At the recent meeting of the Design Futures Council in Scottsdale, Arizona, principals from pacesetting firms, industry leaders and representatives from three top schools discussed how the behavior of schools-—and subsequently, of practitioners—-migh

The survival and future success of all design firms depends upon how effectively they can anticipate and respond to unexpected and foreseeable change. The preparation and training of design students to enter professional practice likewise depends upon the schools and their ability to integrate the ever evolving practice trends into the curriculum. At the recent meeting of the Design Futures Council in Scottsdale, Arizona, principals from pacesetting firms, industry leaders and representatives from three top schools discussed how the behavior of schools-—and subsequently, of practitioners—-might be changed to better prepare its graduates for professional practice. While by policy these discussions remain off the record, the Council agreed to share the key bullet points from the flip charts with the hope that it will encourage further constructive discussion.

This list provides a road map of actions that challenge the status quo. Practical, action-oriented and visionary, these specific ideas can be built upon and implemented to change policies and practices in higher education. While the list was generated during a broad general discussion about the education of architects and designers, five general themes emerged:

1. Role of schools in the profession: How should schools of architecture and the profession relate to each other? How can schools participate more broadly in the profession at large?

2. Curriculum calibration:How should the structure of school curricula be adjusted to reflect the current realities of practice?

3. Expanded Understanding of Design: How can the definition of design be expanded to create a more broad minded and better prepared professional?

4. Expanded Skill Sets: What new generalized skills do young professionals require in order to succeed in the building industry of the twenty-first century?

5. Teaching Practice Execution: What specific areas of competency should be emphasized to complete a young professional’s view of his or her roles and responsibilities in practice?

At the Arizona roundtable, each participant was asked to contribute two ideas about the future of design education, which are synthesized and grouped below. In some instances, similar ideas are found in multiple categories as each contained a different emphasis. These thoughts are presented in their original, unedited form so that the broad scope of the discussion and the breadth of the recommendations is clear.

Role of Schools in the Profession

  • Schools should establish stronger business development and fund raising programs that would excite professional firms to make donations. Architecture and design firms should contribute .25 to 1.5 percent of their revenues back to higher education where they see programs of high repute and relevance. This could generate an extra $25 million dollars a year or more to fund higher education, which would directly benefit the design professions’ future.

  • Design schools should seek to serve multiple generations, not just offer learning that is relevant to new challenges but teach how to “unlearn” that which is no longer relevant to professional practice.

  • Schools should offer more “real world”-based training such as courses on leadership and foster peripatetic learning.

  • Schools should be agile and responsive to change. Curriculum offerings should be lifelong in nature and should reach into each generation’s challenges. Repackage and deliver new edgy offerings to professions recalibrated for changing times.

  • Colleges and universities need to have a brand reputation of being “in the moment” and “in the world.” They should be constantly curious about the latest developments and anxious to reinvent their futures.

  • Schools should think carefully about research strategies and how they may affect academic priorities and the role of the profession at large.

  • Eliminate tenure. Eliminate entropy. Eliminate inertia.

  • Establish a hybrid contract with design school graduates that brings them back to the colleges at certain intervals to share their knowledge, to recalibrate the school’s programs to new paradigms, to evaluate the professors, to speak and lecture, and to establish an aura of co-mentorship in higher education between 3-G teams (three generational understandings).

  • Be at the hub of research relative to both process and products in the design and construction industry. Research partnerships can be established between design schools and professional firms and between schools and product manufacturers and technology providers. This could also include process research with consulting firms.

Curriculum Calibration

  • Establish faculty liaisons with firms and vice-versa. Institute constant sharing and adjusting of programs based on trends and issues of highest relevance.

  • Seek accountability in higher education through independent outside evaluations instead of relying on the typical internal feedback. To reinvent we must move outside traditional jurisdictions where status quo lives.

  • Teach not only what is most relevant today but also what is of most durable importance in light of the new realities that professionals find themselves in today.

