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GENERAL EDUCATION AND ADAPTABILITY

The correlation between general education and adaptability makes a belief in

general education for designers widespread, although hardly ubiquitous. This belief

is often tempered by a distinctly anti-intellectual streak in design teachers. In the

mid-1970s, an industrial design teacher of mine told me I was “too articulate” and

that great design happens when designers have no other way of expressing

themselves than with form. Paul Rand, perhaps the best-known living graphic

designer and design educator, recently wrote that a “student whose mind is cluttered

with matters that have nothing directly to do with design . . . is a bewildered

student.”11 Clearly, many design teachers and many design students see “academic”

classes as time stolen from their true purpose—the design studio.

Rand’s denial of “matters that have nothing directly to do with design” places

design education clearly in the realm of vocational training. In addition to his

questionable assumptions about the separability of form from meaning, Rand’s

statement assumes that any current list of subjects that “have nothing directly to do

with design” will apply in the future.

Sharon Poggenpohl, a professor at the Institute of Design at IIT, argued well

for the opposite stance.12 She adopted the term “contrarian” from Wall Street,

where long-term players, recognizing the cyclical nature of the stock market,

determine what everyone else is doing and then do the opposite. I believe design

educators must be contrarians and look at the fact that “practical education” is

neither practical nor education and move beyond, as Charles Bailey puts it, the

present and particular.