The Future of Design Education Initiative

Why design education needs to change

The vast majority of college design programs still focus on the surface appearance of artifacts, despite declining employment in this type of practice. These conditions triggered this initiative to rethink design education for the 21st century. One priority of the initiative is to provide an in-depth, evidence-driven academic foundation for design decisions. A second priority is to help designers to become advocates for social and environmental responsibility.

Design education faces significant challenges. Designers today are often asked to address new kinds of problems at scales quite different from those of the past. Increasingly, design problems focus less on discrete artifacts for communication and manufacture and more on a diverse range of designed processes, services, systems, and communities. Some designers address complex sociotechnical systems that range from issues within local communities to multinational issues, such as the United Nations list of 17 sustainable development goals. As the power of design receives greater attention from industry, government, and society, many new opportunities emerge. Designers need a different kind of education to be able to address these issues.


Meyer, M. W., & Norman, D. (2020). Changing Design Education for the 21st Century. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 6(1), 13-49.Changing Design Education for the 21st Century - Science Direct United Nations. (2019). (Source: Science Direct)
United Nations: Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved July 28, 2019 from (Source:

The FDE initiative and its goals

The Future of Design Education initiative was conceived and founded in late 2019 by a partnership between the Design Lab of the University of California, San Diego, and IBM’s Global Design Group. The World Design Organization joined as a co-sponsor. An intensive consensus-building process has resulted in a small executive team, a Steering Committee composed of leading designers from academia and industry, and more than 600 volunteers ranging from undergraduate students to distinguished deans, department chairs, and industry executives representing every region of the world. These volunteers populate our working groups and provide overall assessment and advice in the content development process.

Creating curricular suggestions for a field as large and varied as design is a considerable challenge. To guide us, we restrict the kind of design we are addressing. We have sought guidance from other disciplines that have engaged in similar efforts with similar wide-ranging institutions, professional and academic practices, and multiple sub- disciplinary specialties.

This initiative focuses on design practice components that impact people, communities, and society. We do not address fields that do not directly interact with people. For example, engineering design usually emphasizes materials, structures, or programming algorithms with little concern for the impact on people. While this is often appropriate for the work they do, most of Engineering Design does not fall within the scope of this initiative. But we are relevant to most educational programs called “Design.”

For advice, we considered several disciplines (business, law, medicine). We ended up using the procedures followed by computer science, which has institutional variety and other needs similar to design. Computer science developed an efficient organizational structure and process for doing a thorough review of its curricula, making sure that it was appropriate to all kinds of educational institutions from two-year training through the multiple years of coursework of major research universities of the world. They considered instructional practices for two-year technical degrees, three- or four-year undergraduate education, and graduate education, including terminal professional master’s degrees and PhD programs for those who wish to work in universities or research. Therefore, the Future of Design Education initiative adopted the computer science structure and procedures and expects to follow its time frame of ten-year reviews. Each takes roughly three years.

Just as Computer Science made sure that the recommendations were appropriate to a broad range of educational institutions, we intend to produce content and pedagogical suggestions which different kinds of institutions can use in whatever manner is useful and appropriate for the institution’s goals and resources.


Joint Task Force on Computing Curricula— Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and IEEE Computer Society. (2013). Computer ScienceCurricula 2013: Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Computer Science. cs2013_web_final.pdf (

How the initiative is structured

There are four issues that the initiative is structured around:

  1. Principles underpinning work in design;
  2. Themes of knowledge;
  3. Characteristics of incoming and graduating students;
  4. Pedagogical and curricular principles.

The eventual curricular guidelines will consider the wide range of themes within all the different sub-disciplines of design and divide them into three categories: Core, Specialized, and Electives.