Should Design Schools Teach More About Business?

Hello, world! I’ve been itching to do something like this for awhile – that is, somewhere to post and express some of the really interesting things I come across in life as a designer, educator, Pittsburgher, fiancé [most importantly], and project manager.

This first post will focus on the teaching component of my career, or more so the students I have been able to work with over the last 2 years. Over those 2 years and at 2 universities, I have worked with over 100 students. Unfortunately in this economic climate, not many of them have secured jobs within the design industry at all, let alone an architecture/interiors firm. This saddens me a great deal, as I see all of this creativity being manifest in the form of drawings, models, and perspectives that are all a part of a fairy tale project that I make up. I see enthusiasm and growth. I see the moments where they connect with and fall in love with the concept of designing space for people…forever. And yet, little do they know what world awaits them when they graduate. Little do they know how much of a labor of love this industry is – and the key – that real money is only in owning your own design practice.

These thoughts combine well with a poll I just discovered today about how academia treats business education in architectural [or any design field, for that matter] education. Should  there be more education about the business side of design? Should we simply continue to foster the creative environment so that designers can more fully understand who they are as a designer, but put horse blinders on them about what they will face when they leave? Not just with finding a job, but how difficult it is to maintain a business. Was the massive shrinkage of some of the largest US firms a solely matter of economic downturn, or did business strategy also play a role?

What do you think? Here is the poll:

I’ll have my own design firm someday – and good design will be a priority – but so will good business. So far, I have a feeling I don’t have many good examples of design firms to imitate business practices from.

As for my students, don’t lose hope. It may work out differently than you expect, but that passion you feel for design won’t ever go away – you’ll find a way to be successful.

1 Comment

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One response to “Should Design Schools Teach More About Business?

  1. ne personne

    A worthwhile question indeed, and I appreciate both sides of the argument. I’ll argue that the answer is ‘no.’

    Architects (and other design professionals) are, first and foremost, responsible for doing what virtually no one else can: creating and shaping a built environment that provides beautiful, functional and meaningful places for people to live/work/play, while at the same time providing economic value and minimizing damage to the environment. That is not easy. Yes, we all know buildings and places that do this, but the vast majority of the built environment is garbage. Additional business acumen will not directly change this.

    While it’s nice to think that business training can find its way into a designer’ course load without any sacrifices, it can’t. It will come at the expense of something – either an existing course, or faculty member, etc. Design training at the university is a finite thing. The business school is just across campus, and they can teach it better. Students have electives and should be encouraged to spend them on business education, or even to pursue it as a minor.

    School is the best opportunity for one to learn to design, in the truest sense of the word, as we all know that the office and its clients don’t allow for weeks and weeks of design exploration. Already, a lot of schools produce lousy designers without any big ideas, creativity or proficiency with regards to things such as lighting, landscaping, etc.

    A better ‘expansion’ of design programs would be to teach design students as well as others about the value of design – and how to communicate that to everyone they meet – as a means of creating a general public that demands and is willing to pay for good design. 98% of residential architecture in this country does not involve a designer at any stage. Until the general public (home and business owners, corporate CEO’s, institutional leaders, etc.) develop a voracious appetite for good architecture and public places, architects and other designers will only serve a minute part of the population. This is what drags the profession down, and better architects-as-business-people won’t change it.

    Business education is a worthwhile pursuit if one elects to do so, but it should not be mandatory nor come at the expense of something that is far more important to becoming a better designer.

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