Much of what we get out of a design school education is slanted to satisfy the primary purpose of making a designer employable upon graduating. There is nothing wrong with this being a primary motivation in the educational process—we all need jobs. It’s why many of us go to school in the first place.
Dolla Dolla Bills Y’All
Unfortunately, because administrative level “success” in the educational system is so closely tied to placement/employment rates, many schools focus primarily on the development of technical skills with little to no focus on the more aesthetic and intangible skills of being a designer. As a result, critical thinking and thought process classes are many times shelved (or reserved for graduate level education programs) in favor of crafting a more competent, “skill-based” front line worker. Why is this case? The answer? Simply put: hire rates. The higher the placement rate, the more likely students will want to come to your school because they know they’ll have a job when they graduate, and in turn more money that filters into a school. There are some problems with this line of thinking in my opinion.
So much of what we get out of a design school education satisfies strictly the technical with little to no focus on the more aesthetic and intangible focus points of being a designer.
Thinking and Context
When education focuses too much on students primarily acquiring technical skills—sacrificing (or outright ignoring) the development of individualized critical thinking ability, they create groups of designers who struggle with the concepts of deep thinking and long term strategy. These designers are well suited to work in the trenches because they have the technical skills to do so, but most will struggle later in their career to get out of the “pit” and into a more directorial role. Additionally, most will not understand how to critically visualize and think about design in a wider context. They, many times, lack the ability to form those deeper, more meaningful connections on how design can impact their design sphere and, ultimately, the larger world around us.
Critical thinking skills should be at the core of creating well rounded designers—especially in the later stages of their design career. More and more schools are maneuvering their programs to be focused largely on technical skills to increase hire rates. The rise of coding schools adds to this contextual jumble. With shortened learning cycles, these programs have no other option but to teach the purely technical—sacrificing even many of the basic design skills needed in this industry. Developing critical thinking skills become a distant glimmer.
Don’t Drive Angry
What’s the point of this mini rant? Designers who have come through design education programs that are more technically focused need to take it upon ourselves to learn how to think critically. When we cultivate deep thinking ability we’re better suited to understand design’s impact and our place in the long history of this amazing field.