Design, Tradition and Modernity Conference - NID, Ahmedabad, India

It is not the Winning; it is the Taking Part - Abstract

Design education can’t win. Or so it seems. Sat between a rock and hard place, the best courses in design education seek to create forward-thinking, motivated and talented designers with a thirst for knowledge, enquiring minds and ecologically and socially responsible attitudes.

On the outside, looking in, the design industry rarely acknowledges or demands such positive attributes from graduates entering the work place preferring to seek the short term fixes of strong computing skills, current design practice awareness and the ability to work hard for long hours for little pay without question. Unfortunately, too often the industry looks solely for those fresh-out-of-school juniors with knowledge of up-to-the-minute contemporary practice demonstrated by portfolios of work that follow fashions and trends rather than diagnosing, challenging and solving communication issues.

Matters may be no better from within: many educational institutions often placing more value on issues such as admission and retention rates, external accreditation and health and safety monitoring than providing a conducive learning environment. Too many courses in design have been trapped in a stranglehold of conformity, trapped by assessment regulations and inflexible modular structures, trapped by systems that work against and hinder rather than encourage and support the flow of creativity. Breaking boundaries, challenging rules and attempting new, untried and untested methods can move knowledge and understanding of the discipline forward; taking risks is integral to successful design education. And that is risk-taking by staff as well as students.

With both the external and internal pressures mounting, how do we as design educators ensure the provision of a truly creative learning environment that challenges preconceived notions and theories of design whilst equipping students for the rigours of the 21st century workplace? How do we offer a curriculum that nurtures, supports yet confronts change? As design educators we have a responsibility to equip the next generation of designers with the knowledge and skills to effect design solutions that communicate truthfully, responsibly, that enrich lives and life-styles. We must seek to endow our students with the ability to empower, rather than be empowered by, technology, to harness new ideas and ways of thinking and to understand and comprehend the past whilst looking to the future.

Recognising the importance of relationships with both those outside and inside the design institution is the first step in the right direction. External and internal links can be successfully fostered, building relationships and partnerships where collaboration and communication are the building blocks of innovation and change. Our students are expected to recognise and evaluate peer learning, that mysterious mist that often occurs in the studio environment when we are elsewhere, but are we as design educators and practitioners practicing what we preach? Are we learning from each other, communicating our intentions, evaluating our failures as well as our successes and creating an open dialogue regarding our own performances in the educational and vocational needs of the next generation of designers?

A course curriculum that acknowledges and embraces professional practice and that invites design practitioners and design clients into the programme with a view to fostering productive links, enhancing and progressing the relationship between education and industry by re-evaluating the nature of the collaboration offers an educational experience to each of the participants. Understanding how to develop project briefs through careful liaison and discussion, looking at ways of incorporating both professional and educational realities whilst underpinning the brief with the opportunity to take risks and experiment can be challenging yet rewarding for all involved.

It may be a rocky road but in following this path, design education may just start to win…



This full paper and presentation includes case studies of the following ‘live’ project briefs with accompanying student work from the BA (Hons) Graphic Design course at the University of Brighton in the UK:

1. Born Free Foundation
Working with Born Free, the animal and conservation charity that campaigns for the protection and conservation of animals in their natural habitat, a ‘live’ brief was conceived and resolved that produced a range of promotional items to increase the profile of the charity.

2. The Royal Sussex Hospital
Renal patients, using a brand new unit at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton UK, as well as doctors and nursing staff were consulted along with the City Council’s Arts Advisory Board on a brief to create uplifting artworks to be installed within the unit. Students produced works in response to the brief that were then sited in the department.

3. Juice FM
Brighton’s own independent commercial radio station appeals to a broad cross-section of the community but its graphic identity and presence have fallen far short of representing the true nature of the station’s output and its relationship with the city. In collaboration with both Juice FM’s director and its highest-profile presenter a brief was created that allowed students freedom to explore the limits of representing sound in a graphic format for the identity and branding of Juice FM.

4. Bloomberg
The London headquarters of Bloomberg, the global financial news and communication company, collaborated with Scarlet Productions in London and members of the staff team at The University of Brighton to create a brief offering a unique design challenge. Fifteen one-minute films were commissioned that are to be played continuously for one month in the street entrance and reception of the architecturally inspiring Bloomberg building in Finsbury Square.

