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Some thoughts on design education

Reflexões recentes (por traduzir): experiências bem sucedidas; críticas e questionamentos; pontos de melhoria; contexto.

Recent reflections: successful experiences; criticism and open ended questions; improvements; context

As a design educator myself I have played different roles in different kinds of contexts: self initiated workshops; guest teacher/lecturer at universities and institutions; and even had a long term design-education project/experiment (A Escola Livre / The Free School, between 2014-17).

After a few unsuccessful experiences in a large institution in São Paulo, I became disillusioned. Most students make a gamble that doesn’t pay off: expensive programs that promise to turn them into design professionals overnight; due to the enormous social and economical gaps in Brazil, most education is very skill / technical / instrument based, rather than providing the knowledge to turn them into more rounded, critical, conscious professionals. As a teacher I have also felt very alienated from the institutions, not being given access to resources or support to do anything other than live up to a superficial curriculum and its expectations.

With that in mind I’ve been developing several workshops (that have pivoted to digital encounters and dynamics since the beginning of the pandemic), combining lectures and practical projects on different scales (from an instagram post to a political pamphlet). Students are simultaneously invited to research, share, talk from their backgrounds and experiences. Critiques are done collectively, and there is a profound feeling of openness, sharing and learning in different levels. I’ve also been working in collaboration with more independent and self initiated “spaces” and initiatives, that are less concerned with the institutional aspect. This has also allowed me to adopt an open subscription method, where students from different socio-economic-cultural contexts can apply and be accepted.

In a nutshell, I’ve been very successful in creating contexts where students can feel accepted and welcomed, share their work and thoughts, collaborate, without the pressure of a diploma, career. Education as a room to breathe, as a space with no hierarchy or preconceived notions as to who teaches and who learns — everyone listens.

There is a profound detachment between design academia and the reality of the profession. Most research also struggles to find its way to actually contribute to the outside world. In return, most young professionals are completely disregarding of a critical view of the practice, championing professionals and finished products, not trajectories and processes.

Education that is very technical/instrumental based attempts to teach the “new trend” in commercial design — design thinking, branding, ux/ui… — and adopts a “one size fits all” approach to students and to the practice of design itself.

How can we educate putting design and designers in relation with other cultures, areas of knowledge? How can we expand the definition of what design can be, and which roles can designers play in society? How can we improve our collective understanding of history, social movements and moments, individuals that have shaped the profession? How can we bridge inequalities and provide a safe and equitable environment, starting from the design school?

Education that is not focused on technical or software-based knowledge, but rather on perennial skills: research, discourse, self analysis, dialogue. Understanding design as a social tool, and designers as social communicators with a role to play in different scenarios and types of relationships. I am a firm believer that this will strengthen their independence, and attempt to bridge structural gaps in unequal societies.

Teaching history not as “pro forma” or “design heroes” based, but instead focusing on how individuals and organizations have used, improved, developed design solutions in response to and immersed in social contexts.

Openly admitting that design is deeply rooted in elitist and capitalist structures. This is a starting point to turn it into a more welcoming and self conscious profession and practice.

/ The emergence of a social network behavior for sharing/liking works, references and doing “research” — pinterest, instagram, behance /

As someone from a mixed race origin (african american, italian, moor) I simultaneously benefit from and am impacted by inequalities and privileges. As a Brazilian I also occupy a strange role in Latin America, both connected and detached from my fellow neighbors. Being from an ever-emerging country with such blatant contrasts, I believe it is very clear to my context all the gaps and challenges that a southern perspective may contribute to the project. I am also a member of the LGBTQIA+ community (recognizing myself as a homossexual cis man). In the past I have been involved with nightlife (producing / djing) in living contact with trans, and non-binary individuals. For the past 4 years I have been working as the art director at a major digital newspaper in Brazil, and this has exposed me daily with several struggles and challenges we have as a society, and also made clear to my how important and vital it is to create work based on research, evidence, information and dialogue.

Categoria: Ensaios