Design & Project Management Education

Context: University undergraduate programs are designed to teach critical thinking and, sometimes, research skills. This is especially relevant to faculties of arts and of science, but also others. People coming out of these university programs have been trained to be excellent at identifying problems. The process of thinking critically and identifying problems has been practised for years. These are skills that are not inherently strong, but have been intentionally developed. Being able to design a solution to a problem is a skill that improves with practice, as is managing a piece of work through to completion. These skills of design and project management (or just management) are left out of most universities programs, and most conceptions of what a mainstream education is. Project management is a huge component of the North American system and, based on anecdotal evidence, many people have no idea how it works until years after graduating from undergrad or grad level universities programs. Many people are unfamiliar with the concept of deliberately designing a solution to a problem for much of their careers. HR departments of organizations seem to be offering this type of training less and less, and people are left to seek it out on their own.

Idea: Integrate design schools into traditional universities (like the Stanford d.school), or point to such schools, or at least highlight the importance of this type of thinking while in critical-thinking powerhouses. Same with project management education. Many students at McGill University are great problem identifiers and sloppy designers of solutions. This is not just in sustainability work, it is everywhere. These are skills anyone can develop, and we are not telling people they are important, nor are we giving guidance to them in the mainstream conversation around university education.

Problems:

  • Design hubris. When designing the solution to a problem, the biases of the designer play a big role. Think US government trying to design democracies by military force all over the world. Think well-intentioned white people in governments trying to solve problems of urban poverty with housing projects. Being in the seat of the designer is not something to be taken lightly. The hubris is that designers who feel very empowered feel they can solve our greatest collective challenges and have trouble seeing how their designs may be creating more problems than they solve and/or may be perpetuating a system of colonialization. This article gets at the limitations of design thinking a bit, but not so much the hubris aspect.
  • Project management is boring. But it’s useful to be comfortable and to be able to question.
  • Universities do not necessarily have the people who are experts in these areas, professors may not be good at design or management, and university campuses can be limiting areas for testing out these skills in real-world settings
  • This education is not the traditional role of a university, and they may not see it as their role. Perhaps no one sees it as their role.
  • Budget cuts at Quebec universities may limit new program development
  • No one is saying this at the universities, though it is coming from other parts of society (businesses, media, etc.)

If you want to read an OK-written book with excellent content about design, check out Glimmer.

   

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