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I had the pleasure of moderating a lively panel discussion on Saturday, April 9 as part of the Faculty Forum portion of AIGA Minnesota’s Portfolio 1-on-1—one of the largest and longest-running student design events in the country. 210 design students from around the upper midwest converged on downtown Minneapolis for two days of workshops, studio tours, and (as the name suggests) one-on-one portfolio reviews. The speed at which the event sold out this year is an indication of the robust state of design education in this region.

The Faculty Forum—attended by more than 30 design educators from a variety of public, private, traditional, and for-profit institutions—was kicked off with an invigorating and provocative keynote presentation by Tom Fisher, Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. Tom took us on a fascinating tour of the challenges and opportunities of design education in a time of change, in part by reflecting on a previous time of change—the invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s. Fisher emphasized this challenge by pointing out how most design students now are digital natives, “it’s almost as if our students are natives in a different land.”

AIGA Minnesota President Seth Johnson picked up on this thread of Tom Fisher’s remarks by elaborating on the significant challenges present for design educators, “The 30,000-foot view provided by Tom Fischer was inspiring and right on target. But I still struggle with comprehending how old-world educational models will respond to the quandary of implementing the changes he’s describing. That’s where the real conversation is — and the real work, too. I’d argue that, unfortunately, most academic programs (and the institutions that own them) simply aren’t set up to quickly adapt to the fast and changing pace upon which our society is now based. What incentive, for example, is there for a non-digitally-native tenured professor to completely adapt her skills and methodologies to meet today’s demands, especially when she needs to continue to teach yesterday’s curriculum to students currently in the antiquated program?”

Tom Fisher’s remarks were followed by a lively panel discussion and Q&A featuring veteran local designers Bill Moran of Blinc Publishing and Bill Thorburn of The Thorburn Group, as well as educators Paul Bruski of Iowa State University, and Alex DeArmond of University of Wisconsin-Stout. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), the panel brought the conversation from the stratosphere down to ground level with a strong focus on the importance of the tangible elements of graphic design like typography. For me, the interesting tension of the session was drawing connections between Tom Fisher’s big vision and the reality of what is happening in the classroom.

Keith Christiansen of St. Cloud State University followed up by email with this comment: “I had the impression you left one question dangling…how do we as design faculty teach social media? It’s definitely important to factor in. I bring it up in my classes and have sited the Geek Girls (Twin Cities-based bloggers and social media gurus, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker) who view it as a new paradigm for communication. The analogy is like in a party where you meet with people in short exchanges and the rule is you can’t be a bastard, over hype or be obnoxious or the Facebook/Twitter crowd will freeze you out. If a client lies or misrepresents, the news will be spread immediately. In other words one has to be empathetic, somewhat cool, useful, provide value and above all reliable, trustworthy. This is a simplistic view of course but I am attracted to the virtues of it as a new communication model. I share that with students and Integrate it with problems posed to them in terms of their projects-how they come to their solutions matters.”

University of Minnesota professor Steven McCarthy followed up by email with this comment: “We didn’t touch on the role of research in design education.” Here’s a link to a recent Eye magazine blog post by Steven on the topic.

Special thanks to Jennifer Price and John Vorwald of AIGA Minnesota for organizing the Faculty Forum. There was definitely an interest on the part of the educators in attendance to continue the conversation!

Tom Fisher, Dean of the University of Minnesota College of Design introduced the half-day Disruptive Effects conference by stating that we are facing “wicked problems that engage multiple stakeholders and will require iterative solutions.” There was a time not long ago when words like these spoken at a design conference would have been considered a bit dramatic. After all, we’re just the ones who make it all look pretty, right? In fact, Fisher was setting up an afternoon of vigorous, inspiring discussions in which designers were being called on to contribute at the highest level of social discourse. Three speakers, including game design guru Jane McGonigal, IBM interaction designer Tom Erickson , and U of M researcher Nora Paul challenged the couple hundred attendees to step out of our comfort zone as we begin to envision this new role for designers.

Jane McGonigal made the most profound case for this by taking us through a simulated game that resulted in a growing list of more than 200 ideas for how a “World Without Oil” might function.

Here’s a clip of Jane McGonigal’s recent presentation at TED:

Below are my—somewhat cryptic—notes from Jane McGonigal’s. For more notes, links, and commentary, check out the very active Twitter hashtag: #disruptfx Read the rest of this entry »

Picture 30I had the pleasure of spending some time last week with Tom Fisher, Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. We had a wide ranging conversation touching on many aspects of design. Graphic design is one of the seven programs within the College which also includes the highly regarded architecture program. While Tom’s background is in architecture, he displays a fluid knowledge of the full design spectrum and how they relate to each other, “I see a lot of blurry edges in the design world,” he said, referring to the overlap between the design disciplines. “With that said, it’s vitally important for a young designer to establish an area of focus and expertise before they begin to branch out.”

One area I was particularly pleased to hear Tom address is the amount of collaboration between the College of Design and other academic areas, like the medical school and the humanities. “The leaders of these programs are seeing design as integral to preparing a student to go out into the world. What’s really exciting is that they are the ones initiating the dialogue.” He spoke at length about the possibilities for cross-programming with the Carlson School of Management, another U of M program with a national profile. “Alison Davis-Blake, the dean of the Carlson School, and I have had some very exciting conversations about bringing design into that program. She really sees design as a way to distinguish the Carlson School nationally and I think we’ll be able to play a key role in helping her fulfill that vision.”

Kern2AiPhone Games for Designers
In a follow up to last week’s post about iPhone app development, I noticed a link on the @Issue blog (which is beginning to come together after a slow start) for iPhone Games for Designers which sent me to the site for FORMation Alliance. They’ve got a few cool game concepts with a graphic design theme, like KERN, a mindless but fun game for type geeks which I had previously downloaded on my iPhone. Frankly their site is written in such indecipherable design-speak that I couldn’t get a very good grasp of what FORMation is all about, but it’s worth a look nonetheless.

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