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has never been such strong demand for the contribution of the design mind,
whether in creating beautiful solutions that engage audiences or finding new
ways to solve highly complex problems. Growing expectations of design's problem-solving abilities have resulted in designers tackling unprecedented assignments that challenge them to adapt to the constantly changing dynamics of technology and media.
While the innovation and
creativity that designers bring to these challenges is awe-inspiring, the situation creates a difficult problem
of its own: How can educators and
institutions train the next generation of designers to handle these
AIGA believes the present moment offers an important opportunity to bring the concerns of design practice and the
expectations of educational programs into alignment. Based on our research into
the changing demands of the profession through Defining the Designer of 2015
and discussions at recent design education conferences, we’ve drafted a document that outlines the outcomes and
competencies expected of a four-year design program.
The general characteristics of the strategic environment for design to which programs claiming student preparation for professional practice should respond. AIGA leaves the specific means of that response to the discretion of institutions but holds programs accountable for demonstrating curricular currency with the field. These characteristics impact various design specializations differently, which is reflected in their individual competencies.
Of general interest to all design specializations are:
1. Context. The role of the designer is not only to achieve successful fit between form and context, but also to determine how much of the surrounding context will be addressed by the design problem and what precursors (historical,
competitive, etc.) are relevant to their work. Students, therefore, should gain
some experience in framing design problems, not just in solving them.
Regardless of the design specialization, professional design curricula should
reflect concern for the following aspects of design problems:
2. Complexity. The context for design problem-solving is increasingly complex, and
design activity is typically nested within a web of interconnected systems.
Such complexity is expressed in design practice through growing concern for:
3. Designing for and with people. Contemporary design practice exhibits
varying levels of responsibility between designers and users. This environment
of shifting control for design decisions results in concern for:
4. Technology. A rapidly evolving technological context presents both challenges and opportunities for design education. While the
resources of institutions will limit how quickly programs can respond to
industry changes in specific software and hardware, there are overarching
concerns for the impact of technology on design that should be reflected in
curricula. These include:
5. Research: While research skills are more typically expected of graduate
students, studies in general education and design can introduce undergraduate
students to research methods and prepare them to read and use findings in
Student work at all levels, therefore, should be informed by the study of:
The following competencies are critical to effective
contribution by entry-level designers in design practice. Each contributes to
the overall effective practice of the discipline.
1. Basic communication principles and processes:
2. Understanding of people and settings:
3. Effective use of technology:
4. Research predispositions and skills:
Students are also expected to develop knowledge and skills through
studies associated with subjects and issues beyond design:
1. Associated subjects. Of particular
relevance to future practice in design are:
2. Operational guidelines. Some design courses, if conceived and taught in
relation to other realms of human experience, may appropriately be included in
the category of general studies. Some courses that explore historical,
theoretical, management, cultural or social science perspectives on design may
meet this criterion.
AIGA is seeking your input on these recommendations. Please comment by August 24.
Richard Grefé is the executive director of AIGA, the professional association for design. While guiding all of AIGA’s activities, his most significant contributions are in strategy, formulating new initiatives to enhance the competitive success of designers
and advocating the value of design to business, government and the public.
Earlier this year, several board committees were formed to ensure that AIGA is launching its second century as a “sound, accountable, focused and relevant organization.” Read the update from two committees that examined the way AIGA is governed and organized, and whether financial practices are adequate for oversight and accountability.
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