Where are the design educators?

In a not-so-recent blogpost, Don Norman writes eloquently about design education. He gives a clarion call for design education to change. He very lucidly writes about why it needs to keep up with the needs of today and design educators must be more adept at cognitive sciences as much as drawing and form studies. If this were true, we need to re-educate our design educators.

That is, if we can find them.

Design education has been suffering from a dearth of faculty, leave alone, good design faculty. That is rather clear from today’s edition of the Times Ascent, the Delhi-based Times supplement that all the big institutes of design is desperately searching for faculty. On the same page of Times Ascent, all the three major institutes of design : National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, National Institute of Fashion Technology and the Maerr’s MIT Institute of Design, Pune have advertised for faculty. ( See ads below):

With all three of them searching, there are now close to two hundred positions vacant in the country for design educators.

Surely, this must be the biggest search for design educators anywhere in the world announced on the same day. Where are the design educators anyways? They need to be smoked out to resurrect design education in India.

This may lead to new circumstances.

People who practise design, may get to teaching it.

People who are in the periphery of design: fine-artists, social scientists, architects and allied professionals may pitch for teaching design in all these institutes.

People who have had a penchant for teaching can now have an opportunity to be wooed.

I sincerely hope that this throws up a whole new generation of design educators who are inspired, informed and are willing to change themselves and design education.

If not, what Don prophesied may come true: the uninformed will end up teaching the uninformed.

That does not augur well with design education. And change in design education, will take a long time to arrive.

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16 Comments

  1. Quality of design education has been deteriorating over the past few years not only because of lack of good and inspired faculty but also because of many ill conceived policy changes at the Institute level. Really wonder what kind of new designers we are bringing out. This is the new commercialization of design phase that we are going through or rather to use an oft used current terminology, the mcdonaldization of design.

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  2. I think there can be another scenario as well… Stop looking for the design educator; just look for the designer. The institution gives the designer a space to let himself / herself free, amongst the students. The students learn. But for this, the mindset of present institutions need to change. Maybe we should experiment on this? Maybe there is a viable model there?

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    1. While the experience of designers working hands on cannot be denied, design education does need full time educators to bridge the gaps, ensure continuity and mentor students through the high & low points in the journey…which no short term experience sharing can ensure…Jogy calls them “curators”…beautifully…

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  3. We all are worried about design education at NID and many other design institutes !
    When NID started in 1962 with the aim of developing faculties for teaching design subjects
    in Industrial and Communication Design ! I was one of the students of this faculty development programme !
    I still believe that NID should have continue this faculty development programme for another 5 to 10 years (after 1970) !
    All design institutes are facing great problem to get right kind of teaching faculties ! NID has this programme but where are the people
    who wants to go for such training ! Unless NID and all other institutes would not get good and inspired faculties, as Amit has written ” Quality of Design Education has been deteriorating, year by year ” ! NID and all other design institutes should invite people who have lots of experiences in their related design areas as visiting faculty more frequently with long term planing ! Students will have much more benefits apart from regular faculty !

    .

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    1. NID is most suited to start a national-level faculty development programme, that help build a body of professional educators. But will they do it?

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  4. Uninformed of the subject but informed about the process – which is why the design student can gain greater expertise in a subject area than the guide. Even in the practice of design, one usually starts off as the uninformed but is able to quickly gain enough expertise to advise the ‘informed’ client. I don’t think Don pondered enough before making this profound sounding statement 🙂

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    1. Dinesh, I’m pretty sure Don did ponder enough about the topic before raising his “profound sounding statement”. He’s quite the ponderer. And he brings a lot of pertinent design issues to light. This isn’t an exception.

      Being uninformed about a subject, like you mentioned, is still acceptable. You can leave the design industry for a year and feel completely incompetent upon your return. That’s just how the world works and moves on. But what about this process we keep talking about? I’m just about to graduate from one of the institutes mentioned above and I have, over the years, developed my own set of processes. Does this qualify me to be a design educator?

