How different is industrial design education today than it was ten years ago? Will it look very different ten years from now?
Industrial design education today is vastly different with respect to technology, manufacturing, distribution and the roles of designers within changing and expanding markets for their skills and offerings. Due to the exponentially increasing speed of the diffusion of innovation and the fact that design touches all sectors, I think it's safe to say that both design education and design practice will experience decisive shifts generated from within and outside of academia.
What would you say to a prospective student who worries about the relevance of an ID education in an increasingly digital world?
Industrial design practice and pedagogy are always changing in order to keep pace with emerging digital tools and new possibilities. Many leading programs in industrial design have long ceased making a distinction between digital and analog approaches to design education. Digital and analog methods are complementary avenues along a continuum of technological developments. Given the wide range of research, ideation and production choices available to designers today, it is no longer possible to make meaningful distinctions between these terms.
Lisa Norton and student work from the Designed Objects progam
What sets Designed Objects apart from ID programs at other schools?
At the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, our BFA, MFA and Master of Design in Designed Objects is distinctive because of our approach and core institutional value of "thinking-making," which enriches our program by virtue of full immersion in thinking through processes, through materials and through the body. At minimum, we give our students the theories, the methods and the practices essential for cutting-edge industrial design today. Often, our students want to take the refinements much further in the realm of thinking with materials and within time and space. This approach is reflected in the name of our program: "Designed Objects" designates an approach to seeing, thinking, designing and making that builds upon, but is not limited to, the practices of industrial design.
What's the job market like for recent graduates of your program? Is now a good time to embark on an ID career?
The role of the designer is extremely important in our world today, more important than ever before. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago's department of Architecture, Interior Architecture and Designed Objects (AIADO) attracts very independent-minded and entrepreneurial students whose goals tend to involve unconventional roles and approaches to objects, products, systems and services. As a result, many alumni of our BFA, MFA and MDDO programs have launched their own ventures, partnerships and projects. Due to the success of our special projects and industry partner projects, a number of students have been successful in positioning themselves out of school and into opportunities with design and marketing firms around the world. Still others have chosen to work for bigger brands and more mainstream design and technology firms and have made that transition successfully even in recession times.
If you had to give just one piece of advice to an incoming student in your program, what would it be?
If I were to give a student just one piece of advice upon entering our program, it would be to "befriend failure." In K–12 as well as in higher education in the United States, we have educational norms and structures that encourage students to become skilled in giving correct answers as opposed to asking good questions. These habits extend to art and design education and there is a vigorous debate right now about these educational paradigms, one of which is more linear and convergent, and the other of which is more nonlinear and divergent. When it comes to really fostering the creative imagination and reinforcing native creative instincts, the more divergent approach is widely understood as advantageous. We all need both capacities, of course, but it's very important for the student of design to understand that they have more than likely been conditioned to solve for the right answer, for "successful" results. This results/outcome orientation tends to discourage creative breakthroughs. Paradoxically, if we can cultivate a mindset of befriending failure, and perhaps even courting it, we can peel away some of our educational conditioning and be more open to fresh ideas when they arise.
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