Study on the future of design teaching (2015–2016)


How it came about and what it is about

Professional practice in design is changing. What are the consequences for design education if it wants to actively accompany, and contribute to shaping, this change?

To what extent is current design education conducive to future success in design, and which changes are necessary? What would a new design university – one that was radically committed to mastering the future – ideally look like? What content would be taught? What methods would be used? How would this new design university be organized? What tasks and goals would it dedicate itself to?

In 2015, this topic prompted the iF Design Foundation (then: iF Industrie Forum Design e.V.) to initiate a study on the future of design education. It was conducted by Dr. René Spitz, Professor of Design Science and Communication Management at the Rheinische Fachhochschule (RFH) Cologne, Germany.

At its core, the study consisted of guided interviews. Between February and October 2016, a total of 150 experts were interviewed in 25 cities, spread across 11 countries on three continents. In order to ensure the greatest possible diversity, the interviewees included not only students but also teachers, independent and employed designers, young professionals and design managers from large corporations.

In addition to the systematic analysis of the recorded interviews, the scientific discourse on the fundamentals and practice of design education was evaluated. This was complemented by studying the program publications of international design schools.

"My own practice as a designer in the context of complex social challenges has given me the confidence that design is, and will continue to be a powerful tool to make change [...].”

Annette Diefenthaler

Findings and conclusions

Based on the findings of this study, the conclusions in relation to future design education can be summarized as follows:

In future, the goal of a design task will not be the development of an isolated individual solution. Instead, design will be considered a process-oriented practice. This involves the creation of meaningful contexts (systems). Aesthetic decisions will be made at the end of this integrative process, in the course of which many different, sometimes contradictory, interests will be taken into account. In order to meet the requirements of this holistic approach, the non-aesthetic aspects of a task (technical, managerial, cultural, political, societal) will receive considerably greater attention in design education than has been the case to date. Values related to social responsibility will be the benchmark that permeates all areas of study.

It can be assumed that design education programs will be organized in the form of working on real projects in cooperation with clients from business and other areas of society (keyword: project-based learning or learning by doing). Accordingly, any form of knowledge transfer or exchange will take place directly, using concrete examples. Iterative loops will structure both the work on individual projects and the entire course of study.

Students always work together in groups, in changing and most diverse constellations. Experiments, research and science are given a greater share of the course. The training of skills in verbal, non-verbal, visual and interpersonal communication will play a central role. In addition, it can be assumed that design skills will be a fundamental precondition for enrolment and that their teaching will no longer be the focus of design education. Prototypes as stages of the development process will be produced manually in workshops and will also be developed digitally.

From the study to the hearings

The majority of the interviews of the 2016 study ended with the interviewees wanting to know what views and assessments had been expressed so far. The iF Design Foundation took up this suggestion of a feedback loop in 2018 and consequently hosted four hearings, which took place in 2019 and in 2020 in Europe, the US, Asia and Africa.