This is the latest installment of D-School Futures, our interview series on the evolution of industrial design education. Today we have answers from Owen Foster, chair of the industrial design program at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
How different is industrial design education today than it was ten years ago? Will it look very different ten years from now?
There are two trains of thoughts here: the foundation and the progression.
Design education, as a whole, is rooted in certain fundamental practices that are needed to create the next great designers. The foundational skills of observation and application have been taught throughout the history of design and will continue to be what anchors future generations of designers. Without this core, future designers won't have the platform to jump off of to reach greater heights.
With that being said, the progression of design education is in constant change. We have moved from creating the necessary to producing beautiful artifacts and now to creating amazing user-focused experiences. The tools continue to evolve due to advances in technology, manufacturing, materials and the increased awareness of design by the masses. A designer must now be able to speak and understand multiple conversations beyond just art and engineering, including service, interaction and user experience. The goal for the future is to make sure we do not get caught up in what's new and shiny. Instead, we need to stay grounded in the foundational principles of design with the application of the tools around us.
What would you say to a prospective student who worries about the relevance of an ID education in an increasingly digital world?
I'm not so sure prospective students worry about the digital world. We need to understand that the student of today embraces the digital world as another tool for design. Being what we call "digital natives," they are very aware that design is constantly changing and the need for technology is even more valuable today. Students understand the value of being a hybrid designer and understanding all the different conversations within design—industrial, interaction and service.
The example that I give is the iPhone. Why we see the iPhone as being a complete design is not just the touch screen, the hardware or new manufacturing processes. It's also the design approach as a whole. The artifact, the phone itself, is what people label industrial design: a tangible product that is mass-produced using new materials and cutting-edge production practices.
The icons are labeled interaction design and trigger an internal drive to attain information. To compare it to a simple process, it is similar to how a door functions. A user will open a door by the means of the doorknob to attain the information on the other side of the door, much like a user will access information through an iPhone.
Lastly, what makes the iPhone so unique is the service design of iTunes. This allows users to be part of a larger family that's linked to more applications and products. If you take away the service, you're left with just a smartphone. Remove the icons and interface and you're left with a beautiful paperweight. If you remove the artifact, you're not allowed to connect to any of the digital functions.
What sets SCAD's industrial design program apart from ID programs at other schools?
We've established ourselves as a leader in industrial design in our short 15 years of existence by having the nimbleness to change as the world of design changes. Something we pride ourselves on is the ability to tailor our programs and education to allow us to constantly push the boundaries to ensure we stay on the forefront of design education.
Under the umbrella of the industrial design group, majors such as industrial design, service design, interaction design, design for sustainability, design management and marine design have grown and flourished to allow us to offer a very diverse education for our students. SCAD's goal is to go beyond preparing students for their first job, to graduate young professionals ready for their careers.
One method to accomplish this goal is a strong focus on collaboration. Though many other schools offer sponsored classes working within the industry, SCAD has developed this concept to the next level. In a year's time, SCAD will work with approximately 60 companies throughout multiple fields of design. Some of these projects are major-focused and others are truly collaborative, bringing up to eight different creative majors to work on one shared project. This allows our students to learn alongside the world's leading companies, professionals and diverse classroom peers.
In the four years I have been at SCAD, I have led more than15 of these projects. I've seen how this experience changes students in such positive ways. They learn to work with others, understand multiple conversations of design and deliver a final solution in an extremely professional manner.
SCAD design students at work
What's the job market like for recent graduates of your program? Is now a good time to embark on an ID career?
The word "design" is now part of the mainstream vocabulary of the general public. People are seeing how design has influenced their lives in such positive ways. The field of industrial design is becoming an understood field. It's not: "Do you guys design factories?'" The education students receive within industrial design allows them to venture into so many different creative directions. They leave understanding the user's needs, how to problem solve and how to communicate ideas in various ways.
They leave able to create the story of the future with their positive and memorable experiences. Additionally, with the maker movement that is happening, industrial design is a perfect blend of technology, design, storytelling and manufacturing.
There are so many different avenues out there for designers to reach the market: Indiegogo and Kickstarter, to name just two. All it takes is well-trained young designers with a belief in their ability to go out and achieve anything.
If you had to give just one piece of advice to an incoming student in your program, what would it be?
If you know me, just one piece of advice turns into a life lesson. I'm a mentor at heart, so I have these conversations all the time. But if I can narrow it down to a few points I would say the most important things in design are curiosity, observation, failure and passion.
Students need to be curious about every little detail around them. Not all answers can be found on a computer. Question everything; they should observe the world around them with naive eyes. Travel and explore. Always look for what is invisible to others. Students need to learn that failure is something that is necessary to learn. Others can claim so many things in the world, but each of your own failures is uniquely yours. You build off each one to gain knowledge, which will become wisdom later in life.
And last but not least is passion. Passion should be part of everything you do. Industrial design is hard. It is full of long hours, stress, frustrations and failures. If you truly have passion for design, you will go through all the roadblocks and hurdles for that one moment when the planets align and you create something beautiful. Passion also makes you start that painful process over for that next beautiful moment.