In the last couple of years, I have noticed an increase in the conversations surrounding and questioning our current approach to design education, and the institutions where that education takes place. These discussions were mostly pessimistic and limited to critiquing the structures under which they function, while lacking any attempt to look beyond that. This and my personal experience as a graphic design student, is what raised my interest in exploring what alternatives ways of learning exist, and how these have supported their communities in creating a more critical graphic design practice. This thesis will pose a comparative analysis of mainstream design education in the UK with alternative methods of design education, in order to identify the shortcomings and benefits of both and explore new possible ways of approaching design learning.
For the sake of this scope, I will be mainly focusing on critique and experiments that have originated from my frame of reference, that being UK Higher Education. Having said that, I have devoted the last chapter to some International examples; for a better understanding of what the world of independent educational projects is beyond the limiting borders of the United Kingdom.
Some clarification should be made about the differences between what I will refer
to as Systematic or Institutional Education, versus Educational Projects: Systematic education refers to the current tradition in Higher Education, the mainstream approach used by most universities. It can only be changed by political or economic power as it is dependent on governmental bodies or business oriented agendas.
Educational Projects are the proposed alternatives to the mainstream ways of approaching design, often independently built by small groups of people that are not affiliated with more prominent institutions. Self-organised educational projects are usually carried out with the participants involved in the process of organising; while in universities, the norm is for students to be the subject of a pre-conceived programme.
To set a clear structure for this analysis, I have divided the topic of education into three areas. People: Those who do the learning; Curriculum & Method: What is learnt, and in which ways that is done; and Space: The physical, virtual, and social spaces where people learn, and the scale at which they do so.
The first chapter will explore the current general climate of UK Higher Education, as well as the different socio-political forces that have shaped it into what it is now. Beyond this introduction, I will lead on to how that current state plays out explicitly in the arts and design education sector, which will allow for an outline of some of the limitations of institutional design education in the UK.
Following that, chapter two explores how Independent Educational Projects function and what sets them apart from university settings. It inquires revolutionary ideas in pedagogy, such as those proposed by Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy Of The Oppressed and bell hooks’ practice of Engaged Pedagogy. In doing that it explores a range of case studies putting these methods to practice, all of which started in London. In addition, throughout the chapter I will lean on auto-ethnographic reflections from my experience in QoQoQo Summer School.
Finally, the last chapter, looks at international case studies that have bound together the conceptual benefits of self organised education and the structural ones from mainstream education. It explains the reasons why educational projects may be a more fitting mode of carrying out design learning, as their flexibility allows for better creative development.
Before getting started, I would like to make my point of view clear, which is that of a white, European, middle-class woman. I am aware that within the design industry and education in particular, I am quite the cookie cutter case. As it will be later explored, lack of diversity in all of its shapes is one of the main issues faced by design education, as this historical bias has left many voices excluded. Through this exploration of alternatives, I hope to be an ally in the efforts towards shifting our current design education system towards a more inclusive direction.