Myself and a few other designers here at frog had the pleasure of sitting down with some folks from Art Center College of Design (ACCD), including Karen Hofmann, the new Chair of Product Design and Lorne Buchman, newly appointed president of ACCD. I love that they are engaging the professional design community to investigate what changes are happening at the forefront of our industry. Those of you that read the discussion boards know I feel design is not an academic activity, but it does require an academic foundation. This relationship leads to a natural disconnect between what is happening in the professional and academic worlds. A bit of this is a good thing as the academic environment needs to provide a safe place to learn and experiment, however too much distance can lead to irrelevance.
During the conversation it struck me how much we are requiring of new graduates. They need to be able to think broadly, but focus in on executing the details. They need to be comfortable mapping out a user scenario, wire-framing an experience, and pumping some CAD, all while not loosing any rapid visualization skills and maintaing the ability to throw down a hot sketch. We are expecting each one of them to be an entire design team!
If you look at the way many professional corporate and consulting design groups were set up in the past they were segregated by discipline. The product designers sit over here, usually with the engineers, and possibly the product marketing or business strategy folks. The brand, graphic and motion designers sit in another area, or an entirely different location, with brand marketing people. Researchers might be in a third isolated location. When groups are so divided, it can send a message to education that they need to train one person design armies.
Since starting at frog, I've learned a different way of working. The studios are completely co-mingled. As needed, a project team might have interaction designers, researchers, business strategists, mechanical engineers, software designers, graphic designers, technologists, modelers, and product designers all working for a single creative director and braided around a single problem. Each person can go deep on their individual speciality, but they have a natural appreciation for what each of the other disciplines are bringing to the metaphorical table because they sit at the same physical table. It is not easy to co-mingle 500+ creatives with very different backgrounds, but the results are better for it. It requires highly mixed project teams while maintaining discipline based mentorship to ensure people continue to grow in all dimensions. In this way the modern design team is much more like a cable. Each individual strand can only hold so much, but braid them together and you have something much stronger.
When I was a student (eons ago) we often had collaborative projects, but typically all of the students were in ID and we all wanted to do the same part of the project. If the students came from different departments, the projects could go much deeper while each student could retain their individual contribution, the ability to say "this is specifically what I did" in the interview.
To my knowledge, no design school is teaching in such a convergent way, instilling multidisciplinary working habits to build broader learning experiences and more robust student projects while building monodisciplinary skill sets to ensure viability in the workplace. I'm looking forward to see how ACCD evolves their program with their new leadership. Lorne, Karen and their team are smart people who care about the future of design. I'd also like to see other schools reevaluate the way they teach design to close the gap in a meaningful way and create those cable like working teams.