has been said about school reform, revitalizing the economy and meeting the
emerging needs of the new millennium. Advocates from many subject areas have
weighed in on what students should know or be able to do as part of the Common
Core standards. Some progress seems to have been made in math and language
arts. However, there is one additional curriculum reform concept that has been
successfully instituted and tested in several U.S. charter schools and many
other countries but has been largely absent in conversations about K12
education reform and, therefore, has been omitted from the recommendations to
policymakers: design education.
is design education? Design education, which
is considered “an applied art,” teaches problem-solving as the application of
creativity—it’s about functionality,
usability, feasibility and desirability. Design education teaches relevance, ideation
and aesthetics. It considers human factors such as psychology, sociology and ethnography.
It teaches research methods, visualization and presentation skills, critical
analysis, collaboration and team building. It teaches creative cognitive skills
as well as productive hand skills. In short, it not only encourages students to
be imaginative, it also teaches them how to harness that inventiveness and put
it to practical use. Most importantly, it teaches methodologies for many of the recommended transformative
academic and life skills of the twenty-first century.
All of this begs the question, if
design education can accomplish all of those things, why has it been overlooked?
Perhaps one reason that design is
ignored is its ubiquity. Everyone experiences design every minute of every day.
Design makes our lives more efficient, informed, comfortable, productive, beautiful,
enjoyable, sustainable…and possible. Behind every single product, built
environment and system—behind the very letterforms you are reading—stands the process
of innovation that was employed and the designers who designed it. Seen this way, design becomes immensely important as
the carrier of culture, commerce and progress. And it is design education that
gets us there.
“The first step in winning the
future is encouraging American innovation,” said President Obama in his 2011
State of the Union address. “But if we want to win the future...then we also
have to win the race to educate our kids.” Certainly it is obvious to the
business community that creativity and innovation drive the global marketplace.
It is the U.S. education community that needs to embrace curricula that teaches
strategic creative skills starting
with early learners.
It should come as no surprise that China has become highly engaged in the modern design education movement. The Chinese
government sees innovation and design as a national priority for creating a
financially secure society, observes Lorraine Justice, former Dean of the School of
Design at Hong
Kong Polytechnic University. Since 2006, there has been a substantial overhaul of some
secondary schools to feed into the more than 400 higher education design
programs in China that are awarding degrees to an estimated 10,000 designers each
In his budget speech of March 2011, UK
Chancellor George Osborne, following a parallel statement from China, announced
that, “We want the words ‘made in Britain, created in Britain, designed in
Britain and invented in Britain’ to drive our nation forward.” As far back as
1989, the UK National Curriculum Standards mandated design (and technology) as
a compulsory subject area for all students aged 5 to 14. The project-based
multidisciplinary approach of the design methodology was also a requirement
across all subject areas.
In the UK, design is widely discussed
as a critical component in innovation and the fundamental linkage in STEM,
functioning as the “silent D” in this acronym. And while the student outcomes
are uneven due in part to a lack of updated teacher training, many British
design leaders have attributed their career trajectory and success to the
introduction of design early in their education.
In May of 2012, after 18 months of comprehensive research,
meetings and site visits, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the
Humanities issued a report entitled “Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools.” For a report that claimed to have analyzed
the challenges and opportunities that have emerged over the last decade, the
authors chose to use a narrow and outmoded definition of visual arts. They did
so at the expense of omitting a huge and critical piece of visual arts
education and thereby missed a real opportunity for expanding the definition to
include design education.
Design methodologies add to the
value of visual arts curricula by teaching the practical and purposeful
application of creative thinking—the very definition of innovation. Design as a
distinct K12 subject area can produce multiple benefits, including initiating a
career path in one of several design-related fields (i.e., architecture, industrial
design, graphic design), fostering more forward thinkers in every field,
encouraging more responsible business leaders and entrepreneurs, producing more
resourceful and empathetic citizens and creating more thoughtful consumers.
our decentralized, state-based system of education, I see at least four
potential strategies for the inclusion of design in K12 schools:
course, if any one of these strategies is adopted, a different approach to art teacher training would be required. This is an absolutely
crucial piece in advancing any subject area to respond to the enormous
challenges faced by the next generation. If, as a discipline, the visual arts wishes
to maintain its relevance and remain an essential domain for teaching
creativity, I see it as a cultural imperative that the future curriculum embrace
Ed. note: This article originally appeared on the author’s blog, International Design Education News.
Ruth Lozner is currently Professor Emeritaof Design, University of Maryland, College Park; previously, at the Parsons School of Design and the University of the Arts, where she was Chair of the Illustration Department. She is also a Fellow
at the Royal Society of Arts, UK.
Her assemblages and paintings have been shown in galleries and museums. Her illustration work has appeared in numerous publications including the
New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Magazine.
Throughout her career, Ruth Lozner has lectured extensively at various venues (College Art Association Conferences, American Institute of Graphic Artists' Design Educators Conference, University and College Designers Association Conferences,
Maryland Art Education Association Conference, UMD Innovation in Teaching Conferences (and at several art college and universities). She has been elected into and is now co-chair of the Academy of Excellence of Teaching and Learning at UMD, an organization
that encourages and supports innovative pedagogical practices. Currently, she serves on the Education Committee for the Smithsonian National Design Museum, Cooper-Hewitt. She has served on the National Board of the Graphic Artists Guild and is an active member
of AIGA and National Art Education Association.
DesignEd K12 is a movement to inspire and sustain design education programs for elementary, middle and high school students—instilling creative
confidence and a design thinking mindset at a young age through hands-on
experiences in creative problem solving.
Section: Tools and Resources -
DesignEd K12, education
is AIGA’s initiative to encourage members and chapters to become involved with
local schools and school districts to improve understanding of design practices
among young people, and to encourage the use of these practices as problem-solving
Section: About AIGA -
DesignEd K12, mentoring, education, AIGA Insight, design educators
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