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.