs to be anticipatory and agile. In today’s world knowledge is the easiest to acquire, however
skills and attitude require guidance and nurturing.
From conversation with industry and academia experts emerged that lot of design education is
insular; it is important to be accepting and break the me attitude, which is seen more often in design
graduates of today. There is a need to expand the width and depth of understanding for preparing a
design student to respond quickly to opportunities. They further went on to suggest generalized
approach in UG and specialism in PG.
What also came up in these conversations was to include training in ‘science & liberal arts’ and
‘Human psyche’ as core modules since the future is in that. Creative people have risen up to
managerial roles and maybe there is a requirement to look at dual-degree (management + design) as
well. There was insistence on understanding who are we creating – visionaries, leaders, managers,
those who fit in well?
There is a need to emphasize parallel tracks in educating designers. Current needs, including
technical skills, must remain a focus of design education. But skills and capabilities that will address
What’s Next in Design Education?
future needs are also an urgent need (Berno 2014). This reiterates that there is a need to reconstruct
the education model towards inter-disciplinary approach and revolutionize curriculum by merging
and making them more progressive, responsive, real-time, and learner driven (what will industry
offer and student readiness for it). A shift from:
Disciplinary to inter-disciplinary/ multi-disciplinary;
Specialized to holistic
Fixed path learning to flexi path approach
Product based to systems based
This education is responsible for ethically enabling individual learners to achieve whatever they
might find meaningful. The seven listed approaches in various combinations can help create the
required shift and make design education relevant and agile.
1. Open source learning – emerging online shared content to reach out to many more
learners beyond classroom to create and manage their own learning experiences.
Multi-platform content delivery
2. Connecting knowledge networks - Embed design/ design thinking inputs in other
disciplines such as business, engineering and secondary education
3. Responsive curriculum: Experiential learning; Flexibility and choice in learning path –
flexi-path curricula. Responsive curriculum has to be open, it has to be differentiated,
it has to be provocative and it has to be multidirectional.
4. Multi-disciplinary approach – systems based shared tasks across disciplines. Move
towards Holistic, multi-disciplinary approach over specialization
5. Collaborative approach - with live projects across industry-academia; across designengineering-management; national-international; Research and practice must coevolve
6. Focus on building Life Skills - Communication skills/ people interaction skills/
Emotional quotient/ curiosity about people
7. Employability focus: 3 areas we should look at: technology, operations (project
management), communication (understand, interpret, analyze information). New
programs addressing newer areas of growth
Additional suggestion was to have a policy around OUTREACH PROGRAM – design practice for
faculty. Faculty needs to demonstrate the benchmarking & best practices in the industry. Practicing
professionals then see a possibility in teaching.
3.2 Employability trends: expectation from a young graduate
In a qualitative study, over the last one-year, many design professionals and educators in India were
spoken with through formal/ informal interactions in the form of focus group meetings and one on
one discussion. These professionals were experts from various domains including product design,
accessory design, fashion, visual and interactive communication, advertising, media and journalism,
sports management, hotel management. Some important insights were brought forth.
When hiring a fresh graduate, design professionals look for relevant skills and capabilities over
degrees. During interaction with industry experts, most of them stated that there is not much
distinction in recruiting masters and bachelor level graduates. The preferred candidate should be
well aware and be able to incorporate global as well as local factors while demonstrating
responsibility towards ethical practices in design delivery.
With continuously changing scenario and the organization structure also altering from clear verticals
to network based structure, there is a need for GENERALISTS rather than Specialists, who adapt from
one role to another. There is a need for people who will solve BUSINESS PROBLEMS and not just
design problems. Graduates should showcase the ability to develop new innovative ideas or
improvement to products and processes. They should be able to develop and apply strategic
thinking, critical analysis leading to innovative user centred responses.
Looking at the future trends, there is an increased demand for those who can effectively
collaborate/connect and work in trans-disciplinary teams, while understanding the importance of
individual role and responsiveness in an engaging and collaborative learning environment. There
should be increased emphasis on research to generate wise designers who act more as consultants
than as pure designers (as they are traditionally described)
Industry prefers to hire graduates with enthusiastic ‘ATTITUDE’ and appropriate ‘SKILLS.’ Experts
further elaborate attitude as:
• Risk taker, challenge the norms, entrepreneurial mindset, adaptability, embracing
(open to change and ideas), bring passion to work, patience, multi-tasker, and
partnership with technology.
• Graduate should be passionate about the area of specialization, should show
ownership of the creative idea and be excited by it. He/she should have the thinking
acumen, should be good with people, should be creative, insightful and a planner.
