(Updated April 2, 2020)
Michael Meyer and I have written a guide for changing how designers are educated, published in a special issue of the Journal She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, devoted to Design Education, edited by Guillermina Noël (Ken Friedman is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal). Together with our friends at IBM Design, we intend to implement the strategy outlined in the paper. We have recruited 10 senior designers to help us get started, people who represent a mixture of disciplines, different regions of the world, practitioners, and academics. These ten will help us create a body of approximately 100 people who will discuss and plan a platform for curricula. This will take a year or more and might very well involved several hundred people. Stay tuned.
The entire issue is available at the URL below: This is an open-access journal -- no payment or registration is required. The Meyer & Norman paper is part of the issue and can be downloaded at
Meyer, M., & Norman, D. (2020, March). Changing design education for the 21st century. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 6 (March), 13-39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sheji.2019.12.002
Changing Design Education for the 21st Century
Michael W. Meyer and Don Norman
Design Lab, University of California, San Diego
- Designers can bring special value to almost all organizations: governments, Non
- Government Organizations (NGOs), businesses, healthcare, etc.
- The current system of design education seldom prepares students for the challenges that they will face.
- The most valuable elements of the designer’s perspective and process are seldom taught.
- Other learned professions such as medicine, law, and business provide excellent advice and guidance embedded within their own histories of professionalization.
- To make changes requires a major long-term effort to develop a platform of design and educational practices.
- We call for a program to move the design profession capable of fully realizing the value of design in the 21st century.
Designers are entrusted with increasingly complex and impactful challenges. However, the current system of design education does not always prepare students for these challenges.
Designers are moving into new areas, many of which require management, social, technological, and political skills never before thought of as the responsibility of design. Not only has technology increased and changed dramatically in recent decades, but society has become more and more concerned with weighty global issues, such as hunger, health, education. Design skills for developing creative solutions to complex problems are becoming more and more essential. Businesses are starting to recognize that designers bring something special to the work—a rational belief based upon numerous studies that link business success to a design-driven approach. These are all powerful opportunities, yet we are not always training our students appropriately.
When we examine what and how our system teaches young designers, we discover that the most valuable elements of the designer’s perspective and process are seldom taught. Instead, some designers grow beyond their education through their experience working in industry, essentially learning by accident. Many design programs still maintain an insular perspective and an inefficient mechanism of tacit knowledge transfer.
So, what are we to do? Other learned professions such as medicine, law, and business provide excellent advice and guidance embedded within their own histories of professionalization. In this article, we borrow from their experiences to recommend a course of action for design. It will not be easy: it will require a study group to make recommendations for a roster of design and educational practices that schools can use to build a curriculum that matches their goals and abilities. And then it will require a conscious effort to bootstrap the design profession toward both a robust practitioner community and an effective professoriate, capable together of fully realizing the value of design in the 21st century. In this article, we lay out that path.