The Future of Design Education: Insights from Leading Designers

Recently, Rishihood University hosted a two-day roundtable discussion of the DesignX Mentors. Leading designers from top companies participated to ideate the future of design education and give a cutting-edge learning experience to the students of Rishihood University.

Participants included Sachin Behere (former Director of Design at Philips), Saptarshi Prakash (Director of Design at Swiggy and India’s leading voice on UX), Peter Boeckel (Formerly Design Director at Steelcase and now at Intuitive, San Francisco), Garima Babbar (Head of Education, Adobe), Arpan Yagnik (Faculty at Pennsylvania State University). The discussion was also joined by corporate veterans such as Ravi Swaminathan (former head of HP in India and an advisor to Rishihood), Ravinder Pal Singh (Fouding CIO of Air Vistara and Co-founder of Rishihood School of Entrepreneurship), and senior academic K Gopinath (former professor at IISc Bangalore and currently professor at Rishihood University). The conversations involved the problems and opportunities in the field of design, centered around how to prepare the next generation of designers for the evolving landscape of the industry. Below are some of the key takeaways from this enlightening session.

Center of Excellence: Solution-Based Design Practice for External Projects

The concept of a Center of Excellence (CoE) was discussed as a pivotal initiative. This CoE would focus on solution-based design practices, engaging with real-world external projects. The participants expressed their willingness to be involved with the CoE, highlighting the industry’s eagerness to bridge the gap between academic theory and practical application, especially when it comes to deploying design as a tool for solving large-scale public problems, such as urban experience, transport design, citizen services design etc.

The Evolution of the Designer: From Worker to Enabler

The role of the designer is transforming. No longer seen merely as workers, designers are now viewed as creators and enablers. This shift emphasizes the importance of cultivating a mindset that goes beyond execution to include innovation and facilitation, empowering designers to drive change and foster creativity within their organizations.

Design Education in Schools

A significant discussion point was the inclusion of design as a specialization in schools, particularly within CBSE and IB curriculums. Emphasizing early exposure to design principles can foster creativity and problem-solving skills from a young age, preparing students for advanced studies and careers in design.

Teacher Training and International Collaborations

Teacher training is crucial for the successful implementation of design education. As more schools adopt design as an elective subject during high school, there is a need to train the teachers who are teaching this subject. Adobe has already taken up a skilling initiative for this and universities like Rishihood should join efforts to train the teachers in design.

Interdisciplinary Learning and Projects

Creating an appreciation for interdisciplinary learning was seen as essential and was one of the most important discussion points in the residency. Projects should be designed to progress from small to large scale, allowing students to build confidence and competence gradually. This methodical approach ensures a solid foundation while encouraging ambitious and creative thinking, ultimately expanding the impact of one’s design career. Notably, students at Rishihood have taken up several projects including social impact solutions through design. One example is a water-carrying vest for low-income groups to replace the need to carry heavy buckets of water on their heads over long distances. The student who developed that project then got an internship in France.

Kickstarter Projects

Kickstarter projects were proposed as a means for students to bring their ideas to life, gaining practical experience in entrepreneurship and project management. Additionally, partnerships with industry can provide students with access to industry-standard tools and resources, enhancing their technical skills and creativity. Ravinder highlighted the importance of such projects to seed the thought of entrepreneurship, mentioning that not many designers have become startup founders, and we have the opportunity at Rishihood’s design program to nurture that mindset because of the interdisciplinary environment and venture funding support at Rishihood.

Holistic Vision and Continuous Learning

Saptarshi pointed out that graduates often lack a holistic vision, emphasizing the need for curricula that help students connect the dots across various disciplines. By fostering a mindset of continuous learning, educators can prepare students to adapt to the ever-changing demands of the design industry. Startups, corporations, and governments can give problem statements to the students and faculty to enhance their holistic thinking. Together with a CoE, it creates an enabling environment for action-based learning.

Body of Work Rather than Degree

Finally, the importance of work output was discussed. Students should graduate with a tangible body of work that demonstrates their skills, creativity, and problem-solving abilities. This portfolio can serve as a powerful tool for entering the job market and showcasing their capabilities to potential employers. In a time when degrees are not distinguishable from one another, a portfolio gives the required signal to the recruiter.

By implementing these insights and strategies, Rishihood is creating a dynamic and forward-thinking design education model that equips students with the skills, knowledge, and mindset needed to thrive in the future.

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