What professional practices will the next generation of professionals create?

Ultimately, successful professional practices of the future are dependent on the next generation of young professionals. These people are in school today. What profession will they inherit? What profession will they create?

Based on our new research and interviews design education is going in the right direction and even in the face of uncertainty the future holds promise. The design professions are evolving into increasingly  relevant roles and responsibilities and the talent entering design education today is regarded by educators as the best that it has ever been. 

There is renewed interest in architecture and design education. There is demand for graduates notwithstanding the pundits who have been naysaying design education during the recession. Graduates are finding work. These people are smart, eager, confident, and passionate about architecture and design. They know why they are in school and they have a vision of a meaningful future role as a professional designer. And this is a good thing, for just as you can’t force a student without talent to design well; you can’t force a disinterested person to achieve excellence. Passion is a key part of being a successful professional.

Passion is fundamental to achieve excellence in design education. It is the enthusiasm from faculty teachers that bring to students fuel to learn, to accomplish, and to imagine better futures for the human condition. Faculty passion makes for strong and dynamic schools that are responsible for attracting and keeping the top students.

Sometimes we forget that the future of the design professions is dependent on the supply chain of talent that is born in design education. When we think and talk about the future of the design professions we must realize that education is the most important — the most fundamental resource of all. And this is why the Design Futures Council devotes an entire issue of DesignIntelligence to education and excellence.

In this issue our research on education focuses on the design professions in architecture, industrial design, interior design, and landscape architecture. In architecture alone this year there were 693 different professional practices and corporations who participated in the core research. If you include the branch offices of these firms who participated as well it brings the number up to 833, a new record. In addition, 303 different landscape architecture firms participated, 152 interior design firms participated, and 50 stand-alone pure industrial design organizations participated. The one driving question we asked of each employing organization was this: “In your hiring experience over the last five years, what schools do you believe are best preparing their students for the future of professional practice?” Related questions were asked and each survey requested specific examples of how education is performing. We also received a record 5,735 statements of nomination of those to be considered for the outstanding educator of the year award of which 30 were selected and featured in this issue. The common denominator? Passion for educating, coaching and mentoring.

There are additional dimensions of the research. During the summer of 2013 there were 246 deans and chairs of architecture and design schools who participated in a related study by Greenway Group, as did thousands of students who evaluated their levels of satisfaction with their education. Greenway Group, our design management consulting firm, also conducted a new layer of research and analysis leading to a prototype leadership index based on the number of students from each school who have earned fellowship in the American Institute of Architects (FAIA).

The value of architectural education is trending upward and is most likely higher today than at any other time according to the board of the Design Futures Council. Design thinking and strategy have permeated the accredited professional schools with vital new theories and applications. Business schools too now offer degrees, certificates and executive education in design thinking. The new Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford has become notable for its teachings to the business community and the new curriculum offered at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School (including a strategic partnership with the Maryland Institute College of Art) produce new programs on design leadership. Parsons the New School of Design is rolling out a Master’s in Strategic Design and Management, and Philadelphia University is developing a similar education model. Stanford has begun to market their “Design Thinking Boot Camp” to architecture and engineering firm leaders. Business schools have been faster to incorporate design thinking into their curriculum than architecture schools have been in adopting an emphasis on business skills — especially in the areas of finance, operations, and marketing.

In architecture the shifts in technology, sustainability and globalization have game-changing implications for the future of the profession. There is a corresponding change and a broadening of collegiate choices for students seeking relevant options. The pent-up global construction economy is growing once again after the drop off caused by the recession and the related uncertainty in the emerging next economic models. Today there are large doses of good news for architecture firms as the economy continues to improve in most localities according to the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book region-by-region analysis. Projected architectural fees are topping $30 billion in the United States, with U.S.-based firms earning an additional $3.4 billion in exported service design fees. Moreover, architecture is a growing profession with labor shortages forecast by McGraw Hill beginning in 2014. Some practices report that a war for talent is already underway.

The purpose of the research in this issue is to better understand the currency of architectural and design education in the marketplace and to ascertain the colleges who are providing the most relevant education to best prepare students for today’s and tomorrow’s professional practices.

Each survey response was checked for authenticity and validated by the research staff at Greenway Group. In cases of dubious or unreliable information that could not be confirmed, researchers eliminated the questionable return. The research staff also confirmed that the person responding to the survey was in a hiring capacity.

This year’s research shows that there are a handful of schools that remain dominant while others have adjusted upwards or downwards. While there is a certain year-to-year consistency in the rankings, there is also a noticeable flux brought about by a new building, a name change, a news story, or a brand-changing event that occurs at a campus. Over time we can understand that some schools are better preparing their students for success in the design professions than others. We also understand that while those dominant schools may not be perfect, they are largely appreciated by professional practices for their clarity of value and their durable reputations. Schools of design are diversified. Their academic modus operandi, their geographies, faculties and current communications show a healthy mix of both public and private institutions with broad tuition ranges. There is also considerable brand differentiation.

Professionals who hire graduates have outspoken preferences and often have specific reasons for their opinions and rankings. In the following pages you will likely be immediately drawn to the lists, but we encourage you to look beyond the rankings themselves and further into the analysis and the trends.

The future of the design professions depends on getting the best talent — on recruiting the brightest students into design education and ultimately into professional ranks. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of design education. We encourage you to find your own reasons and to rally around.

James P. Cramer is founding editor of DesignIntelligence and co-chair of the Design Futures Council. He is chairman of the Greenway Group, a foresight management consultancy that helps organizations navigate change to add value.