Design Thinking: In The Classroom

design thinkingWhich colleges are integrating Design Thinking into their undergraduate Industrial Design (ID) programs?

Here’s one: The Methods of Design Research at Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD) was offered this past fall semester for ID sophomores. Paired with a spring semester studio class, the two courses combine to help students grasp the strategic rationale behind the design of a product and the process required to get to that rationale, in order to design a more successful product. “The goal is to simulate a real-world project scenario that incorporates insights, strategy, and then design,” explained John Youger, Director of Insights and Strategy at WD Partners and CCAD Adjunct Professor. 

Last semester’s project: design a future gas station, something that will exist 5 – 10 years from now. The process includes understanding and defining the challenge, generating ideas, and conducting research, followed by prototyping and testing. The night I sat in on the class had students flushing through their methods for gathering their primary and secondary research.

As if responding to a real-world RFP, students considered myriad details including vehicles of the future, fuel types, technology, and spatial layout of a gas station. They also dialogued over how to conduct their primary research (teams of 2 – 3 were formed), and discussed the market groups that will feel the impact of a design change; consumers, employees, and stakeholders. Finally, they planned for the presentations of their findings.

Excerpt from Alice Smejkalova's research presentation

Excerpt from Alice Smejkalova’s research presentation

End of semester results and presentations for this collaborative group were impressive. Now, engaged in their studio courses, the same students are focusing on the impact their research has made on their design choices, and will have on the look and feel of their future fuel stations.

Their research and the process they utilized to obtain it have provided them with the tools to create good future design decisions, in class and throughout their careers. The process can be repeated and utilized to solve project after project. If ID is on your radar, inquire at other colleges. Ask how they integrate design thinking into their processes. For me, I can’t wait to see what the end of this semester brings.

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Design Thinking: Thinking Design

head of ideas - my colors

Art and design require strategy. Consider Industrial Design (ID); in order to successfully design and create a new product, or redesign an existing one, it’s necessary to understand the environment in which the product will exist. Studying that environment and incorporating what’s learned into the design of the product is commonly known as design research, strategic design, or design thinking. Put another way; take a look at a seat belt, a flash drive, a video game, or a recumbent bicycle. The marketplace in which each of these products exists had to be considered when it was designed. That’s obvious, but not necessarily simple.

 

If you’re considering studying ID in college, you know that it’s more than just drawing cool cars and contemporary coffee dispensers. How those products will be used is critical to their design and construction. Comfort, dexterity, scale, lightness or heaviness of materials used, and the ability to withstand high or low temperatures are just some of the considerations that go into their respective designs. Cultural norms need to be considered, as do the type and size of marketplace they’ll be sold in, material costs, distribution, and competition. And, once a product is created, it needs to be market-tested.

 

I’m guessing these aren’t the first things you’d consider relevant to creating good design. And they might not cross your mind when choosing ID college courses. But they are extremely relevant. Today, design thinking has become part of the vernacular in contemporary architecture, design and engineering practices, and is gaining recognition in the business community. It’s a way of understanding the context of a problem and designing a more innovative solution. design thinking

 

Professors and administrators at colleges across the country are incorporating design thinking into their curricula as well. By doing so, they’re providing students with a real-world view of the industrial design process, and setting them up for career success.

 

My suggestion: inquire about design thinking when you tour college campuses. It’ll show the ID professors that you know what you’re getting into, and that you’re serious about it. You’ll probably learn more about it along the way. I’ll share more of what I’ve learned on the subject next week.

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Declaring A Major

Untitled by Daniel Well 2011 Foundations Exhibition

Untitled by Daniel Well
MICA 2011 Foundations Exhibition

Back in the day when I was a university student (go dawgs!), we didn’t need to declare a major until the end of sophomore year. That gave us plenty of time to try out different interests. For me, art history preceded textile design.

Expectations are different today; and programs vary. Some colleges require students to declare a major as part of the application process, while others offer a semester or two to decide.

I spoke with representatives from four art colleges and found four different approaches to the “when to declare” question. Foundation courses play an integral part of each methodology, providing students with additional exposure to 2-D, 3-D, 4-D and art history courses. Some colleges also engage freshmen in a choice of studio electives.

The College for Creative Studies (CCS) requires that students select a major with their acceptance into the college. Amy Armand, Director of Recruitment Services, explained that for undecided students “a semester of exploring often puts them a semester behind,” requiring scrambling to catch up. The good news here is that CCS readily provides counseling for the “best fit” for a major, based on each student’s portfolio, goals, and current work. That means you can still change majors once you’re on campus.

