Higher design education, as it is often practiced, is superfluous in modern society. Technologies are ever-changing, and information is readily available for anyone curious enough to seek it. Many schools teach students how to emulate trends and work under the present-day systems. However, too little focus is placed on fostering critical thinking skills, creativity, design planning, and cultural development.
Western education tends to fear that which cannot be easily assessed, and the creative student isn’t given opportunities to develop their valuable gifts. However, in practice, the general assumption that creativity is autonomous does not stand. The school must vigorously oppose the view that, given proper modern technical equipment, one can live in a perfectly functioning organization requiring no extra effort or input, and automatically enjoy success and financial security.1 Students must be challenged to question existing strategies and encouraged to engage in system-level thinking—looking at the larger cultural context or whether or not the problem they are faced with is even worth solving.
This design teaching philosophy must not neglect design history and theory or forsake instructing students in the foundational art of looking. No design movement exists within a bubble. On the contrary, hand-in-hand with vigorous formal aesthetic training, the student instructed in design theory and creative thinking processes will have the advantage. In each of the classes I teach, we look at the processes of developing work, potential implications of our designs in the world, and the responsibility we carry as designers and producers of visual culture. Theory, ethics, and practice are taught together so that students develop a holistic and socially responsible approach to their personal design practices.
I approach this task in a colloquial manner, meeting students where they are at and building trust through compassion and care. Projects often center content that is of personal significance to the student, so they can learn the logistics of the design process through the lens of something about which they are already passionate. Employing a Queer-Feminist approach to teaching, I advocate for a more playful perspective to the practice of design, and consider play as a serious methodology and tool for research—one that supports a radical model of inclusion that serves to bring down barriers of access. In class, we embrace the development of multiple strategies that can be utilized within their practices. We intend to complicate the linear desire to produce a product. We are interested in cultivating a set of approaches that encourages learning-by-doing instead of learning-to-do. We adopt the “making to learn, not learning to make” model. This model allows for the materialization of agency through processes of learning.
Another way this ideology is present in my classroom is through the development of a collective culture of care. In a culture of care, participants can be attentive and adaptive to the needs and desires of others, as well as themselves. By cultivating such a culture, we leverage shared resources and shape new ways of being that push against normative power structures. We cultivate empathy and strive to identify exclusionary and violent systems that affect marginalized communities as a means towards a more equitable and accessible discipline.
1 Hofmann, Armin. (1965). Graphic Design Manual: Principles and Practice (pp. 9–12). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.