Designing designeducation, interview written by Alasdair Thompson from Smowblog

As part of the festival DMY Berlin has hosted a one day workgroup looking at design education. It goes without saying that the fact that DMY Berlin has staged such an event is interesting. And so to learn a little more we caught up with project initiator Lucas Verweij, and started with the obvious question; how did the event arise?

Lucas Verweij: Design education is a booming business. In western Europe Masters degrees pop-up everywhere every day, while in India, China or Eastern Europe the number of Bachelor programmes is also exploding. Which means there is currently a global explosion in the number of design graduates, and I don’t think its a temporary explosion, rather the indications are that the numbers will continue to rise and rise. In 20 years probably everyone will study design!
And not only is the number of courses rising, but ever more subjects connect themselves with design, for example, communication studies, marketing, technical subjects, they have all started design departments or at least design courses, obviously in areas relevant to the main subject.

(smow)blog: And in your opinion what’s the driving force behind this explosion?
Verweij: On the one hand design is expanding. “Social Design”, “Open Design”, “Design Thinking” are terms which didn’t exist five or ten years ago, they are emerging fields. As society evolves and changes the fantastic thing with design is that design changes with it and explores what it can contribute to these new areas. For example, when print started declining graphic designers just switched to online design, almost as a natural, automatic movement. With designers the process is relatively quick. Architects are in contrast very static, can’t adapt so well to changes.
So on the one hand as society changes, design goes there. And then due to the popularity more and more students want to study design, education has become a business and so the majority of schools take as many students as they can facilitate.

(smow)blog: Is that not something one needs to control? Is there not a risk that we start selling the youth unachievable dreams, and that when they graduate there are too few jobs for them all?

Lucas Verweij: I don’t think there are necessarily fewer jobs.  I believe design is becoming more an attitude. Slowly design is moving away from being a craft to being a mentality. And so in 20 years we’ll all be designers because a huge part of society will adapt to new ways of thinking. Later comes the question in which craft or in which field are you active. I know designers, for example, who run restaurants or are business consultants and who apply their design training and design thinking to the new environments.

(smow)blog: In that sense is a design bachelor a good idea. Is it not better to study, for example, architecture or art, and then do a design masters?
Lucas Verweij: I’m a believer in design bachelors, but less so in design masters. I think the master is more of a problem. If we accept that design is a mentality, then that is better suited to a bachelor – before your mentality or ways of thinking become corrupted.
In a healthy design school you have to fight for your place, and not just during the initial entry process. I also think its healthy when students fall through modules or even fail to graduate. I think that’s a vital component for a school. But with the majority of masters degrees it is the case that if you pay, you get in, and once your in you graduate.

(smow)blog: When we speak to young designers, one thing we often hear is that they wish they had had more business education. Is that a problem. Is there too little business education in design schools?
Lucas Verweij: Yes, business should be taught more. I really like what they do at the KAOSPilots school in Aarhus, which is half business-half design. It’s much more entrepreneurial than a design school and there when you have a plan you also have to figure out how to realise and fund it. And then actually do it.
If design is becoming more a mentality then we need to encourage not only the free-thinking side but also the entrepreneurial side.

(smow)blog: This is the first Designing Design Education symposium. How does the future look, are you planning to make it a regular event?
Lucas Verweij: Mostly I don’t make long terms plans, but this time I have! Since the beginning the idea has been to make it an annual event. I’m not sure if that will be in Berlin or not, that is still open. As a concept it suits Berlin in many ways, and Berlin is currently a very interesting location for such an event. But it may be that we have or want to hold the next meeting somewhere else. But we will definitely continue, because for such a subject once is not enough.