The future directions at Parsons, the School of Design Strategies

I could do with a little help :-)

I have been asked to participate in a workshop at Parsons New School for Design New York.

Naturally I am very honored. Specially since the other participants (so far) are Fred Dust and Ryan Jacoby from IDEO, Roger Martin from Rotman, Jannene Rae from Peer Insight, and Bob Feldman, Feldman and Partners and David Armano.

So needles to say... I could do with a little help.

The general purpose of the workshop is strategic advice, about the future directions at Parsons, the School of Design Strategies, and particularly about its undergrad business degree program, which is currently focused on Design + Management. This is not the same as Design Management, so I'm told, but more like business design or design thinking about value propositions.

I'm trying to form an opinion on this and I would love to hear what your thought are on this matter. I'm thinking out load, so forgive me for rambling.

We can discuss what a future graduate needs to have under his or her belt to be successful. This is probably very important. But I can not predict the future. For example, I have not been trained to do the work I do now. No one ever heard of service design or self organizing-online-social-networks back than... come to think of it, there was no such thing as 'online'.

So maybe its an interesting possibility to turn things upside down. Designing a program bottom up, human centered.

It's not just about what you teach, but how a school connects to peoples life's. To me a school always seemed to have a strong claim on 'learning'. As if I could only learn if I went to this building and do exactly what I was told. I felt that only when I read a book approved by school I was actually learning. It took me a long time to realize I could learn very well by myself. Even though no one would hand me a diploma for it. The diploma is definitely not what matters. Like I said, I was never trained by school for the work I do now.

Learning is something we do all the time. It doesn't start when we enter school and it doesn't stop when we leave it. One could easily argue that we learn a lot more from real life anyway. In real life we learn the essential stuff. Does what we learn at school not reflect real life? Or is it simply that we can not predict the future. But than we should stop pretending that we know what we are training our children to do when they grow up. We haven't got a clue.

The school system and what we are tought in school should be a natural part of life. Turn learning into an ongoing process without focusing us on the end. The graduation, the diploma, freedom.

A school is a service provider, and could providing a platform for ongoing conversations. Empowerment is essentially what it is all about. School should provide us with the tools to keep learning.
Don't offer short moments in time, but be organic. Don't see school as a building and some moments during the week you have to sit down and study. See it as part of the community we belong to... School is a community. We should come up with more ways to co-producing value, create a feeling of co-ownership. Turning school into a community of practice.

I'll be doing a bit more thinking! And I will tell you what results the workshop produces.

But for now I would appreciate your thoughts!!!

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Comment by Arne van Oosterom on February 10, 2010 at 14:29
Thanks for this video Michael (Thought I embed the video so when someone reads through the conversation it will stick out better)

Comment by Michael J on February 10, 2010 at 14:21
Folks might find this vid at Fora Tv helpful in framing the conversation. Argues that "innovation" has to be more precisely understood to get from here to there. about 20 minutes at ForaTV. Umair Haque: Achieving Behavioral Innovation To me, it seems very in line with "design thinking" insights.
Comment by Rui Dias on February 10, 2010 at 13:22
Hi Arne!

Jeff Johnson from Complex System Society has a view about the future of the learning process and dynamic platforms to suport it. He talks about an dynamic ecosystem of information.

Have fun in NY!
Comment by Andy Polaine on February 9, 2010 at 20:58
GK – I've been aware of NextD since it started and appreciate much of what you are describing, but I do have a couple of issues with the way you have framed your history lesson.

The first is the accusation that everyone was asleep at the wheel. This simply wasn't the case – there have been plenty of people in design education trying to engage in change within their institutions and your description doesn't acknowledge the environments in which those people were and still are having to operate. The Deans, Vice-Chancellors and Education Committees who end up determining much of the structure are far from being leaders in design education (or any education). Some of them barely understand design beyond the fact that some company in Cupertino make vaguely successful, shiny, Walkman-like things. If you're going to argue the value of integrated thinking, it's essential to be aware of the nature of teaching design within an institutional setting in which the dominance of huge faculties (such as science and engineering) play a huge role and the position of art and design colleges that were ingested by these universities in the 80s. (Granted, that's not the issue at Parsons). Then there is the context of government funding attitudes to design in education across the entire range of education and the differences between education and the (imaginary) free-marketplace in which much of the business innovation thinking you are describing exists.

