Redefining the learning experience within the design education at Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava

Michala Lipková, Zuzana Pergerová, Zuzana Turlíková

SUMMARY

Digital and communication technologies have accelerated the flow of information and its transition to knowledge. Interaction, speed and open-source platforms that emerged with the rise of the internet, access to vast scientific data resources, or even peer learning force the world to re-evaluate and redefine not only the old conservative model of institutional education but also the meaning of fundamental terms like “education” and “knowledge” as such. Formal education in the field of design and information technologies, due to the rapid development in the practice of these disciplines, is certainly one in which traditional research practices combined with the length of standard funding and publication cycles cause knowledge delays and its rapid obsolescence. Traditionally, art and design education has inherited a strong focus on individual work and manual craftsmanship. Industrial design as a discipline has been focused on physical products ever since. The complexity of societal and scientific problems requires a change in this approach. The need for both inter-personal and intra-personal qualities – soft skills – has emerged. Furthermore, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary cooperation has been called for by the business sector and policy-makers. The importance of soft skills is increasing both globally and in design education. The Future of Jobs Report 2020 released by the World Economic Forum indicates that half of today’s working population will be required to re-skill in a five years’ time. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought double disruption of the economic impacts and the ongoing demand for automation. The paper aims to present the specific data gathered in an extensive survey on the future of design education investigating the key skills, knowledge and abilities of design students and recent graduates. The survey was conducted among alumni of the Institute of Design at the Faculty of Architecture and Design at the Slovak University of Technology (FAD STU) in Bratislava, current students, followed by deep interviews with the teaching staff, company representatives and HR managers. The results indicate a deficit in the soft skills in design education. As much as 45% of the alumni stated that their perseverance and self-motivation was insufficient, whereas 36% of them lacked both development of critical thinking and creativity. Only 21% declared the ability of effective cooperation in teams. The second survey, conducted among students in the design study programme (full-time) at FAD STU in 2019, led to similar outcomes. Students asked for more extracurricular workshops, competitions and internships. On the other hand, they self-reflexively declared that they are weak in time management and therefore are rarely able to participate in design contests. They named the need to focus on improving presentation skills, encouraging foreign language interaction, developing design thinking and including more lectures about design philosophy to support argumentation about the meaning and purpose of creative concepts and the impact of design in society. Students also suggested focusing on practising professional communication in order to advocate for their creative concepts and learning how to make quick decisions in a dynamic world, followed by more opportunities to experience teamwork. The data regarding the future of design education and the inevitable need to support soft skills cultivation not only in the Slovak labour market have been complemented with the statistics of Profesia.sk, the biggest job portal in Slovakia with overlaps to V4, as it expanded to Hungary (2006) and the Czech Republic (2007). Despite the fact that the position of a “designer” is still mainly hard-skill oriented, the advertised positions increasingly demand good communication skills, independence and responsibility, as well as analytical or logical thinking or resistance to stress from applicants. This could be due to the fact that product or interior designers in Slovakia mostly start their own business and tend to work alone or in small teams, without the need to hire staff, while the majority of positions at Profesia.sk is advertised mostly by small and medium enterprises that can afford to hire drawers of technical documentation, 3D modellers, web designers or often DTP or graphic designers. The third survey was conducted in May 2020 and targeted university teaching staff in design study programmes in the V4 countries. The survey, among other questions, investigated the essential, key knowledge and capabilities of a well-prepared and competent design graduate of the future. The outcomes have fostered identification of an essential soft skill set for a young design graduate who is about to enter the labour market. The natural need to develop creativity, critical thinking, complex problem-solving and active learning in contemporary design education requires new approaches to the learning process. Through the introduction of three new approaches to design education, represented by the nonlinear learning, the student as a critical agent and new roles of the design tutor, a selection of emerging educational strategies will be described and compared. The follow-up strategies resonate in contemporary discourse and reflect the cultivation of skills, confirmed as lacking in the curriculum by the surveys.

Keywords: creative thinking, design education, design graduates, interdisciplinarity, learning experience design, product design, project-based learning, soft skills, teamwork, vertical studio