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What do we expect from design schools and universities?

Author: Martin Groschwald
Work Situation

I was recently invited to join a panel during the Munich Creative Business Week named “(Re)Thinking Design”. The topic, to discuss the changing role of designers in today’s business world. Part of this discussion touched on education, which led to a lively discussion around what the role of higher learning should be in the field of design. A note before I continue, I am speaking from a general standpoint on themes and topics collected and not about any specific institutions.

The biggest debate from the panel, arose around design academics vs practical preparation of graduates to enter the workforce (I will exclude internships here, as they are not always a full representation). This is especially topical in Design overall but in particular Transportation Design as it’s usually something that is led with craftsmanship rather than pure academics.

Institutions of higher education (IHE) such as Universities, Applied Sciences, etc. do represent an academic standard and have to fight against other departments for their academic status and “importance”. Focusing on transportation design or what I believe will soon be called mobility design studies, the question we need to ask openly is how these IHEs have to evolve, especially in a time where the transportation design industry is going through its biggest changes in history. In a world where society, culture and politics have more and more impact on the way we travel globally, are institutions and their courses developing in line to keep pace with the changes we see around them?

When I speak to higher-level managers, bosses, or directors, I pose the question “Do you think that graduates joining you are prepared and ready to contribute once they start working here?” The answer is universally almost the same: “Not many and for non-creative designer positions such as 3D modelers it is even more difficult.”

There are many different reasons for this answer such as, too many transportation design courses on offer leading to a higher supply than demand, little specialisation on relevant topics within the industry (3D modelers, interior design, transportation UX, non-car design etc) and not to forget the continuous worldwide directive of design universities being run as companies, rather than focusing on educating fewer but better graduates and based on taxes paid by the public.

So, is it the job of the IHE to get students’ work ready? Not necessarily. In its current form, the understanding of IHE is much more academic than practical as they need to be comparable to other institutions. That is absolutely fine but maybe would it be more helpful to have that as part of a master’s degree or even a PhD? Would it maybe be better for bachelor programs to work as a dual system for 3 years in combination with a sponsor – 3 months of university training and 3 months’ work with the sponsor per one semester? Could an apprenticeship potentially make a return rather than going through a university degree? Would it make sense for further education to introduce an MBA for Design Management?

With current changes in the mobility industry but also within society, education within design and also mobility design needs to make ensure it keeps up. Academically, I think this is achieved with many outstanding institutions globally, however practically there is room for improvement to put the thinking into practice. We will need both qualities equally and not always combined in one to achieve the goal of creating a better future.

How was your experience as a (transportation) design student? What did you take from your experience that you still use today? Was there anything that you would have changed or wished would have been handled differently? What are your expectations of an education?

I am excited to hear from you on this topic as it does have an impact on future generations to come and helps to increase the role of design within a business as well as society and culture.