Ric Grefé, a leader in the design profession and executive director
of AIGA, says, “What is new for schools is the requirement that
designers have competencies in understanding problems. The design
education system has been geared towards technique and skill–not ‘How do
I under-stand a complex problem?’”
The stagnation of salaries
represents the low value generally placed on tradesmen. Higher salaries
are reserved for the rare creative professional who commands it. Grefé
says, “You have kids who come in as fetishists—you teach them how to use
the tools but if you don't get a chance to teach them design in context
of the real world, they will not become valued professionals.
Globalism. Cultures. Authenticity. User empathy. Collaboration.
Sustainability. Ethnographic research. All these are challenges, and
none relate to the designer as tradesman.”
teaches in the Graphic Design Program at California Institute of the
Arts (CalArts) and is also chair of the AIGA Design Educators Community
steering committee. She says, “Graphic design is an essential competency
for everyone in every discipline now. And, if everyone designs,
education needs to consider the particular and distinct contributions a
professional designer brings to the table.” She adds, “A major factor is
that the conditions for engaging with information have changed. When I
started my career in the 1970s, design was advertising, books,
publications, annual reports. There were more known factors: limited
audiences, limited sizes and limited means of reproduction. This was, of
course, back before ubiquitous media. That’s what’s changed. The
factors that designers now need to consider are so much broader, which
means there are also many more possibilities for designers to bring
value.” And that changes everything.
AIGA sensed this seismic
shift was coming. Grefé says, “We negotiated a research program with
Adobe in 1996 because we felt it was critical to define the designer of
2015, to guide the profession as well as education.”
Having assessed the situation, the AIGA Design Educators Community6
(made up of design educators from an array of schools across the
country) is now asking, “How do we provoke change?” One way is to spell
out what schools think designers should know upon graduation. An
objective survey of experts and 2,500 members (conducted by Adobe with
leadership from AIGA) shows that while the age-old skillsets of
type, color, layout still top the list, a number of encouraging trends
are surfacing that place the values of the future in front of the class
The Designer of 2015
The following core competencies
were taken from current objective research surveyed/conducted by the
AIGA Design Educators Community (in partnership with Adobe) based on the
response they received from 2,500 members and other experts. Note:
shown in descending order of importance.
1. Ability to create
and develop visual response to communication problems, including
understanding of hierarchy, typography, aesthetics, composition and
construction of meaningful images.
2. Ability to solve communication
problems including identifying the problem, researching, analysis,
solution generating, prototyping, user testing and outcome evaluation.
3. Broad understanding of issues related to the cognitive, social, cultural, technological and economic contexts for design.
Ability to respond to audience contexts recognizing physical,
cognitive, cultural and social human factors that shape design
5. Understanding of and ability to utilize tools and technology.
6. Ability to be flexible, nimble and dynamic in practice.
Management and communication skills necessary to function productively
in large interdisciplinary teams and “flat” organizational structures.
8. Understanding of how systems behave and aspects that contribute to sustainable products, strategies and practices.
Ability to construct verbal arguments for solutions that address
diverse users/audiences; lifespan issues; and business/organizational
10. Ability to work in a global environment with understanding of cultural preservation.
11. Ability to collaborate productively in large interdisciplinary teams.
Understanding of ethics in practice. 13. Understanding of nested items
including cause and effect; ability to develop project evaluation
criteria that account for audience and context.
teachers rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic if they focus too
much on type and layout? Are some schools stuck in a trench they can't
get out of? Melissa Sydeman of the Academy of Art University (AAU) in
San Francisco observes, “The first five competencies of AIGA’s survey
seem more tangible and therefore verifiable. The last eight are more
abstract and harder to teach or to determine if the students have
mastered them.” The less tangible, the less important?NO DESIGNER LEFT BEHIND
design schools teach to the test? Although the US Department of
Education keeps track of accredited post secondary schools,
accreditation is not a requirement. Regardless, schools generally work
with accrediting agencies to confirm their integrity. In the case of
design schools, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design
(NASAD) often provides this evaluation. In the case of colleges and
universities, either a national accrediting agency or a regional
accreditor certifies schools. If a school loses its accreditation, it is
in big trouble. The school and students may lose funding opportunities,
or, worst case, the school’s status could plunge into oblivion as its
degrees become worthless.
Accreditation (which, besides
curricula, includes basic infrastructure questions like safety and
facilities) for a design school is based mainly on the status quo. For
instance, if most design schools were to offer basket weaving (and that
were seen as normal), then NASAD might think that’s just dandy. So
hypothetically, if only a few schools were to offer design thinking but
not basket weaving, then the accrediting agency may question “Where’s
the basket weaving course?”
Design education is a motley array
of approximately 2,600 design programs in community colleges, colleges,
art schools and universities in the United States. In any case, during
evaluation, a team (which includes a topic expert typically a professor
or official from another design school who volunteers to help) comes
through and observes what is being taught in the school, reviews syllabi
and teaching credentials, student work. Sydeman is the compliance
officer for regional accreditation for AAU. She says, “Accrediting
agencies don’t drive changes in what students learn. They are checking
whether students are learning what the school thinks they should-since
most schools are in agreement on what the necessary skills are—the
accreditors are in fact reaffirming the general agreement, the status
quo. If NASAD saw a change in outcomes in enough schools, they would
expect to see it in all schools.” With all its flaws, at least NASAD
provides a necessary system of checks and balances, some order to the
chaos. Regardless, Irwin remarks, “Both the school of art and the school
of design here at CMU are questioning the relevance of NASAD,
especially in terms of their criteria for accreditation.”