Jon Kolko recently asked some questions about how we teach social innovation and design. He brought up several important points, which taken together implicitly challenge the standard model of design education—particularly the short studio format. The problem with this model is that it doesn’t allow for the kind of engagement and commitment often needed to foster social innovation. In fact, it tends to reinforce design practices that are at odds with the ethos of social innovation and design.
One of these reasons I created the Public Design Workshop at Georgia Tech was to experiment with different models of teaching, learning, and doing engaged and committed design work from within a university. Key to this is allowing for extended interactions with communities and extended cycles of design. This is a challenge for both the students and me. For the students, it means that they may spend a semester or more just getting to know a community or an issue. And the final products and services of social innovation and design may be taken by some to be prosaic (a website, a newsletter) or completely unfamiliar (an education program, capacity building). For me, it means working to nurture these relationships over time and working with the students to help them be able to talk about their work as design to the design community.
There are some interesting programs emerging, many of which seem to be working to develop new models of design education that better align with new practices of design. The DesignMatters program stands out in this regard. Kolko’s Austin Center for Design is another example. The Collaborative Design program at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon is yet another example.
I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop at the Collaborative Design program at PNCA mid-August and I came away very impressed and excited. The students are good, the faulty are good, the resources are good. What was most impressive and exciting though was how this group of people is coming together to experiment with and participate in a totally new and novel design program. It’s an example itself of social innovation and design in it’s creation and structure.
As we think about, teach, and do social innovation and design, it’s important to consider how design education could be approached anew. A lot of social innovation and design is bottom-up or grassroots. We should be looking for similar trends and practices in design education itself.