DMY Berlin 2012: Designing Design Education

Lucas Verweij

Lucas Verweij

As part of the 2012 festival DMY Berlin will be hosting a one day symposium-cum-workgroup looking at design education.

As regular readers will be aware design education is a subject we often come back to; be it in terms of business education in design schools, questioning the number of design students or looking at opportunities for networking design schools with local communities.

It therefore goes without saying that we find the fact that DMY Berlin is staging such an event very interesting. Not least because it links in nicely with the “Designing Business” Symposium – if design is the new way of doing business, what does that mean for the new generation of designers? And of course the schools who aim to prepare them for their new role?

And so to learn a little more we caught up with project initiator Lucas Verweij, and started with the obvious question; how did the event arise?

Lucas Verweij: DMY Berlin has a long history with colleges and of working with colleges, and so there is bond with those who regularly exhibit at DMY. A couple of years ago the DMY Jury recommended trying to strengthen these links and focus a little more attention on the topic of education: in effect to do more with a theme that is always present, if not always visible. And so at DMY 2011 we had a sort of preliminary experts meeting involving all schools who were exhibiting. That demonstrated that there was a lot of energy and enthusiasm to take things further, and so I was asked to develop a more formal structure for 2012.

Design education is a booming business. In western Europe Masters degrees pop-up everywhere every day, while in India, China or Eastern Europe the number of Bachelor programmes is also exploding. Which means there is currently a global explosion in the number of design graduates, and I don’t think its a temporary explosion, rather the indications are that the numbers will continue to rise and rise. In 20 years probably everyone will study design!

And not only is the number of courses rising, but ever more subjects connect themselves with design, for example, communication studies, marketing, technical subjects, they have all started design departments or at least design courses, obviously in areas relevant to the main subject.

(smow)blog: And in your opinion what’s the driving force behind this explosion?

Lucas Verweij: I think on the one hand design is expanding. “Social Design”, “Open Design”, “Design Thinking” are terms which didn’t exist five or ten years ago, they are emerging fields. As society evolves and changes the fantastic thing with design is that design changes with it and explores what it can contribute to these new areas. For example, when print started declining graphic designers just switched to online design, almost as a natural, automatic movement. With designers the process is relatively quick. Architects, for example, are in contrast very static, can’t adapt so well to changes.

But also design is a very popular concept. Twenty five years ago if you said you were an Industrial Designer people would be like, “OK, but what do you do?”. That has changed and although you’d imagine that eventually it would lose its appeal, it doesn’t. Instead people start calling things that never used to be design. Design. For example a lot of fields of engineering are now called “design”

So one the one hand as society changes, design goes there. And then due to the popularity more and more students want to study design, education has become a business and so the majority of schools take as many students as they can facilitate.

(smow)blog: Which poses the obvious question, is that not something one needs to control? Is there not a risk that we start selling the youth unachievable dreams, and that when they graduate there are too few jobs for them all?

Lucas Verweij: I don’t think there are necessarily fewer jobs. Much more I believe design is becoming more an attitude. Slowly design is moving away from being a craft to being a mentality. And so, as I said, in 20 years we’ll all be designers because a huge part of society will adapt to new ways of thinking. And then later comes the question, in which craft or in which field are you active. I know designers, for example, who run restaurants or are business consultants and who apply their design training and design thinking to the new environments.

(smow)blog: In that sense is a design bachelor a good idea. Is it not better to study, for example, architecture or art, and then do a design masters?

Lucas Verweij: I’m a believer in design bachelors, but less so in design masters. I think the master is more of a problem. If we accept that design is a mentality, then that is better suited to a bachelor – before your mentality or ways of thinking become corrupted.

Then, which also links back to your last question, there is the current nature of masters courses. With, for example, Design Academy Eindhoven, the first five to six years of the masters programme was a disgrace. Everyone knew it was worse than bachelor. It’s a lot better now, and it got better once they learned to select the students they wanted.

In a healthy design school you have to fight for your place, and not just during the initial entry process. I also think its healthy when students fall through modules or even fail to graduate. I think that’s a vital component for a school. But with the majority of masters degrees it is the case that if you pay, you get in, and once your in you graduate.

(smow)blog: When we speak to young designers, one thing we often hear is that they wish they had had more business education. Is that a problem. Is there too little business education in design schools?

Lucas Verweij: I hear that as well. And yes business should be taught more. For example I really like what they do at the KAOSPilots school in Aarhus, which is half business-half design. It’s much more entrepreneurial than a design school and there when you have a plan you also have to figure out how to realise and fund it. And then actually do it.

And as I said if design is becoming more a mentality then we need to encourage not only the free-thinking side but also the entrepreneurial side. But then again I remember that when I was a student there were courses in business skills, but they weren’t relevant to us and what we were doing so we didn’t pay much attention. And that’s still the case. No-one studies design to become an entrepreneur. And then suddenly you realise you are. And so yes I believe more business education is important.

(smow)blog: This is the first Designing Design Education symposium. How does the future look, are you planning to make it a regular event?

Lucas Verweij: Mostly I don’t make long terms plans, but this time I have! Since the beginning the idea has been to make it an annual event. I’m not sure if that will be in Berlin or not, that is still open. As a concept it suits Berlin in many ways, and Berlin is currently a very interesting location for such an event. But it may be that we have or want to hold the next meeting somewhere else. But we will definitely continue, because for such a subject once is not enough.

Designing Design Education takes place on Friday June 8th as part of DMY Berlin 2012. Prior registration is required via: education@dmy-berlin.com

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