Pratt applicants also apply into a specific major. However, the college does accept “undecided” students. According to their website about 15 percent of students apply “undecided” each year. Michael Barry, Admissions Counselor and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, explained that some programs are larger than others, causing those who declare their major after starting classes might “get closed out due to space limitations.” An example: the Graphic Design program is larger than the Industrial Design one. If you want to declare ID after you’ve already enrolled, you can do it, but it may cause timing and class sequencing conflicts down the road.

According to Lucy King, Associate Director of Admissions, at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the first semester of freshmen year is pretty intense. It requires hard work in drawing, design and spacial dynamics, giving students experiences to self-discover “what makes sense and comes naturally, what comes as a struggle, and whether or not they enjoy that struggle.” Following that intense semester – in March of their freshmen year – RISD students declare their majors.

MassArt Foundations Class

MassArt Foundations Class

Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) students experience a full year of foundation courses before needing to declare a major. The benefit? “Sometimes students think they know what they want to study, but change their minds,” explained Greg Bartlett, Admissions Assistant and MassArt alum. A year of exposure to multidimensional art and design helps confirm their passions and direction. I didn’t ask Greg, but maybe he knows from his own experience.

There are benefits to each system. By declaring a major at the onset, you’ll be able to jump right in, and immerse yourself at the beginning of your college experience. Conversely, if you’re not 100% sure of your direction, taking a bit of time to decide will expose you to other paths which you might not have previously considered. Also, keep in mind that each institution is unique, and has sound reasons for their curriculum structure. I don’t know that one philosophy is better than another; it’s what works best for you. My suggestion is to add this to your list of decision factors as you research your options.

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SAIC: A Clear Mission

fvnma_taping2 from SAIC websiteEvery institution of higher education has its own mission; a singular statement of purpose that speaks to their raison d’être, or reason for existence. How they interpret that mission, and deliver their educational objectives to their students is what intrigues me. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, SAIC, follows their own path. And, as a consistently top-ranked art college they must be doing something right.

Here are some distinct, core characteristics that caught my eye:

  • SAIC believes in exploration. That’s why their students don’t declare majors. They choose to focus their studies in one area or create their own concentration from among 18 intermingled departments. If graphic novels and critical studies are a passion, combine them here. If writing and fashion design is your preference, that’s possible too. Students are encouraged to stretch and experiment across disciplines. The sky’s the limit.
  • Art is subjective. You know that, I know that, and so does SAIC. That’s why their students are graded on a credit/no credit basis. The college utilizes frequent critiques and portfolio development to help build independent, creative thinkers in its studio courses. A strict class attendance policy ensures focus and participation.
  • logo -Right from the start freshmen at SAIC jump in with both feet. The college’s rigorous program is comprised of 16.5 credit hours the first semester and 15 the second. Students gain an “overview of surface, space and time, and how they interplay and connect with each other in year-long Core Studies and Research Studies classes,” explained Andrea Tarry, Associate Director for Undergraduate Admissions. A complementary, one semester course, Wired, teaches students how to use their computers as artistic and design tools. Additional requirements are English First Year Seminar, Art History Survey, and a studio elective in a department of their choosing. “We want students to begin exploring their personal interests right away,” offered Alexander Zak, Assistant Director for Undergraduate Admissions.
  • A new perspective is a good thing, and the school wants its students to see the world from different perspectives. So much so, that six credit hours of off-campus study are required for graduation. They could come in the form of a study abroad program, a co-op internship, a three-week study trip, or classes at another university. Inspiration is the goal here. Experiencing the world from varied vantage points will affect how you think, how you act, and how you create. Numerous scholarships are available to help pay for the experience.

 SAIC offers vast resources to its students and alumni, and I’ve only skimmed the surface here. I hope to explore more in the future, but in the meantime I’d suggest you go exploring yourself. Visit the Windy City. Get inspired and see what this creative institution has to offer.

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Good News For Fine Arts Majors

Boston College

Boston College

OK, here’s the truth: moms and dads worry about their children studying fine arts in college. It’s true. Questions surrounding what type of jobs they’ll obtain after graduation intertwine with concerns about future incomes and lifestyles.

But good news is here.

The Wall Street Journal recently touted opportunities for fine artists in “A Fine-Arts Degree May Be a Better Choice Than You Think.” Specifically, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce studied the satisfaction felt by fine arts graduates, noting that they’re not necessarily starving anymore, and are actually quite content with their chosen career paths.

The article goes on to mention the job opportunities available to fine artists, stating “almost 83% worked the majority of their time in some arts occupation, such as art teaching or in a nonprofit arts organization.” I believe the list of opportunities is even broader. The skills acquired while studying art – in time management, communication, collaboration, and problem solving – result in marketable combinations that large and small businesses clamor for, especially when combined with creativity.

Whether your journey after graduation is one of a working artist or along a different path, the skills you’ll gain majoring in fine arts will remain useful and valuable throughout your life.

Good news and a sigh of relief for mom and dad.

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