Conference Review -
DETM 05 - 02-04 March 2005
National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India.

Lawrence Zeegen, Academic Programme Leader for Communication and Media Arts, recently attended DETM 05, the first international design conference of its kind, at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India, presenting his paper; Its not the Winning: it’s the Taking Part.

NID situated in Ahmedabad, India was established by the Government of India’s Ministry of Commerce in 1961 and has evolved as the country’s foremost institute in design education. The city itself was founded in 1411 and has become one of India’s major industrial cities with a population of 4.52 million. Situated in the state of Gujarat, Ahmedabad was one of the places hit by a major earthquake in 2001 killing over 30,000 and although the city has recovered, there is still much to be done. The city is noisy, over-crowded and polluted and had earned the derisive title of ‘City of Dust’ by a previous Mughal emperor, but despite this is a place of charm and character.

NID, host to DETM 2005, attracts candidates from across India and the continent. The institute offers professional programmes in Product Design, Furniture and Interior Design, Ceramic & Glass Design, Textile Design, Apparel Design & Merchandising, Lifestyle Accessory Design, Toy Design & Development, Exhibition Design, Graphic Design, Animation Film Design, Film & Video Communications, New Media Design, Information & Digital Design, Software & User Interface Design and Strategic Design Management.

Design Education: Tradition and Modernity, the first international conference of its kind in the Indian sub-continent, invited 60 speakers from around the globe to participate. The over-arching theme for the conference encompassed aspects of design education across the world that reflected a diverse spectrum of economic, regional and social dynamics. Whilst many traditions in design education continue to incorporate regional aspirations many design educators, students and researchers are breaking regional barriers and are crossing continents in search of new sensibilities, alternative methodologies and collaborative opportunities, the ‘global village’ has become a reality due to technological developments in recent years.

Dr. Darlie O Koshy, Executive Director for NID, in his opening remarks
stated that ‘the 21st century has been ushered in with a refreshing change in the world economic order. The Asian economies, after years of sluggish growth and diffidence, are now riding on a new wave of impressive economic performances and growth ambitions.’ He went on to reinforce this message; ‘Asia is emerging as the new manufacturing hub of the world and China is euphemistically called the ‘factory to the world’. Asian economies are slowly but surely growing out of their domestic mindset and are rapidly integrating with a globalising world’. Design education must continue to adapt to global changes, Koshey went onto call for ‘a fresh approach, shaking out the old - like the tails of lizards by themselves, with an open mind towards new academic structures, curricula, integration of design and technology and adoption of new teaching and learning pedagogy and methodologies’.

The three-day event saw academics representing institutes from countries across the globe. Speakers came from countries that included Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Botswana, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, United Aran Emirates, United Kingdom and USA.

Zeegen presented his paper on the first day of the conference focussing on issues faced by today’s design educators. The opening statement of Zeegen’s paper reflected the broader topic he proceeded to cover – ‘Design education can’t win. Or so it seems. Sat between a rock and hard place, the best courses in design education seek to create forward-thinking, motivated and talented designers with a thirst for knowledge, enquiring minds and ecologically and socially responsible attitudes’ he stated. ‘On the outside, looking in, the design industry rarely acknowledges or demands such positive attributes from graduates entering the work place preferring to seek the short term fixes of strong computing skills, current design practice awareness and the ability to work hard for long hours for little pay without question’ he added.

Zeegen’s paper proceeded to discuss the issues facing design educators from education itself – ‘Matters may be no better from within: many educational institutions often placing more value on issues such as admission and retention rates, external accreditation and health and safety monitoring than providing a conducive learning environment’ he stated. The paper continued - ‘too many courses in design have been trapped in a stranglehold of conformity, trapped by assessment regulations and inflexible modular structures, trapped by systems that work against and hinder rather than encourage and support the flow of creativity. Breaking boundaries, challenging rules and attempting new, untried and untested methods can move knowledge and understanding of the discipline forward; taking risks is integral to successful design education. And that is risk-taking by staff as well as students’.

DETM 05 received national interest in India, reported upon by national television news channels and newspapers. The Times of India noted that the conference had attracted over ‘300 design practitioners and educationists from around the world’. Koshy’s hopes for modern design education creating ‘Glocal’ designers had moved a little closer by the close of the conference.