  • Integrate design build and design. Construction know-how should be a part of every architects’ studies and should be a key element in the health, safety, welfare benchmarks in the design professions.

Expanded Understanding of Design

  • Don’t teach architecture only as “frozen music” but also as “fluid music” and highly interactive, digital, and fast.

  • College and university leaders and staff need to get closer to clients and users. Focus on people and anthropological understandings in processes to teach the creation of well-designed spaces that serve people in all building types.

  • Get students and faculty out into the world to seek understandings of world (and community) cultures, needs and opportunities. Design schools can become too isolated, which can perpetuate itself into the future of a professional’s life. Schools should become engaged in the vital, authentic stories of the community at all levels that connect with and build upon unique cultures of the world.

  • Schools should have energized standards on green and sustainability expertise including processes and products.

  • A/E/C and manufacturers need to be seen as a part of the “design team.” Schools should teach crossover sensitivity and the redefinition of design teams if clients are to be better served.

  • Explain practice issues, such as marketing, operations, and finance, as design issues. Practice synthesis and design with all aspects of professional practice.

Expanded Skill Sets

  • Teach discovery, research, and reinvention in professional practice.

  • Teach not just how design culminates in product or buildings but how it aids productivity. This should be reinforced in the learning curriculum and the schools’ research agenda.

  • Courses in acting, drama, and communication should be encouraged as a method of teaching power and influence. The physiological issues of influence should be taught in all schools of design and architecture.

  • Implement art, illustration, and drawing benchmark requirements for all in design students. While less time in studio is inherent in many of the recommendations, higher standards regarding the art of architecture need to be established.

  • There should be an understanding of how experiences are created, that architects and designers are experience creators, and that this has broad influences upon clients and users’ success.

  • Teach facilitation skills to students and faculty.

  • Integration strategies should be taught around collaboration, design build, and speed.

  • Create a curriculum that includes increased overt problem solving skills both inside and outside traditional practice in order to broaden the services offered to clients and of most added value to them.

Learning Practice Execution

  • Teach the value of business so that it becomes a life-long value system of constant learning.

  • Design a core curriculum that includes strong business skills as well as design skills. Seek balance and a unifying logic.

  • At the policy levels in design schools, utilize more “free associating” with other professionals and their professional education programs. Build upon innovative examples. Establish stories and case studies around innovation in practice.

  • The curriculum should teach a business development approach to idea creation and how to align design and business skills to aid in the success of professional firms as well as client and personal satisfaction.

  • In the core curriculum, offer a strong program on leadership development. Create an expectation that universities must have strong leadership and that this leadership should be collaborative with other university departments and with leaders in professional practice.

  • Redesign the way professional practice is taught. There needs to be business and strategy integration.

  • Teach courses in “client ship” and how to be a good client. Many graduates go on to work for clients and all students should understand how to get inside the client’s heads and become experts in the client’s businesses.

  • Rebalance design with other professional issues. Establish strategic partnership between schools and firms and other community components that do not require approvals of the traditional jurisdictions. There is built-in inertia in our system of accreditation and licensure that holds back the schools and the design professions from being truly innovative.

  • Team building, collaborative skills, and interpersonal skills need to be developed and stressed as keys to success. All university faculties should go through “team building boot camp.”

  • Explore how other professional service curriculums might be relevant to retune design, architecture, and engineering. For instance, the healthcare curriculum provides illuminating examples.

  • At the core level, include a greater understandings of legal liability and risk-reward decision making. Architects and designers of the future need to be risk takers and entrepreneurs.

  • Integrate business strategy skills with organizational and behavior theory that would include marketing, finance, and real estate law.

This list was generated in the hope of stimulating a continuing dialogue between the industry and the academy. DesignIntelligence will continue this dialogue in future articles. Design Futures Council members are encouraged to build on the list and to comment directly on DI’s web site at We welcome your comments.

—Phil Bernstein and Jim Cramer