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In The Know

Tania Spława-Neyman is a sessional lecturer at the School of Fashion & Textiles and a PhD candidate at the School of Architecture & Design, RMIT University

In The Know


June 10th, 2014

Words by Tania Spława-Neyman

I consider myself lucky. I am affiliated with an educational institution that values design for its own sake, fostering innovative and not always commercial modes of designer-ly thinking. This could be seen as flying in the face of the needs of students, who want to be appropriately equipped for their future workplace, and the needs of industries that will become future employers. There is some legitimacy to the common criticism that students graduating from design programs are unfit for employment and simply too many in number. Certainly, as a fresh design degree graduate in the mid-nineties, understanding where I might fit within the design industry was difficult, an experience shared by my peers, many who are now employed in fields unrelated to their degree.

From my current perspective, as a design lecturer for the past ten years, I see this experience being re-enacted by contemporary graduating students. For those students who are employed in their field there is an obligatory on-the-job learning of skills and systems, often specific to the business or practice within which they are employed. This reveals the difficultly that educational institutions face when attempting to impart industry relevant skills through their curriculum, particularly when the possible career paths related to any design degree are unquantifiable and frankly, impossible to predict, especially within the present ever-changing, techno-centric world. This causes me to ponder – what is it that design education teaches?

My concurrent viewpoint as a higher degree student undertaking a PhD through practice-based research, allows me to see the role of the university in a quite different light. Design within educational institutions and specifically within academia has the privileged position of being able to work outside the constraints of the commercial world, and so being is obligated to explore possibilities outside, or even critique the current status quo. The most fundamental truth, that I believe is crucial for design education to teach, is that design makes futures – different futures, futures that are more desirable (hopefully) than what we presently experience. The responsibility that accompanies design as both a value producer, and as the creator of future scenarios must be embedded within the mindset and practice of designers to be.

I believe the abilities of every student completing study in design must span these three areas:

  • the positioning of their work and practice within the context of current systems
  • an adaptability and aptitude to innovate beyond the present
  • a broad understanding of the effects and affordances of their design activity – what is destroyed through this creation, and what continued effects are likely?

This is the direction in which I would like to see design education going, a pathway that is surely within the true spirit of design.

Tania Spława-Neyman is a sessional lecturer at the School of Fashion & Textiles and a PhD candidate at the School of Architecture & Design, RMIT University


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