The second issue is the assumption that those working in design education and/or discussing this here aren't aware of the history you just outlined. It's not news and I don't think anyone here is saying that these are necessarily new insights. This really points to the root of the problem: why, when this knowledge is there and so many people involved in the teaching of design are also aware of it, does nothing change? Pointing to the fact that there hasn't been a significant reaction to what you coin "Design 3.0" (and I wish we could drop the versioning suffixes) doesn't really provide a solution to what we already know and that makes you as guilty as anyone else of sophomoric discussion does it not?
Comment by Michael J on February 9, 2010 at 20:19

Thanks for adding the info at Aalto Univeristy. All new (2me) and lots to digest. I was particularly taken by "

"Aalto University considers artistic activity and the related research to be equal in status to scientific activity: art and science alike are engines of change in our society." Perhaps a useful frame would be to follow up on a comment by Andy in the conversation about business models. To the best of my memory, the notion was that research grants can be a significant income stream to supplement tuition, as in the sciences.

Perhaps this is one of way of clarifying the discussion. Off the top of the head: Art = Basic Research, Science = systematic theory in the sense of hypotheses + evidence, Design = Engineering. Business Innovation = appropriate engineering in the service of solving a real problem to create wealth. In this scheme, design might be "Communication Engineering"?

Rather than using "design thinking", perhaps Art, Commercial Art, Industrial Art would more accurately point to the particular craft skills which define our profession. It seems to me that "design thinking" is merely a sub set of the scientific method applied to various subject areas.
Comment by Anne Stenros on February 9, 2010 at 19:37
Hi, rather than talking about design thinking, we should discuss about the potential of design (driven) innovation. The origin & methods are pretty much the same but the connotation is different. Especially when we talk about social innovations and service innovations, design thinking as a human-centric, holistic approach is necessary. What comes to education we have established in Finland a model of 'three diciplines' i.e. three universities (technology + business + art&design) has join their forces for one called 'Aalto University' with multidiciplinary apporach to education, teaching and research. The first name they suggested was actually the 'Innovation University'. The concept is new so the results are not visible yet. The aim is to educate people to understand the bigger picture and have multiple paths available. Learn more:
Comment by Michael J on February 9, 2010 at 17:28
I have to wonder whether Design Thinking is the best framework to see the path forward. While it does resonate for those of us coming from the design discipline there has been such a convergence of methods and problems in many disciplines that perhaps it's time to move on.

There's an interesting conversation at that makes for thought provoking reason on this point.
Comment by Daniel Christadoss on February 9, 2010 at 11:51
GK VanPatter, that was a thought provoking story.

Quoting you "The business schools were much more strategically minded and aggressively on the move directly into the organizational transformation space. (That space is growing not shrinking ie: That’s where the money is folks.) The truth is the business school leaders were much better marketplace listeners. They were much better at thinking strategically for themselves, their institutions and their graduates. They knew what they wanted and went for it with gusto.

With significant parts of the design education community sleepily lying under the Nussbaum/Martin bus, by 2009 the first-mover Design 3.0 education maneuvers were over. In the course of 3-4 years a couple of savvy so-called observational “stakeholders” transformed themselves into aggressive, playing for keeps, “industry experts.”

Now we will have to Extend Design Thinking a little more. There is a lot in that story.
Comment by Ned Kumar on February 8, 2010 at 21:37
Thanks Andy. Just to complete my list (missed out on one key point) :-)

f) Good "Change Management" a necessity: We are dealing with people here, whether it is the faculty, administrators, students, or corporate blokes. So enforcing a change using brute force, no matter how good it is for the long run is going to be an effort wasted as you might not get a shift in inertia big enough to carry it forward. We need to ensure that we have good "change influencers" to sheppard the process --which could entail sympathizing, empathizing and even taking a step back a few times before suggesting the actual change we want to implement.
Comment by Andy Polaine on February 8, 2010 at 20:11
Ned, great summary again. I agree wholeheartedly with the points, especially re-evaluating the nature of worth and value. To me this seems to be where either an actual or version of triple bottom line thinking would work well as an evaluation of either faculty or an institution and, perhaps, the students (especially when evaluating their "success" or "worth" after graduation). Once you let go of the "do more with less" paradigm, it frees you up to think about innovative alternatives. I think it's worth thinking about how one would go about designing an institution from scratch, also imagining that no uni or college had ever existed, and then working back from there.

I've enjoyed this conversation very much too. Whilst I've got everyone's attention here, I'm going to be running an online collaborative project exploring this very issue of re-thinking higher education with a service design and innovation approach. I'm just writing up the info and building the intro site for it in the next couple of weeks, but I'll be putting the word out there to get students, academics, practitioners and anyone else interested, to apply (it'll be free, but I want to keep the places limited so we can work fairly intensely over a short period of time). If you keep subscribed to this thread, I'll post about it here. I'm very happy to say that Arne has agreed to be one of the Special Guests too.


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