Sustainable Blending in Design Education

Sustainable Blending in Design Education
April 27, 2017 Séamus Byrne

“Your process of teaching should be a process of learning.” – Phil Van Allen

There is nothing like teaching a subject to really hone your craft. When I’m writing content for my Design workshops and courses, I really have to think about the subconscious tasks and activities I perform on a daily basis, as well as the more conscious ones. Sometimes, it’s the things that are second nature to my craft, the hidden nuances, that have the most learning value to students, yet prove to be the most difficult to teach and requires the most unpacking.

I like to keep up with all things relating to Design Education so I was delighted to attend the Interaction Education Summit Synopsis with Fred Beecher and Liz Danzico in New York in February 2017. This year’s discussion seemed to directly address the theme of last year’s summit about the gargantuan gap between academia and practice when it comes to Design Education.

One of these themes, that resonated with me, addressed the sustainable blending of practice and academia which is all about models that blur the lines between where Design Education begins and ends. There needs to be more collaboration between academia and practice in providing a more cohesive experience for the student and their learning experience. It would be unfair to say, especially in Ireland, that third level institutions do not adequately provide students with a good foundation to Design Education, but more could be done to improve the syncing between all parties, especially around learning objectives and outcomes.

The reason that sustainability is important within the concept of blending, is that the front line of bridging of the gap between academia and practice is typically left to hard-working teachers, who often teach in the evenings, after their Design Practice day job. The system is broken as it is wholly reliant on the motivations of a few who want to teach students their professional craft.

I have been teaching UX for over 7 years, and in my experience, the framework for how outside practitioners engage with academia is fraught with problems ranging from poor onboarding and integration, cumbersome and unreliable technology, and a lack of financial budget to make things better. This perfect storm of obstacles often means practitioners who want to teach in a temporary/part-time capacity, run a mile from teaching after a few years. They are great educators but without the necessary supports from the educational institution, they will simply burn out, get fed up or both.

The future of sustainable blending from practice to academia must rely on Designers being employed on a part-time basis by Academia. I doubt this model which was growing in the US, will happen in Ireland any time soon, due to lack of Government funding and resources in education.

There is hope however! Graphic Mint’s UX Academy has been exploring different ways to create sustainable blending with academia. Through a variety of grassroots initiatives we have been building partnerships with Design programmes and working towards providing students with more exposure to real methodologies, tools and practices that we use as Design professionals on a day to day basis. Graphic Mint, for our part, has proactively engaged with academia, through a speaker exchange programme; we send Designers to host guest workshops at the colleges and they send faculty members to teach at our Design events.

Other blending initiatives on our part have been less public facing, but nonetheless impactful to the teaching and learning experience. We have been providing input into various UX programmes and course syllabi. We have a work placement programme where students get real work experience in our Design Studio for three months. We also recently started a scholarship programme, where we offer one free space on every UX Academy workshop we host, to students with outstanding work ethic, who would not usually have the means to attend professional courses.

The future models for Design Education are up for grabs. Over the next few years, we will see various attempts to build the bridge between academia and industry through sustainable blending efforts. The models that succeed will ensure that the student has the most cohesive and comprehensive learning experience that transcends the limitations imposed by the four walls they are learning in. This could be online through models like General Assembly, or offline with more Design studio integrated co-education programmes and partnerships. Most importantly, the success of these models depends on the recognition of the teachers.

Séamus Byrne
Séamus is the Director of User Experience at Graphic Mint.