Passionate people with fresh ideas. People who love their work – be proud – be able
to say ‘wow’
• Person not desirous of being in their box
• Awareness of the ecosystem - Curious about what’s happening in ‘design’. Understand
what’s happening in the world
• Exposure, Willingness & Adaptability: Ability to adapt and quickly pick up nuances of
• Wanting to integrate mediums
Skills are described as: basic communication, understanding industry practices, 24x7 timings,
individual enterprise preference for life skills like adaptability, passion over technical skills, analytical
and problem solving skills
Ability to communicate the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the idea
Ability to tell a story - Connect and unity in thought
Ability to read and interpret data
Problem Solvers/ opportunity makers
Being Thorough in work and bring finesse
Comfortable with technology and use it effectively (may still require some bit of
domain expertise and specialists to think of creative ideas)
• Takes initiative. How well can they scale?
• Sensibilities to dig deeper and develop sensitivities & abilities to refine the task
3.3 Empathy & Adaptability – key traits required for the VUCA world
As we move into the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, it will be the ideas that
reframe conventional perceptions, and force us to rethink possibilities, that are valued most highly
by society. It therefore becomes imperative to develop awareness of the ecosystem, find a need,
appreciate the ‘WHY’ and design meaningful creations. One needs to be a thinking designer, a
What’s Next in Design Education?
strategist with User Centered approach, an individual full of empathy, entrepreneurial spirit and
innovative responses, and above all a life-long learner. Empathy is one of the most important skills,
to navigate this new complex landscape - resolve conflict, collaborate in teams, align interests, listen
effectively and make decisions where there are no rules or precedents, solve problems and drive
change (Majithia, 2015).
It is not difficult to infer from conversation with experts that future is looking at young professionals
who are proactive, can stand the test, show EMPATHY, and can ADAPT and LEARN quickly. Such
individuals can be described as passionate, curious, and future-oriented. They are unafraid of taking
on new, complex, ambiguous challenges, and respond quickly to opportunities for influence in places
we can’t yet imagine. They are self-motivated, self-starter, have good listening ability and are willing
to collaborate and co-create a positive change globally as well as locally. Socially responsible and
people-oriented, they develop whole brain thinking and have a sharp eye for details. They are
comfortable with both - technology and thinking out of the box, and are keen on making the two
Learners have to develop key life skills like empathy, goal setting, time management, learning
strategies, self-evaluation, self-attributions, seeking information and developing self-motivational
4. Conclusion
We are driven by economy of sales and economies of time, which are changing fast and so are the
related needs and expectations. ‘Those whom the left-brain corporate masters tolerated as an
interesting distraction but not really relevant to the main game, are now not only becoming the main
game, they’re rewriting its rules. Designers who were once the barbarians at the gates now have the
keys to the kingdom’ (Redhill 2015).
The attitude and skills go a long way for tomorrows design professional whose role is constantly
transforming in todays complex, dynamic and interconnected world. It requires him/her to become
more empathetic and adaptable for an ambiguous and volatile future. Hence it is crucial that the
design education system adapts itself to the new paradigm of collaborative multi-disciplinary
approach. This will help in imparting life skills and analytical thinking process amongst the young
learners of today and prepare them to quickly respond and create impact in places we yet cant
Definitely the future requires a different skill set to address the shift towards services and processes
along with the product. The canvas is wider for us now and therefore we speak of ‘holistic’ rather
than ‘specialized’ approach. Employers are more and more looking towards hiring quick learners who
can easily swing from one role to another and in the process be more productive for an organization;
a definite shift from specialized subject skills that are the primary outcome of a design education,
towards life skills, making design more integrative, trans-disciplinary and transformative. These skills
help us identify the precise problem and find sustainable solutions (economically, socially, culturally,
ecologically) to improve wellbeing of a community. Therefore design thinking teamed with critical
practice should create the foundation of how we approach contemporary challenges.
Future is not known but can be predicted based on mapping of our imagination, strong motivations
and capacities to stretch. It is a projection of the on-going global conversations around us, coupled
with our ability of taking responsible initiatives by embracing meaningful directions, and making
valuable decisions. With such significant interactions/ collaborations and eye on the future, we can
re-build the design education system and work towards co-creating a beautiful future by pushing our
perception of ‘What is Possible.’
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About the Author:
Ramneek Kaur Majithia is a passionate Indian design professional with over 16 years of
experience in design practice, and academics. She also has the experience of presenting
research papers at international design conferences.
Her research interests: design practice, design education, design thinking, humancentered design & storytelling.