This is a rehash of my thoughts on anĀ  article written by By Don Norman and Scott Klemmer around design education.

Let me preface these comments with a little of my own educational and professional background. Yes, I have a BFA in Design and Illustration, but art was not my first major in college. I had actually started off down a duel track of pre-veterinarian and political science. Why I moved over into design is a whole other post, so let’s just stick to the fact that despite how disparate these two previous majors may seem, they do have one slightly common core – behavior. In many ways working with animals is very similar to working with people who are nearly entirely emotionally / instinctually driven. Political science could be seen as working with people who are mostly intellectually / instinctually driven.

Why am I bringing up this educational tangent?
Because when I moved over into design, I felt it important to continue studying about behavior when it came to the rest of my non-art related courses. Design, art direction and copywriting can be seen to have incredibly subjective outputs in the professional world. Ask anyone who works in those fields about how they produce their work and they will eventually admit to having put a bit of themselves – their views, their experiences, their emotions – into their work as all of these shape their point of view and eventual creative solution. Most people who view this creative solution will usually respond in both logical and emotional ways, often heavily influenced by their own experiences and common cues reinforced within their society. And because so many courses for these creative disciplines (I admit I can only speak to design with any authority) focus solely on craft, a lot of creatives don’t benefit from having a more complete educational underpinning of human behaviour that could affect how people will react or engage with their creative end product.

sThe “art of design” vs “The career of design” debate
So, now we move on to that old saw of “why do university courses exist”? The age old debate about whether university academic subjects exist for understanding/appreciation of the subject in and of itself or do they exist for the sole purpose of providing adequate job training in a particular area? For creative subjects this becomes craft vs commercial viability.

This is tricky. Design is an excellent medium for self expression and that should definitely not be diminished. But most people do not do a degree in design just to make self portraits all day long or print out their own personal wall paper – most people get a degree in design because it is one of the more professionally translatable courses in the art department.

I would argue that weaving in more humanities based subjects into a design degree programme will only strengthen the overall programme, regardless of whether they help produce more attractive job candidates. By knowing what drives people as both individuals and groups, it can help better inform any creatives about art history, consumer behaviour and even past and present art/information trends. Knowing these drives can directly affect how a designer, especially if they work in user experience, may choose to visually represent their subject matter or information for maximum impact. Even if that impact is incredibly subtle.

Eventually, it’s all gonna change
Once again, I go back to my own experience working in UX design, art direction and other creative outputs. The one universal difference I see between those who are very successful vs those who flounder or eventually “pasture out” of digital creative roles is the difference between pluralistic thinkers and single-minded crafters. The only thing you can count on when it comes to technology is change, and that will affect the creative executions grafted to the tech to make it more humanly accessible. That gap between the cold hard technology and the “pretty” branded/marketing/user experience is where the humanities-based educational underpinning becomes the most crucial tool in a creative’s tool box. Successful creatives THINK, successful creatives RESEARCH, successful creatives TEST and then successful creatives EXECUTE. We’re no longer working with just three browsers and two platforms any more. We’re usually not working in just one language, point of sale or market any more. Flexible, behavior-focused thought and planning becomes imperative to create a solid, compelling framework your clients and customers to engage with your creative output.

So, really, what they said
I definitely agree with many points in the article, but let me get one thing straight – I am NOT knocking any design or creative programme that focuses on craft. Craft is essential to do one’s job in a creative job. What I AM saying is universities should offer some or more behavioural/humanities based subjects as an integral part of creative degrees because it significantly helps and shapes the BEGINNING of the creative process. Craft is highly important and comes at the end of the process these days. So offer your students a more complete creative tool-kit for when they enter the professional world.