u.s. soldiers touring an army research laboratory, from flickr member RDECOM.

Since the last post a couple weeks ago, I’ve been stewing over what exactly I think is missing from a design curriculum which would adequately prepare young’uns for a new career. More importantly, I’ve been looking at other trades to figure out why the discrepancy between our training and trade exists.

Lawyers, it turns out, have the same problems we do; law schools, like design schools, are terrified of being perceived as trades which can be learned through experience rather than professions requiring university-level training. That’s a reasonable fear, as both situations are actually true. It’s technically possible to pass the Bar exam without a degree in law. It’s really hard, but it’s possible. Likewise, in visual design, we have practitioners who piss everyone else off by effortlessly sweeping aside everything we’ve collectively learned to redefine what it means to communicate professionally—without a college education.

What does that mean for colleges? In a nutshell, it means that they work extra special hard to look smart. They concentrate on theory, they concentrate on ideas, and they totally ignore what it means to work.

Unfortunately, I don’t see any help from any professional design organizations coming any time soon to re-set this skewed balance between the idea of design and the practice of design.

So. In a nutshell, here is a first, off-the-cuff draft of everything I think a young designer should be trained in doing. This is based almost entirely on my experience as a designer who makes his own way—not someone who’s employed by a company. Take it in that light.

First off: the whole shebang should be renamed to visual communications.

  1. Visual training with at least two concentrations
    1. Motion design
    2. Design for online media
    3. Interface design
    4. Design for printed surfaces
    5. Publication design
    6. Environmental design
    7. Design for languages
  2. Business principles
    1. Marketing
    2. Negotiation
    3. Operations
    4. New Market Discovery
  3. Technology principles
    1. Programming
    2. Machining
    3. Supply chains
    4. Transportation

Clearly off the cuff.

But by building this outline, I want to point to a major theme in design these days: we’re not expected to make just logos and boxes any more, but a lot of our educational programs still emphasize that.

At the moment, graphic designers, as we are taught, design the ephemera and the tossables of culture. We make trash. New grads generally make it badly (which has some nasty financial implications for the visual industries).

Imagine how powerful visual design could become if we were taught to integrate ourselves further up the value chain, rather than at the bottom (at the stage of implementation) as we are right now.

Here’s some examples:

A designer might partner with a drilling team and begin to find ways to move water to arid regions using that experience combined with package design.

Designers from print disciplines could learn through supply chain foundational training how to find and utilize fibers with tensile strength, but shorter lifespans. Packaging would sit for less time in landfills.

Language designers—someone with a background in pictograms and typography—could partner with a team experienced in stealth transportation and distribution to allow governments to fight information wars by distributing reading instruction to illiterate populations of autocratic societies.

These are all huge, broadly-sketched examples, and they’re meant to be way way over the top. The point i want thee examples to make is that: young designers could be powerfully utilized in the marketplace if they’re taught as broadly as their thinking actually is. But we don’t do that—we teach them in a narrow band of experience. Logos, books, animation, other one-way narrative forms.

Maybe if we teach designers to be combinant and entrepreneurial at a younger age, we show them their truly endless versatility.