This paper narrates a group discussion of design educators organized in 2014, and individual structured interviews with design educators working in Puerto Rico. The event was presented at Beta Local1 and to co-host the conversation Dr. Kevin Hilton2 was invited. The discussion provided an opportunity for an open process of limited inquiry about ideas on education within local academic and professional design practice. The event was recorded using Storify.3 This paper describes my reflections of the discussion and the individual interviews that were conducted with a Dean and design educators.
It is my understanding that the design practice has changed drastically due partly to the social cultural effects of technology and to changes in how business has become more interconnected. Therefore, new skills and knowledge-sets are needed by designers.456 Such as:
Empathy, in order to understand the user experience and context
The ability to create systems (services instead of products)
The capacity to manage Transmedia systems (user generated content across multi platforms that are synchronized)
The use of Lean working models
To have complex problem-solving skills and other Executive Functions competencies
The ability to collaborate with other practitioners from different fields
Traditional design education has focused on specialized work and study through an apprenticeship model, with the aim to achieve the “craft” know-how and learn the design principles.7 We asked the participants to prepare a brief case-study on how they were educating undergraduates, within a real-life situation, departing from the apprenticeship model. These case-studies had to explore one or more of seven criteria8 that we pre-established.
There are two undergraduate bachelor’s degrees in design and three architecture schools in Puerto Rico. This is quite a lot considering a population of roughly 3.5 million that has decreased the last few years due to economic depression.9 In the Architecture and Interiors industry realm, business volumes for 2007-2011, reflected a decrease of 22% and 66% respectively. To illustrate this, in 2007 there were 158 Architectural firms and 36 Interior Design firms. By 2011, there were 115 and 18 firms, respectively.10 Data about other design practices are grouped by a confusing system. It must be noted that business classification under the Graphic Design category may also include digital printing companies that offer basic graphic design service for postcards or flyers. It does not mean they are graphic design firms. This confusion does not affect Architecture and Interior Design, since by law, they have to be certified by each State’s regulations.
Most faculties have design schools with adjunct or temporary instructors, and very few consider teaching design as a practice by itself. This is because the educators either teach as a way to supplement their income, or there are no full-time teaching positions available. It's rare that Design educators, including architecture, are required by the local schools to publish, to participate in conferences, and to apply for research grants, as it happens in other practices.11 Their teaching practice tends to be mostly experience-based, as few design educators have formal training in pedagogy. On the other hand, the job instability does not support growth of pedagogy knowledge.
Most of the practitioners that teach (not so in architecture) do not hold a permanent job at a design business or own one. It must be noted, that there is an entrepreneurial mindset, especially in industrial design practitioners – some of them emigrate from the architecture field looking for work opportunities. Most of these are furniture design-driven. Service and industrial design for Healthcare are still unexplored.
Based on the discussion group, these design educators are keeping in touch with new processes, some with a reflective practice mindset. But it seems that design schools cannot support their approach in a systematic manner. In my own experience, schools will often support initiatives, nonetheless, the educators’ efforts are not replicated, documented, critically evaluated nor maximized afterwards. This situation has been confirmed by an adjunct instructor (interviewee preferred to be anonymous):
“They have the good will to give you classes, but maybe by the summer I don't have any [...] I would like to have students for research [but] they force you to be part-time [...] [teaching] is combined with other jobs, our life is in a fast-lane as our students, we have no time to reflect [...] I don't know [local] architecture school that has a design research group [...] They [school] will support with a plane ticket for a conference, but, giving out grants so one can do design research, that does not exist.”12
The case studies in general were research-oriented, some co-teaching with different faculties, and few focusing on the user instead of being client-centered. The following are the highlights agreed by the discussion group:
Client factor might derail education aims; but students might acquire real professional knowledge.13
There is disappointment to the practice itself.14
The present design curriculums are an obstacle.
The working situation as adjunct educators is precarious.
There is a need to teach the business side of design.
Recognized that the designer's role have changed (facilitator, producer) and for educators to be more proactive in creating academic opportunities for transdiciplinary projects.15
There still a need of mentoring.16
There is a lack of communication skills among designers.
Designers need to be comfortable with public error and wanderings.
Educators and students seems to be on their own.17
The Academic Dean (interviewee prefers to be anonymous) is aware that the design curriculum of the school is stylish-based and lacks a Design Thinking18 approach:
“[for example] in the industrial design [curriculum] gender, class and ethnic considerations seem to be missing.”19
It seems to be lacking locally System Thinking-minded20 design schools that would allow a leap forward both pedagogically and business wise. The Dean stated:
“In public agencies there is no system creation, so we as an institution cannot pursue opportunities [...] I do not see it in our curriculum yet [...] But 2016 is our institutional assessment for accreditation, this is a criteria to consider.”
In that sense, opportunities in the educational workplace are needed to match the enthusiasm of their educators.
“[We need to educate focusing on] the economic exchange,” stated Program Director García to his current curricular revision, “a solid foundation from design as technique, manufacturing to marketing. Our [industrial] department is lacking many of these areas [...] but we don't have the time in the curriculum, we have to synthesize.”21
The possible and preferable future for Puerto Rico's design education could be:
School could approach both administrative and programmatic development policy operation within a systematic model that is student and faculty centered.
At the same time, educators can develop design research and evidence-based projects.
Despise the current work instability, schools could still establish programs to support adjunct and short term educators in their pedagogical framework.
How schools are addressing these issues provides an opportunity for organizing a public participatory discussion that advance comprehensive understanding. Especially the interrelationship between academia and the design industry, as both are experiencing challenging times globally. I wonder if there are similar stories in other design schools from Latin America and the Caribbean.
Two Graphic Designers, three from Architecture and one Student Counselor were chosen to present their case studies. Links have been included for all videos and audio discussed in this paper (in Spanish except Dr. Hilton's). Audience consisted mostly of practitioners. Educational design-policy decisions-makers were missing.
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Gracias por compartir este artículo María. Estudié diseño industrial en la EAP y lo discutido en el conversatorio refleja mi experiencia. Estos son otros puntos que también considero importantes:
- En Puerto Rico se desconoce qué es, qué hace y qué beneficios aporta un diseñador industrial en el desarrollo de un producto.
-Se presta más atención al diseño de productos que tienen valor primordialmente estético, artístico y decorativo (mobiliario, accesorios decorativos, iluminación, etc.) y no se exploran tanto aquellos productos con alto valor funcional, que intentan resolver problemas existente y mejorar la experiencia de los usuarios.
-Necesitamos tener una visión del diseñador como parte de un equipo multidisciplinario de trabajo en donde hay ingenieros, fabricantes, quality control, compradores, exportadores/importadores, etc.
It is very interesting Maria that a lot of the points outlined in your article, is very similar to the issues we face here at some of our Design Schools as well. Great article, we should collaborate.
Una exhibición de ciencia que se ancla al contexto de un museo de diseño en un pueblo rural de Puerto Rico.
Empatia é o primeiro atributo que um designer deve possuir.