The fast food degree
In my previous role, as the program coordinator for the interior design/architecture, during consultation meetings with students they would ask me: “How can I finish my degree quickly?” I used to get irritated with this question and ask them back: “Would you like fries with your degree?” The question implied my irritation to fast-track through a highly technical and philosophical degree such an interior design/architecture. Also I wanted to get the message across that higher education degrees are valuable and not a fast food chain. I would lecture the student about the value of their degree and how we need the 4-year duration of their course to equip them with the right skills for the industry. After running the Never Ending project my perception changed.
I realised that times have changed for students and educators. Technology is now part of the classroom life; it is driving the expectations of students’ and academics’ design pedagogy. Even there is a high pressure on students to finish their degree quicker and start earning money, since life responsibilities have become harder. While the four-year degree is the standard, determined by interior design/architecture international associations, such as: IFI, ECIA, APID, IDEA and others, the interior design curriculum content and structure should be flexible enough (similar to the interior design profession) to accommodate intensive studios in order to offer flexibility of learning and collaboration.
Shifting perspective through international collaboration
That was my perception then before I co-ordinated the Never Ending Project. The project was an intensive global multi-diciplinary studio that ran for 1 week between Melbourne, Paris (Penninghen) and New York (SVAID). By the end of the week students designed, documented and exhibited a drone docking station ready to be build at 1:1 scale (see previous blog). In short, in this one week intensive global studio, students achieved better results than in a full semester studio. They had to generate raw design ideas with no time for self-judgement and had to meet deadline; their confidence and professionalism increased through the daily collaboration with international partners and colleagues. In one week through the Never Ending Project students were able to gain international perspective and experience, learn the significance of visual, verbal and written communication, work in teams and with students from different cultural and disciplinary backgrounds. This increased their confidence through online and offline collaboration with international academics, students and industry partners, allowing them to gain through independent and long life learning: design, construction, effective communication, research, project management, and leadership experience. Is this not what we try to teach our students in a full-semester studio? These criteria are included in every interior design/architecture syllabi and curriculum.
At the end of the Never Ending Project, in one week, co-ordinators witnessed an increase in students’ confidence in design and in communication skills, to the point where we witnessed a transformation in students’ personalities and professional skills. Students travelled virtually into other continents, as described by a student from SVAID who said: “It was like being in an exchange program for a week,” said Jung-eun Sarah Hong. “Your drawings and your ideas would travel to two different countries before they came back to you. It was amazing to see how the design transformed and adapted to cultures and geographies as it kept circling the globe.” (The Never Ending Project: Designing for Drones Across Continents).
Students Finding their calling in now week
In order to teach students leadership skills and to mimic professional practice, during the Never Ending Project coordinators asked students to elect their team leaders for each design teamand a project manager who were allocated . The responsibilities of the team leaders are to manage and supervise the quality of the drawings and the deadlines. By giving students responsibilities they were able to learn from their own mistakes and understand the value of time and effective communication. By the end of the week students found their calling; they found what they were good at. Some students transformed into project managers and leaders, others they found their calling in digital softwares, drawing, or in verbal presentations and so on. We teach students these skills for four years. This transformation usually takes a year, two and even more, it took one week of communicating with other students across continents about their design for students to find their passion and to understand the value of these skills.
Interior design/architecture international accreditation
During my role as an international reviewer for interior design/architecture programs I usually examine the ethos of the program, industry and international outreach, benchmarking, market research and the rigour of the curriculum content, knowledge, skills and assessment criteria based on critical thinking, theoretical, practical, technical, communication and design skills. Student and academic research outcomes must align and be based on current practice and educational pedagogy. If an interior design intensive studio can achieve similar/better student outcome in one to two weeks then why do we persist in teaching only full-semester studios, especially to third and fourth-year students, who could benefit immensely from international and industry experience? I do understand the business case-study from a higher education perspective, however by examining intensive studios, higher education might find that they could have better financial and educational outcomes. Another question is why do some universities insist on the rigid curriculum structure with little to no flexibility of running intensive studios into their curriculum.
These types of studios encourage collaboration between local and global industry and university partners, which are university requirements for academic growth? When we decided to collaborate on the Never Ending Project between the three universities, it was our determination to make it work despite the curriculum rigidity. The initial reaction from my university was a ‘no’. I was told: We do not have the time or the flexibility in the curriculum to run it.” If I would have taken ‘no’ for an answer this amazing project would never have happened. It took a ‘yes’ and meeting with the right person (the Dean of Education at the time) to encourage me to run it.
Technology-driven design pedagogy
In the Never Ending Project, we have used traditional methods of face-to-face feedback and review with technology being the driver to bring ideas, students, collaborators and industry together across continents. We have worked through the rigidity of the curriculum structure and turned it into our advantage. During the Never Ending Project, technology became the vehicle driving the design pedagogy. We used interactive design-based computer applications to support students-led global projects. With technology changing and reconditioning, our brain, society and education, it is natural that it should also change teaching and learning and the simultaneous interaction between students and their lecturers. Coordinators ran the Never Ending Project studio, similar to a professional practice studio, where designers work on an international project with another team in another country. By running the studio as a design practice we were able to align design professional practice to education requirements. Student project managers were offered an opportunity to lead their team, similar to an interior design professional practice.
Realistically speaking, there is a disconnect between interior design education and professional practice. Many universities are attempting to bridge this gap, however unless we start running design studios similar to design professional practice there is always going to be a disconnect. This means giving students the opportunity to make quick decisions, be responsible for their own actions and accept that they will have a quick short deadline to finalise a design project from concept to execution. As the international leader exhibition and interior designer Anita Budai D’Souza said: “If we are lucky (in practice) we will have 2-3 weeks for concept development, research, planning, and context”. If we know this about professional practice, why do we keep giving students a full semester to design one project when we can get better outcomes with intensive studios and this will align with professional practice expectations? This will improve the expectations of the students once they graduate; they already have been trained to make decisions, manage a project or a team of designers, work with international partners and take responsibility for their own design decisions.
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For any further queries, contact the authors of the project.
Also See Cumulus publication of NEP titled: ‘A never ending project into future design spaces’ http://www.cumulusnottingham2016.org
Also see media releases on the project: http://blog.sva.edu/2015/10/the-never-ending-project-designing-for-drones-across-continents/