Education in design

in: Pedagogia del Disseny, Themes de Disseny, Gustavo Gigli SA, Barcelona 1991


I do not know if it was Gorbachov who first spoke of the
<European house>, in which many nations can develop in
freedom and peace under one same roof.
The idea appears again in a European Community project
presented by Andrea Branzi and Giuliano Molineri and a
symposium of the Council for Education and the Munich
Design Centre had the same title. The concept of the <European house> pleases me because it involves different personalities, because it understands multiplicity as a quality and because it supposes a common roof.
It would be a fascinating and demanding venture to describe and evaluate the personalities in this house. It would become especially difficult if we wished to say something about its common roof.
I should like to confine myself to German traditions as they are to a certain extent the foundation stone of the <European house>, and I wish to say something about the tradition in my school, since my contribution to present-day design education has its roots there.


The Bauhaus and the Ulm School of Design have become
international concepts in design education. The basic teaching of the Bauhaus has had repercussions everywhere and the Ulm School of Design has contributed much to what can be considered the international style of classic design.
Both of them, however, the Bauhaus and Ulm, are not such isolated examples of the German contribution to design teaching as history represents with its simplifications.
I should like to cite two personalities, as they have both
taught in my school. One is Adolf Hölzel, who taught in my
school from 1905 to 1919 and whose teaching of <visual
means> superseded the academic education of the 19th
century and substituted new parameters, which were later to foster significant developments.
Among the students, alongside others of importance, were
Johannes Itten and Oscar Schlemmer who brought their
fund of ideas to the Bauhaus and developed them further
there. Willi Baumeister, too, one of the most important of
the post-war German painters, was a student of Adolf Hölzel. His constributions to typographical design in the
twenties opened up radical new paths. After the war he was highly appreciated as a teacher and the students of the
slowly developing applied arts courses sought his criticism
in just the same way as did artists and sculptors.
Another was Bernhard Pankok, a painter and architect.
Graphic sketches on paper were for him eclectic and unsuitable for the education of designers who would have to take up the challenge of industrialization. He set up workshops with master craftsmen and so combined artistic education with practice in craftsmanship.


It is not difficult to cross the bridge to present-day design
education. The tradition of my school has taught me that
<free and applied arts enhance each other> and that,
although they have different contents, their <visual means> are the same – an inheritance of Hölzel and Baumeister.
The recognition of the fact that practice with tools and
materials is of a superior quality to graphic practice is
somethig we owe to Pankok and is the basis of the deep
appreciation and generous spread of workshops here.
The Bauhaus didactics, as formulated by Hölzel, had
repercussions after the war, thanks to former Bauhaus
teachers or teachers closely allied to it. They showed me the meaning of <graphic bases>.
In the fifties and sixties all schools came under the influence of Ulm and the <Bauhausers> had their problems with the Ulm school. For the younger generation, however, the scientific complement, propagated by Ulm, was soon generalized. And this generation, now no longer young, pertinaciously defend their positions and do not identify with the postmodernists.
Because of extra-parlamentary opposition the following
generation politicized the designer and directed him to his
social role. The present generation, inspired by Italy, is
attempting to stand up against the tried and proved – thanks to Sottsass. Sensuality and sensibility become new qualities and have led to new ways of teaching, to conceptual thinking, to experiment and to the meaning of form. The modern and the accepted are in conflict.
Where dialogue takes place – so I hope – something new will arise, an interpretation of design which has freed itself from the narrow concept of functionalism and with this
opening out is finding modern forms of expression. This
process is not completed yet and we can only hope that the
social themes are not lost along the way.
The art schools in the Federal Republic were never <Schools> as the Bauhaus and Ulm tried to be. They lacked
a homogenous philosophy. Their repercussion was diffuse
and not significant enough to present an easily understandable public image. However, their pragmatism was a demonstrable quality, since by accepting sincerity they could adopt and elaborate new impulses.


The curriculum at the State Academy of Art and Design is the result of the European tradition, with recognizable roots in German design history and the accepted experience of the institution itself.
In the seventies new impulses were taken up and knowledge from professional practice was incorporated into the curriculum. This derives from project practice and has its own content logic.

The following diagram shows seven areas from which educationally significant material is taken; it describes the underlying objectives and their explicit application in the form of lectures, seminars, exercises and project work.
The projects are the backbone of the educative process
and comprise the greatest part of study time.
Diagram 2 (next page) again shows the organization into
seven fields so that they can be seen to have, if read vertically, a simply expressed but decided coherence. We can also see the relationship with the phases that comprise the activity involved in the creation of the project, as understoodtoday, that is, as a situation in the methodology of design.


