Reading Time: 5 min | Nov 2021

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"Designing Design Education" - iF Design Foundation Publishes Whitebook on the Future of Design Education

Professional practice in design is changing. What consequences does this have for design education? What must be taught in design studies so that designers can anticipate and respond to future challenges? Answers to these and many other burning questions are provided in the book published by the iF Design Foundation "Designing Design Education. Whitebook on the Future of Design Education". It documents the findings of five years of scientific research and in-depth, intercontinental exchange with over 250 design experts from 25 countries. The forewords were written by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, and design icon Dieter Rams.

René Spitz is professor of design science and communication management at the Rheinische Fachhochschule (RFH, University of Applied Sciences) in Cologne, Germany, and is the author of the book. Please read an exclusive interview with him:

On behalf of the iF Design Foundation you wrote "Designing Design Education – a Whitebook on the Future of Design Education”. The book's cover is adorned with the following statement: "Design means: another solution is possible." Why is a different solution necessary for design teaching?

Spitz: Design as a professional practice has changed radically in recent years. This is what all the experts we have spoken to say, worldwide. This change is progressing faster and faster. Its effects are having an ever greater impact on design. And they are becoming less and less predictable. – Compared to this practice and outlook, however, design education has changed little in recent decades. Therefore, the time is now overdue to rethink the education just as radically.

This book addresses the question of what design education must be like in the future in order to respond to changes in business and society. In summary, what are the most important findings?

Spitz: In the 21st century, all aspects of the design practice that were new and characteristic of design in the 20th century have lost their distinctiveness. For example, most of the manual activities that were typical of design have long since been replaced by digitalization. Design education has hardly reacted to this. – Essentially, it boils down to one central point: In the 20th century, design was seen as a result. That's not going to disappear completely anymore. But the emphasis has shifted: In our present and future, design comes to the fore as a process. For the design of the 21st century, answers to aesthetic questions no longer come first. More important are competencies for international, interdisciplinary, intercultural and cross-hierarchical collaboration in mixed teams based on human values, in order to make a sustainable contribution to public value.


The conference together with Kyoto Institute of Technology (KIT) in November 2019, included the moral dimension of dealing appproriately with cultural tradition and acting responsibly for future generations.
In cooperation with the ArtCenter College of Design questions on the structure and organization of design education were at the forefront in California.
In conferences lasting several days on different continents, numerous ideas for concrete implementation in design theory and studies were collected.
In March 2019, 30 experts from the worlds of business, teaching and research shared their experiences.
At the conference in Johannesburg in February 2020, the focus was on the discussion of African cultural concepts such as the inner eye or the wisdom of traditional, anonymous artifacts in contrast to the undisputed stupidity of many industrial products.

Today, you look back on five years of international research with the iF Design Foundation on the topic of "Designing Design Education". The starting point was a study you conducted in 2016 on the future of design teaching. Now we hold the result of your intensive research in our hands in the form of the whitebook. What all has happened in between?

Spitz: At the beginning, there were interviews with 150 experts. We conducted these interviews always on site: In Asia, in Europe and in the USA. Many interviewees are also involved in other regions of the world: India, Australia, Africa and South America. Therefore, we included as many different perspectives as possible. We evaluated all of these statements. However, we didn't want to keep these findings to ourselves, but rather give them back to the international community. To this end, we held hearings in Europe, Asia, Africa and the USA in 2019 and 2020. We asked what regionally and culturally different answers emerge from the questions that have now become clear. We documented the entire process. This documentation is now available as a whitebook.

What were your personal highlights? What anecdote would you like to share?

Spitz: The entire project was a single highlight for me. The interviews, observations, encounters with people and workshops were all enriching and valuable. I don't want to miss a single second of it. On the last day, at the last moment of the final hearing, I realized how much this project had also become a personal concern for me. Scientifically, it was only the end of the data collection phase. But when we said goodbye to each other in Johannesburg, I suddenly realized that this long phase of exchange was now ending, and it brought tears to my eyes in front of all the participants.

As an expert, you have been dealing with design, which is a life topic for you, for many years. What new things did you personally learn from the exchange with the other experts?

Spitz: I can say that quite simply: Everything in the entire book was not clear to me in this way before. And beyond that, no digital technology can replace live and on-site interpersonal exchange if we want to gain insights and formulate appropriate answers in design.

(The questions were asked by Anne Polch-Jahn, Senior Public Relations Consultant at neumann communication, Cologne, Germany.)


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