Prof. Mookesh Patel has been the Chair of Visual Communication at Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Arizona State University – ranked in the Top 5 design schools in the United States of America. He received his MFA in Graphic Design from Rhode Island School of Design and holds a diploma in Visual Communication from the National Institute of Design. He is the recipient of a Fullbright Research Scholar Grant, United Nations Development Program Grant, and other awards. A highly experienced design education guru, Prof. Patel enjoys teaching and developing student-centered learning environments
We are busier than ever with little or no time for our children, parents or grandparents. We prefer to eat unhealthy meals at a restaurant and less inclined for a healthy home cooked meal with family. We desire to live and work in an unsustainable atmosphere. We waste resources and have little respect for the environment. Design must be inclusive and not exclusive.
Unfathomable technological advances have influenced our design capabilities. Is design driving technology or is technology driving design is the big question. Until designers are willing to comprehend the driving force — data — and integrate data analysis as a large part of their design processes focused on the wellbeing of the population at large, technology will continue driving design for the benefit of the wealthy few. Hence, it is the responsibility of all design institutions to reevaluate the way design education delivered currently.
The design industry is transforming rapidly and feels that the universities and design schools are far behind the curve
Internationally, design education is being questioned and its value and validity investigated. The design industry is transforming rapidly and feels that the universities and design schools are far behind the curve. As tuition costs are significantly high, the students begin to wonder about the return on their investment (ROI). (Unlike India, students in the developed nations borrow funds from financial institutions or government institutions to furnish their education.) The design industry looks for adequate soft skills besides the design skills. However, most design schools do not focus on soft skills and positioned only to deliver traditional design skills that have roots in mid twentieth century. The dilemma for the design academicians is choosing the right avenue. One avenue emphasizes the importance of education in terms of employment preparedness. The other avenue focuses on building a foundation for adaption in this technologically driven world.
Is the role of design education to tailor the growing economic needs or is it to nurture a tenacious mindset for a healthy world?
In recent TEDTalk, Eduardo Briceño grieved over the time spent by design professionals at the best of their abilities — a state of the Performance Zone wherein there is no scope for failure for the sake of the return of the investment. Hence, it is also the Comfort Zone wherein there is no risk taking — a critical ingredient for innovation and concern for a healthy world.
Indian design institutions still lack the appropriate systems, infrastructure and facilities
On the other hand, students at a design school have a chance to be in the Learning Zone. They enjoy the time and space to experiment, fail until they succeed and discover their own Zone with immense possibilities and opportunities. Their new-found Zone may be adequately comfortable to adapt in the technologically transforming and environmentally challenged world.
Design as a noun is temporary. Design as a verb is constant and evolving.
Global design trends continue unwavering focus on economic gains. India has done well, and the economic growth is immense. Ironically, students and parents can now afford expensive private design schools and these graduates may also continue to concentrate on further economic gains. It is by no means a bad scenario. However, what we internationally lack is the desirable balance of economic growth and an equal or greater concern for our fellow beings, animals, birds, insects, environment and overall wellbeing.
India has a different set of challenges than the developed world. Design education in the developed world is systemic. Most design institutions secure accreditation (every three to five years) through a national agency (such as the National Association of Schools of Art and Design — NASAD in the US) and are required to strictly adhere to the rules and regulations. Full time faculty members are hired through a rigorous process and are highly qualified. Students exercise their free will in selecting an institute that serves their disciplinary interests and fund their own education. Hence, they are motivated to perform well in their respective studies.
Students in the developed nations are not alien to the concept of receiving a failing grade if they do not perform well. They pay by the credit hours for the class they opt to study and thus it is affordable to retake the class if they fail. There is little interference from their parents and the sole responsibility to succeed is always on the shoulders of the student. Students work hard and secure their own future as design institutions do not guarantee any placement upon their graduation.