      Processes, like subject areas and skills, also keep evolving over time. Especially so in today’s rapidly changing environment. Especially so in regard to the design scene in India. They still need to be relevant, required and well-informed.

      The word ‘process’ is vague. Increasingly enough, so is most design education today.

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      1. WE NEED BOTH ,THE PROFOUND STATEMENT MAKERS, AND THE STATEMENT RATIONALISERS IN PONDER MODE, WITH 200 STUDENTS IN THE PONDERING PROCESS FOR SUCCESS.

    2. Dinesh,
      I am sure you understand the spirit behind what Don says. Too many green-horns are getting into design education without the expertise required for it. If they are learning ‘on the job’, they are doing so, at the cost of the students!

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  5. Thanks for the post Bala. it is a good news to know about the demand side. Those who want to pursue a career in design education today have options to pick and choose, something unthinkable a few years ago. On the supply side, it is premature to comment, since we don’t really know what the quality of outcome would be like. But my guess is similar to yours – there is short supply of trained educators.

    Situation is similar today with Air India (in fact worse). Design educators are as meager a resource like pilots; but the resemblance ends there. Design education as career is hardly attractive in terms of returns, it is not seen as an imperative to growth. As a profession it has zero negotiation power. Private design Institutes that are mushrooming everywhere don’t believe in spending money and time incubating design educators. They believe in poaching. And the Govt. funded institutes like NID or others have hardly done any credible, adequate and sustainable faculty development programmes over the years (even to poach from). Therefore, there is a vacuum, which will only widen as the demand rises and if nothing is done to address the situation.

    If this is the current scenario, what will happen in near future when four NIDs (and many more of Mr. Pitroda’s proposed innovation centres) are going to be set up? It is easy to talk about scaling up of design education, but money can’t buy design teachers overnight, because there is a gestation period involved. Sadly, there is no long term planning visible. Design Institutes in India are like competitive orphaned siblings. About time we need a parent body.

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    1. Thanks for your elaborate response, Sagar. You have articulated all the apprehensions I have and I am beginning to feel a desperation now for design education.
      This needs a larger debate and we must do something about this.

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  6. Hey, just found there is so much happening here! The challenge really is to create the right conditions for great learning to happen. This does not necessarily mean a concentration of highly experienced faculty, though it would help to have some around. As long as the ‘processes’ (:) of searching and reflection are in place, knowledge creation should happen. Some decades back we were lucky to have such an environment at NID, if you remember.

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  7. As Sagar mentions above, the main problem in India is financial. The majority of good designers in the country have built up their own business from scratch and therefore have a huge amount of experience to share. Yet unless Indian colleges are prepared to pay attractive salaries or hourly rates, why would professionals divert time away from their business? Of course that raises the issue of college funding and how much is acceptable to charge in fees, which is a much wider debate.

    As for quality, In the UK all faculty (apart from visiting lecturers) are required to have (or be working towards) a specialist teaching qualification. This combination of competitive pay and regulation keeps the quality of teaching high and relevant.

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  8. This is a known phenomenon right from the earlier days, I am referring to 1970s when I was in college. The very fact is that the Indian Art Institutes do not pay the prefessors a good package, wherein they will stick to the ‘teaching’ and do not indulge in the freelancing activities depriving of students of the knowledge they should part away. The selection fo the faculty should also be based on some industry knowledge, activie participation in the projects. The students then were those who would not get a chance to science or other streams, either by marks obtained or those who could not afford college education. But the students these days are spending fortunes of their parents acquiring the ‘design’ education, who have opted for such courses due to the possibilities of attractive careers (I mean ‘money’ here!) in the industry. My expereince as a visiting faculty is such that most of these students have fair amount of idea about their careers and they need ‘industry’ specialist to teahc them. I would be willing to open a ‘finishing school’ for such students with my experience in advertising, visual designing (for print and web – UX). Will I be paid compatible to the industry standards if I dedicate to such a task, leaving my job? After all we all are here to earn for living!

    Reply

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