Design: All-in-one and One-for-all

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AEF’s upcoming colloquium, “Arts, Design, Fashion: The New Frontier of Higher Education”*, has triggered discussion over the potential for transversality between Design schools and universities especially as creative disciplines in France have not traditionally been academic ones.

Design has never been on the academic radar in France. Design studies on campus are few and far between, at most. Those that have made their way up the academic ranks do not date all that far back, and are often kept hush-hush.

Also off the radar are design colleges and seasoned practices in Design research. Tapping into the fields of management, human and engineering sciences has not helped Design research to further clarify its scope, but rather muddy the waters on what it is the field entails and the topics it addresses.

When it comes to the international scene, Design research colloquia flourish; however, their offering, overly vast and wide-ranging, makes navigating through the content an extremely perilous task. With themes such as “Organizing a milk collection cooperative to help foster economic and social empowerment among isolated Indian women”, “Invasive 3D: Education and knowledge”, “Design and value-added generation in industry” and “The power of color on purchasing”, it is often hard to figure out in what direction Design research is headed, although all of the above topics fall under its umbrella. The time has now come for academics to take action, and reflect upon how to convey this new and far-reaching movement with clarity and conviction.

Maybe, though, that’s not where it’s at, for there are more pressing issues out there with greater relevancy, such as asserting the influence of design and showing how it can be an asset to other fields. Therefore, this clarity or definition lacking in Design research topics may, ultimately, take a backseat to the role Design embodies as a compelling catalyst for knowledge generation across all fields of study. Design’s ability to tackle problems from another angle, combine the thought and creative processes with concepts and experience, meld manual and mental labor, and manage complex issues requiring a solid grip on a vast number of specialties makes it a must in any self-respecting university curriculum, forging a bond between the “hard” and “soft” sciences and enabling them to establish common ground and mutual understanding.

Joining forces with universities and their think tanks would be an outstanding opportunity for French Design schools, not to mention a prime lever of change. Design training schools in France today lack state-of-the-art facilities, are spread out, and few in number, if not inexistent, abroad; therefore, collaborating with Academia would mean defending the edge underlying their research labs and reputation. It would also mean enabling the spotlight to be shone upon French Design education know-how by creating a legitimate spot for it in college curricula and by acknowledging its worth in both the research and knowledge-generation processes. Since Design has never been considered a field of study in France, the chances of it getting gobbled up by what may seem to be an ever-perpetuating labyrinth of petty rival wars, those often responsible for severely hampering relations between business schools and university management faculties, are slim-to-none. There has never been a more fitting time to reflect on competitiveness and business management than now.

* Thursday, October 13, 2016, at the EHESS [L’École des hautes études en sciences sociales (School of Higher Education in Social Sciences – SHESS)] – François Furet Amphitheater – 105 Boulevard Raspail – 75006 Paris

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