Most design institutions are well equipped with infrastructure and facilities. Students are able to access design labs and studios anytime they wish. At times they are able to consult with their respective faculty members and mentors beyond regular class and office hours as the faculty members too are working on their individual research projects in the same design labs and studios. On an average, faculty members are required to devote 40% of their time on teaching, 40% on their individual publishable research and 20% on institutional service.
The challenge that these institutions in the developed nations face is to keep the curriculum relevant considering the advancement in technology and the economic growth.
Traditional design facilitators must keep themselves up to date with technology and design research
Indian design institutions still lack the appropriate systems, infrastructure and facilities. In most private design institutions faculty members are not required to conduct any research. They are randomly hired at the last minute based on institutional needs. Considerable number of faculty members are not qualified to teach as they do not have a graduate and/or postgraduate degree from a reputed institution, nor do they have adequate professional experience.
Entrance exams at most private institutions are questionable. The prime motivation for these institutions is to enroll a large number of students and hence the process is meaningless. This approach leads to design studios filled with more than 25 students. It is impossible for any studio faculty to interact productively with so many students in a design studio. The curriculum is mostly unstructured and poorly delivered if at all. A large number of these design institutions are not governed by any national or international regulatory body.
Grades (as a measure of performance) are meaningless at these private design institutions. Students are guaranteed to graduate in four years and subsequent industry placement also promised. No wonder there is significantly low attendance record in the design classrooms across the board and subsequently below par performance and expertise.
Making Multi-Disciplinary Thinkers
Design is multi-disciplinary in its nature to begin with. Irrespective of the design discipline, any design project will involve aspects of science, engineering, programming, fine arts, psychology, commerce and many others. Most design schools continue to work within the studio-based environment with a faculty member enacting as a client. Students go through ideation and prototyping phases. Through the process of trial and error, they assume the success of a hypothetical project based on the implementation of their creative, aesthetic and technical expertise. Student and faculty alike wear the hats of various experts without much endorsement by real experts. Thus, the effectiveness of their design solutions is not realized. Involvement of students in a project from other than design disciples legitimately address the unresolved and unanswered questions and fosters creative, unexpected and innovative results.
As pointed out earlier, few public as well as most private institutes are not equipped to house multi disciplines under one roof. Thus, it is difficult to nurture the multi-disciplinary creative environment necessary to educate creative and imaginative multi-disciplinary thinkers.
From that perspective, universities are better suited for design education. Various disciplines reside under one roof and faculty members frequently collaborate on their own research projects providing opportunities for students to work with them on real world projects. In my experience, creativity and imagination rise to a much higher level when students and faculty members from various disciples work together on a single project.
Though the growth in design education is encouraging, lack of adequate and qualified faculty members is discouraging. Most designers with excellent portfolio, soft skills and work ethics have no difficulty in securing lucrative industry jobs. However, industry unemployed designers seek to teach design. As the number of academic design programs increase, these designers wanting to teach easily find teaching positions and have no difficulty in securing a permanent place at these newborn design institutions.
As these designers with less than excellent portfolios, inadequate soft skills and undesirable work ethics begin to teach, they prepare even less appropriate graduates. CII India Design Report 2015 mentions that 50% of the design industry representatives were not very satisfied with current graduates.
Traditional design facilitators must keep themselves up to date with technology and design research. Comprehending the role that digital data plays in design development is the key to future design successes. Their rigorous design research must include data analytics. Integration of new technologies in their pedagogy and curriculum is unavoidable and must not be resisted.
Wise Words for Students
Current era driven by technology make the design profession much more lucrative and therefore attractive compared with other professional disciplines. However, design students must be clear in their minds of what kind of a designer they would like to be. Design for commerce or design for wellbeing. Both avenues will demand creativity and imagination coupled with full understanding of how digital data works. Future designers will need to know how to analyze data and appropriately code to realize their projects regionally, nationally and internationally.
If a student is not interested in understanding systems and how they work, then design may not be for her or him. Future designers will have to broaden their horizons by learning skills from other than design disciplines to make themselves valuable within a collaborative environment. (As told to Sarath Shyam)