The <exercise of construction and design>, anchored to
the teaching programme run parallel to the study of the
project and are the basis for the practice of creation. Three
examples will serve to illustrate this:

5.1. The task of creating a stable dice with equal sides in
different materials requires knowledge of geometry, gives
knowledge of dealing with materials and methods of preparing them, and tests craftsmanship. The exercise has proved to be useful, since it is close to the problems encountered in real projects and is practically inexhaustible. The exercise is aimed at developing first practical experiences and aesthetic criteria.

5.2. The exercise of wrapping two geometrical bodies is also derived from a classic design exercise. Wrapping given
components and giving them form is found over and over
again as a subject. This exercise will encourage us to explore the principles of formal creation.

5.3. The task of creating three <service> elements so that
it is apparent from the form whether they must be pressed, turned or pulled is difficult especially if the elements have to bear some formal relationship. It is a prototype exercise on the subject of <product semantics>, because the problem leads the student to the point of combining stipulated differentiation with formal-aesthetic harmonization. The exercise is a field of experiment for understanding the sensibility of a form.


The project study represents the kernel of design education. This requires knowledge treated as specialized subject themes in one definite project exercise, which must be carried out at both content and formal levels. In this, method plays an important part because it is the operative key in dealing with many-sided exercises.

6.1. There have appeared two ways. One is the classic way which sees the project as a deductive process. It is derived from practice and divides into the following phases:

– Situation of the problem
– Analysis of the conditions
– Definition of the problem
– Outline of the concept
– Evaluation
– Project

The deductive process of the project has proved opportune when dealing with clearly outlined project problems.

6.2. The other way, the result of methodological and didactic experimenting, is a more inductive strategy. It makes use of the results of research into creativity and aims to stimulate this through divergent thinking. It is still early to talk of a fully developed methodology but we can certainly mention strategies which pin down and enrich the subject:

– The search for perceptible archetypes
– The search for analogies from related fields
– The search for elegance
– The search for forms of expression from the liberal arts

The inductive strategy has proved appropriate for exercises in which it is not the marketable product that is of first importance but in which concepts are required: in studies which predict trends in development and try to give them form.
Every designer uses deductive and inductive methods side
by side through intuition. They have been presented here as two distinct ways in order to facilitate understanding of them. They are, in fact, two sides of the same coin with the aim of stimulating innovation.
Historical aspects, however, are also recognizable in the
two ways: the classical, deductive way is the application of
common sense, an offspring of the rational attitude and the
basis of a functional interpretation of creating.
The inductive way, the way of the postmodernists, is an
attempt to apply, above all, emotional qualities.
The teaching of method is, as we can see and in spite of its claim to general legitimacy, a child of its time and seeks
contemporary ways to solve problems imposed by that time.


After so much on background, didactics and methodology, something must also be said about content, something
about what concerns the designer. Asking pointed questions is a good German tradition and I find it my duty to do so here.

7.1. We have the old inherited <education in taste>, with
its idea that a better product gives birth to a better man. It is precisely this concept that has become deeply rooted in
Germany but it is also highly questionable.

7.2. We have the conception of <timelessness>, the idea that there exists a form which has run the complete gamut of stylistic errors and can now go on existing ad infinitum.
This idealistic and unhistorical interpretation also needs examination.

7.3. We have the problem of <identity>, the question of
whether designers should follow global tendencies or give
form to regional expression. This question, raised so often in the underdeveloped countries, is also a problem for the
industrialized nations, who must define their responsibility
and articulate their role within a global economic context.

7.4. We have the <North-South conflict>, from the Western point of view, the problem the industrialized nations
have in maintaining themselves in the face of cheap labour
countries. The designer must answer the question of how he can be prepared for this challenge and what position he will adopt towards it.

7.5. And we have, above all, the massive challenge of ecology, the sensible use of resources. The impending
trans-formation of the economy in the next decade will mark the end of the society of disposable goods and will also demand completely new values from the designer. He will have to ask himself in what ways he himself is contributing to the sustainability of the environment. He will have much to learn and must not evade the question of whether we can any longer afford the ever advancing process of product differentiation.
We stand again at a beginning and many tasks lie before us. Marketing advantages conceived for the short term, stylism conditioned by the moment or professional ambitions must all give way. Our ideological forefathers held ethical positions; these are not asked for in a utilitarian society.
Awareness of the environment, rationality and a sense of
responsibility for the future form the new basis and
advanced thinkers in the field of the economy have recognized this. Designers (and design education) must take into account all aspects of life. With calm, intelligence and inventiveness, they must develop a responsibility for:

– Propagating social conciliation
– Representing ecological sensibility
– Giving form to individual necessities in such a way that
they become desirable

– and all this in a true European tradition!

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