Meet the Founder
Purpose driven learning at work.
MResRCA PGCHE FRSA
Design education needs to be transformed. To reflect the current complexities of education in an uncertain social, cultural and economic world, I’m reminded of Tom Hierck’s celebrated statement that, “21st century students are being taught by 20th century tutors using 19th century curriculum and techniques on an 18th century calendar”. I’m inclined to agree.
So what is to be done? We are fortunate enough to have some of the best design schools in the world on our doorstep, and after 25 years of my career as a design educator and practitioner here I continue to observe an increasingly fragmented and undervalued creative economy that has made marginal impact into addressing our regional wicked problems, and more worryingly a progressively anxious, despondent community of talent coming into our industry after investing several years of their life in education.
In South-East Asia we face a broad range of social and cultural challenges as our economies develop their S-curve industries across digital, smart devices, the Internet of Things, health tourism, agriculture and bio-technology. I believe in preparing students for these challenges–by making change by and through design, with an emphasis on a rigorous investigation to people-centred design; as it’s our responsibility as designers to make the world a better place. It’s worth it.
The ‘haves’ still have and the ‘have nots’ suffer. I remain sceptical as to the perceived value of design per se, and as to how it remains a ‘nice to have’ both in industry and the public sector, and not a ‘must have’. I want to agitate this complacency. Not to conform, to challenge the status quo because I believe design has an intrinsic value–actually its entire purpose–to help people and by making change.
This ideology was founded on two life affirming experiences: recently at the Royal College of Art where I had the opportunity to re-examine the pioneering work of Bruce Archer, Ken Baynes and Phil Roberts who set out frameworks for design and design education in the 1970s and 80s; and my first job after graduating from LCP (London College of Communication) as a junior designer at Factory Records and the Haçienda with Tony Wilson and Peter Saville. Tony was at heart, an academic, hippy and anarchist, rather lovely summarized as a Cultural Capitalist on his headstone. To me he was all about creating cultural impact through music, design and architecture. Wilson was great for soundbites, many of which I wish I could write here but amongst polite company I will have to keep to myself. Here’s one that’s relevant to this article: “We had a heroic attitude to artistic freedom, and we thought normal contracts were a bit vulgar–somehow not punk. But that was the whole point–we weren’t a regular record label.”
And this is very possibly the DNA of Design School Asia. Learning by doing, or in Wilson’s words, praxis. Wilson had two definitions of this in his life: “doing something because you have the urge to do it, inventing the reasons later”; and later on when I was sat at the desk next to him, “praxis is learning why you do something by doing it”. I think these are both wonderful, and a perfect summation of what we intend to hard wire in our DSA community: hand, heart and head through making and doing.
At DSA we deliver this through our core basic framework of People, Technology and Organisation; a curriculum based on trajectory rather than a position to prepare graduates to succeed in a rapidly changing profession using informed design inquiry methods as the transition of practice as a skill (making) to practice following principle (doing) gathers momentum. Making and doing, I believe, remains the signature pedagogy of design education and we should not lose sight of this as experiential reflective learning through iteration is founded in craft.
Design as verb means of doing something, where the aesthetic is achieved; it can also be the outcome–the assessment of the design activity. Here, design is a noun. Germany and the Netherlands have two different words for design: formgeben/vormgeving–to make things look ‘nice’, and entwurf/ontwerpe–engineering, trying to invent new things that are intelligent and clever. Thus, Design as considered as a word, an action, in Thai, Bahasa, Hokkien and Vietnamese to name a few of our regional languages and dialects is open to interpretation. I believe design is now an agent of change. The subject is no longer focussed solely on aesthetic resolution, but on complex systematic and contextual challenges that can be broken down into manageable elements through the Design (noun and verb) principles of iterating, prototyping and modelling through critical engagement and evaluation that is both interdisciplinary and collaborate.
Richard Buchanan defined the Fourth Order of Design–design of the environments and systems within which all the other orders of design exist, in response to the emerging systematic and contextual challenges that we face and I believe this is best achieved through a symbiotic relationship between industry and education–a “cooperative education” where industry benefits the academy, and the academy benefits industry. This is not new. The first co-op model was developed at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Engineering in 1906, and we continue this tradition. I believe co-op design education is timely for Asia Pacific and encourage other institutions to symbiotically partner with industry and work together for the benefit of our creative industries economy; giving students placements, and a more qualified talent pool for industry to scale up. We also agree with industry in advocating a more inclusive and diverse cohort of students that reflect the trend in adult learners, working professionals, and students with dependents either preparing to transition into another career, or peruse their passion for design–we encourage students from non-traditional backgrounds to consider design as a sustainable career pathway.
Co-op education goes beyond skills and training; it offers students the opportunity to take the learning dimensions from the classroom and apply it to the professional practice of design in the studio. It’s also the blueprint for life-long learning that prepares an intellectual framework for critical engagement to make change: innovation, invention, discovery and intuition, in other words, creativity through insight. We built DSA to nurture this change and prepare our students to become multi-professional. Welcome to our School.
Graham Newman is the Founder of Design School Asia. He has extensive expertise in design education and practice in Asia Pacific for over 20 years having taught at leading universities in Bangkok, Singapore and Jakarta. Graham’s pedagogical philosophy is forged by his Masters of Research experience at the Royal College of Art, and his own design practice during which he has won several international design awards including development of the world’s first interactive music CD-Rom. Graham holds a PGCert in Higher Education (PGCHE) where his aptitude in blended co-op learning environments was grounded. Graham is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) and a founding director of Share, an NGO based in Hong Kong that provides new solutions to change the way modern slavery and human trafficking is addressed, with programmes focused in East and South-East Asia. If you call Graham at 11:45 pm he’s probably sketching with ink and watercolour.
I believe co-op design education is timely for Asia Pacific and encourage other institutions to symbiotically partner with industry and work together for the benefit of our creative industries economy.