Transitioning from School to Practice
Keywords: Design, Design Research, Education
In recent times, every year in India finds a tide of eighteen-year-olds swallowed up thirstily, by more and more programs in the arts, graphic design, industrial design, filmmaking, and related programs at art and design schools.
A few years on, they step outside of school, cheerfully envisioning themselves occupying places as creative professionals working for what everyone hopes will be an infinitely expanding pool of projects, clients, and practices. With no dearth of employers, designers wade into a sea of design firms and start-ups seeking employees skilled in various design disciplines.
But I wonder if this movement from institution to industry has encouraged a myopic and self-centred view in the conception of our goals as designers. By focusing on a design, a product, or even a film, I wonder if we’ve been coaxed into finding our “place” in the industry, which is reflected in our course choices at school.
I wonder if this is a concurrent commentary on the shortcomings of schools and design institutes in failing to enable aspiring designers to define their own scope of what they want or do not want to pursue. But also on the flip side, a growing number of designers today seek a renewed spirit of environmental and social consciousness. Much of this may just be lip service, but nonetheless; many for the most part want to do some good, to witness the impact of their work translate into positive change.
The value of any education, design or otherwise, is to provide its students with a set of skills to perform a set of tasks in an efficient and purposeful manner, accompanied by the ability to think critically and reflect upon the beliefs and motivations behind the use of these skills. The passion of many educators seems to be around honing the skill component more than thought; they fear handicapping their graduates by not belabouring the development of “core skills”. But it’s the broader kind of illiteracy which emerges from such an approach that some educators would admit is more troubling today.
That we must give equal value to both components of education, though a recurrent statement, bears repeating. The onus of education lies not just on schools but on the students and on society in enabling anyone to define the scope of their own experiences.
The value of any education, design or otherwise, is to provide its students with a set of skills to perform a set of tasks in an efficient and purposeful manner, accompanied by the ability to think critically and reflect upon the beliefs and motivations behind the use of these skills.
Back in design school, there was always much to see and do. It seemed a universe of its own with a vibrant diversity in courses and things to pursue. I was incalculably lucky to have ended up pursuing courses ranging from making musical instruments, gardening, systems thinking, and typography (that I eventually dropped out of). This broad exposure to a diverse range of educational offerings may not have a tangible manifestation in terms of learning a skill, but it was instrumental in shaping how I view, and by extension engage with, the world around me.
I may not be the fastest learner, but over the years I have come to realise that my best work has always involved subjects that I’ve become interested in, and even passionate about, through the very process of doing design work, from engagement and exploration.
The great thing about design is that it lends itself to something else, especially true as design steps into the wider sectors of development, in “emerging markets”, international peace, and security—given that the issues here shift from consumer value to sometimes life and death situations.
As the world suffers under the enormous weight and consumption of many well designed objects, the role of design, and subsequently the extension of designers’ locus of action becomes critical.