Sample Extract from Design for Business Vol. 3
Models of Design: envisioning a future design education

This article offers a large-scale view of how design fits in the world economy today, as well as the role of design education in preparing designers for their economic and professional role. The current context of design involves broad-based historical changes, including a major redistribution of geopolitical and industrial power from the West to the East. A model of six global economies delineates the challenge and opportunity for design practice and education. While the six economies developed over time, all now fit together and design creates value in different ways across them. Understanding the economic context of design education gives clarity to the educational mission, differentiating it from other forms of education. The author argues that design professionals now require a broad range of analytical, conceptual and creative skills related to the social and economic context of design, along with advanced skills in a design specialty. A taxonomic chart of design knowledge delineates the range of skills and knowledge domains involved. 

The context in which we live exerts a decisive influence on the nature of education, and determines the meaning of what it is to be educated. History, economics and politics shape the nature of our times and the education that suits them. Design education today takes place in the context of a post-industrial society and the industrial age that gave rise to it. It also takes place in the context of the multiple economies that weave together to shape our times. To understand what design education is today – and what it must become – requires us to understand the changing shape of the contemporary industrial economy against the global background of the new Asia-Pacific century.

The rise of China as the world’s second most powerful economy challenges the assumptions of western industrial democracies. Eric X. Li recently argued in the New York Times that the competition between the West and China is not a clash between democracy and authoritarianism, with democracy is an obvious and necessary goal. He argues that a ‘form of government, or any political system for that matter, [is] merely [...] a means to achieving larger national ends’ (Li, 2012).

Li poses the two great experiments in democracy against the durability of China. Athens was the world’s first experiment in democracy, but lasted little longer than a century and a half. Democracy in the modern West is the second such experiment; but democracy as a system within which each citizen has one vote is less than a century old.

For Li, the contemporary experiment in democracy dates to the European Enlightenment and the success of the Industrial Revolution. He argues that the current politics of democracy is leading to the uncontrolled and unequal accumulation of wealth – a form of excess that will shape a modern version of the demagogy that destroyed Athens. Li quotes Nobel Laureate Michael Spence (as quoted in Kristof, 2011) on the shift from ‘one propertied man, one vote; to one man, one vote; to one person, one vote; trending to one dollar, one vote’. In the 1780s, Pennsylvania politician William Findlay articulated the central rationale for interest-group politics. This worked reasonably well in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in a world in which America was one power among many. When America holds a position as the world’s most influential economy, the triumph of special interests affect more than the greater society of the United States: they dominate the globe (Wood, 2003, pp.165–66; see also Cornell, 1999). Today, the once plausible democracy of Findlay’s special interests has given way to the paid-for politics of the new demagogues. One result is the struggle of western industrial democracies and the difficulty they have creating enough decent jobs to support all their citizens, themselves and their families with dignity. Since most design professions involve shaping goods and services within large industrial economies, this political-economic context is one key to the realities of design education today and in the future.

The profession for which we educate designers today takes place against a context with several dimensions. One of these is the context of the democratic industrial societies that gave birth to (and require) design services. At the same time, other models of industrial society are reshaping the world.

The clash between Chinese dissidents and the government at Tiananmen Square in 1989 rendered the conflict between the democracy of individual freedom and organized state economies visible (for example, see Thornton, 2000, pp.162–87). This conflict became visible again in the global financial crisis of the current decade. The radical power of financial interests to uproot businesses and destroy individual lives has grown in the wake of deregulation. In this era, legislators in the world’s greatest industrial economy redesigned the tax system to distribute wealth upward to the wealthiest one tenth of one percent of the population. In turn, increasing their wealth and their capacity as an interest group to reshape the economy increases the wealth of those who benefit from systemic change, despite the fact that the system as a whole grows poorer. On a global basis, an even smaller percentage of the world’s population shares the world’s wealth. One result has been to hollow out manufacturing and the productive capacity that once defined industrial democracy.

To continue reading this article purchase your copy of Design for Business volume 3 here



Posted by Becky Megson at 16:18 (0) comments
Share this:   ShareMore
Your tags: Please login or register if you don't have a user account.
Post a comment