If I taught design

If I were responsible for a design curriculum, the first year of study would be focused exclusively on usability.

Students would sit with people and watch them attempt to use various things. They would watch people use mobile apps, kitchen appliances, car dashboards, etc.

They would watch people trying to understand various media, starting with posters, fliers and short videos before progressing to art, literature and non-fiction, and see where they were able to sharpen or change their understandings in fruitful ways.

They would follow customers as they researched insurance policies, enrolled in them, then filed and received claims. Then they would follow the same processes from the employee side, observing actuaries, agents, CSRs, claim investigators and so on. Then they’d observe the leaders of these organizations to see how decisions were made that shape the employee’s responses to customer needs.

They would go into schools and watch what teachers do, not only in the classroom, but also late into the evenings and early in the mornings, all seven days of the week. And they would also watch school administrators hang out in meetings deciding what else to require teachers to do. And they would learn about the experiences of students from various backgrounds, in the classroom, around school and at home.

They would observe political institutions at the local, state and federal level, and see how laws and policies are hammered out. Then they would observe the implementation of these laws and policies, and compare intentions with actuality.

The second year would be redesigning these artifacts, experiences, interactions, processes and organizations — but solely in order to fix existing problems. No rethinking, only improving.

The third year would be dedicated to innovation — to understanding people, interacting groups, institutions and use contexts, and rethinking systems to make them work fundamentally differently, or to do entirely new things nobody has thought of.

The fourth year would develop the students’ sense of form, aesthetics and craft.

If, after making it through this demanding program, students felt willing and ready to bear the sacred responsibility of designing real products and services that real people will actually use, experience, or even adopt and incorporate into the fabric of their everyday lives, they will be required to earn an advanced degree and to go through rigorous examinations to ensure they can be entrusted to design and play a part in shaping our material and spiritual existence.

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