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Design Thinking – Careers of the Future

How is the Design department preparing students for a new world? In order to respond to this topic fully we need to explore what future careers and a new world really mean and what the experts say we need to do to satisfy these perceived requirements.

The emerging world for new workers is something we hear about daily and one of the most noticeable areas is in retail where multinational companies are working towards the reduction or elimination of labour and its associated costs by introducing automated computerised systems which interact with the customer.

Mining companies such as Rio Tinto and BHP operate open cut coal mines with remotely monitored, automated excavators and dump trucks thus eliminating labour and heavily reducing costs. Companies around the world are looking at jobs our parents once considered career safe-havens, and replacing them with computerised alternatives. This automated approach to staffing has both negative and positive impacts for the future but it does present opportunities that we as educators need to make our students aware of and prepare them to take advantage of these emerging industries.

The World Economic Forum says we’re on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0), and you don’t need to have seen Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner or Steven Spielberg’s A.I Artificial Intelligence to know that this next one is going to change everything!

With the focus on this imminent revolution, the World Economic Forum has released ‘The Future of Jobs’ report revealing the top 10 skills people will need by 2020 which include:

cognitive flexibility, negotiation, service orientation, judgement and decision-making, emotional intelligence, coordinating with others, people management, creativity, critical thinking and complex problem-solving.

Design thinking in my context is the development of a range of skills which feed directly into the identified skill requirements listed above. The skills I would like to focus on include Critical thinking, Complex problem solving, Cognitive flexibility, Judgement and decision-making, creativity and one other divergent and convergent thinking.

Cognitive flexibility is all about being a mental gymnast and as design teachers we challenge students with design problems that require them to expand their minds using different techniques and technologies to produce solutions to problems with more than one potential solution. Cognitive flexibility is how quickly (and easily) a student can swing, leap and utilise different systems of thought. So how do we flex our cognitive muscles? By learning new processes and learning new ways of thinking. This is achieved with the use of 3D modelling software, prototyping and concept sketching techniques.

Judgement and decision making are the ability to make sound judgement calls based on information obtained from research and experience. The knack for strong decision-making skills is developed over time in design, with students learning from experience, with teacher direction, by mistakes made and gathering information passed on to them through social communication. Students are called on to make diverse judgements and decisions to reach a complex solution. Today students may ask themselves:”

  • Is it modelled using 3D technology?
  • Is it prototyped from scrap materials?’
  • Is it made by hand?’

Creativity is predicted to become a key skill in the future and is fundamental to design. In Design students are put through a process of divergent and convergent thinking techniques where they explore ideas to problems that at first may seem so impractical that they are impossible and then through a process of judgements and decision making they converge those ideas to come up with a creative solution to the problem presented. It is this development of a student’s abilities to connect the dots with seemingly disparate information and throw all their ideas together to present something ‘new’, that develops a creative person.

Critical thinking is logic and reasoning. Critical thinking involves being able to use logic and reasoning to interrogate an issue or problem, consider various solutions to the problem, and weigh up the pros and cons of each. This is one of the corner stones of Design and students are challenged throughout each unit of work to develop solutions to problems they come up with individually. It is the application of critical thinking that often determines the successful outcome of their proposed solution.

Complex problem-solving in a nutshell, is about having the mental elasticity to solve problems we’ve never seen before and being able to solve them with increasing independence. This one skill is considered the holy grail of skills required for the future and I see it all the time in Design. Boys today no longer have the tinker time their fathers did due to a variety of reasons and their complex problem-solving abilities have been adversely affected by this. This is evident in the emerging difficulties students have coming up with solutions to problems they encounter during phases of the design process but the design problems they encounter at school allow them the opportunity to tinker, explore and problem solve with many mistakes along the way. I personally believe that this is one of the greatest strengths of Design in that it allows boys the opportunity to fail and learn which is a prised element of design.

University of Melbourne lecturer in Digital Architecture Design, Paul Loh believes there will always be a strong call for people doing design but there will be a more segmented way of dealing with it in the future. He says “New technologies like 3D printing will offer new opportunities. New technologies in construction and manufacture, including 3D printing, offer new opportunities. Some might shift into animation, set design, graphics and branding; while others specialise in “wayfinding” – designing ways to move through spaces such as airports or shopping complexes. There are also opportunities in audio-visual technologies, from gaming to “walking” clients through designs in virtual reality.” He believes that architecture is multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary now that by designing you are impacting the urban realm, aspects of sustainability and impacting on people’s experience and their lives.
So now we come back to the original statement ‘How is the Design department preparing students for a new world?’ This can be answered in more than one way. In Design we aim to create young men who are not afraid to learn through making mistakes, allowing them to explore crazy ideas, forcing them to change preconceived notions, expanding their minds by presenting them with complex problems and tasks and then allowing them to push themselves beyond where they thought they could go.

As good educators, we introduce students to emerging markets to learn how to apply what we teach them to the real world and see how these skills can be applied in ways that provide them with the opportunity to create unique opportunities of their own. It’s all part of #futureproofingyourson

Sean Smith
Head of Design & Industrial Technology

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