The AIGA Design Educators Community (DEC) set aside time during the fall to collect data around the needs of design educators and better articulate the value proposition of the DEC. I co-chaired this important organization from 2013 -2015 and now work to advocate for design educators through my role on the AIGA Board of Directors

Below are select slides. The final presentation includes data design educator personas and pain points, as well as DEC initiatives to meet those identified needs. Many thanks to my awesome grad student, Alysa Buchanan, who volunteered her time to design the presentation. Download the full pdf here: AIGA_DEC_Educators

AIGA DEC Mission: The AIGA Design Educators Community (DEC) seeks to enhance the abilities of design educators and educational institutions to prepare future designers for excellence in design practice, design theory and design writing at the undergraduate and graduate levels while supporting the fundamental mission of AIGA.  Objectives AIGA DEC was established in 2004 to support the unique activities and responsibilities of the design educator at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels in a wide variety of institutional settings.

AIGA DEC Value Proposition: AIGA DEC connects a diverse group of design educators to one another and to industry so that they might generate and receive guidance, support and vision via pedagogy, scholarship/research, and career advancement/pivots.

Types of Institutions: Research Institutions, Independent Art Schools, Liberal Arts Colleges, Community Colleges

Types of Faculty Positions   Tenure-track and tenured faculty  Contractual faculty (long-term and short term contracts)  Adjunct faculty (often also practicing designers in industry)  Administrators

Persona 1: Susan Works full-time for an independent art school in major urban area. Has a contract that is renewed every 5 years with evaluation metrics similar to fine art faculty.  Associate Professor Age: 45 Degree: BFA in Graphic Design Teaching load: 3/3 (3 courses each semester) Works with 4 full-time design faculty and a large pool of adjuncts. Enjoys working with fine arts faculty generally, but relationship can be strained as they compete for resources.  Stays connected to local design scene.  Runs freelance design practice on the side.  Struggles with heavy service load (committees, advising, organizing events, recruitment).  Attends design conferences less frequently than she wants to because of a lack of travel funding by her institution. The only available funding for faculty development comes from internal grants. These grants are very small and require a tremendous amount of paperwork.  She wishes for a more comprehensive plan to support independent learning. Teaches a large number of international students creating challenges around language barriers.  Worries about losing students to UX/UI and illustration programs.

Persona 2: Zeke Works full-time in a liberal arts college. Program situated within a fine arts department.  Tenure-track Assistant Professor Age: 31 Degree: BFA in Fine Arts with concentration on Design. Teaching load: 3/3 (3 courses first semester and 3 courses second semester) Works with 2 other full-time design faculty and numerous fine art faculty. Design is the department cash cow with increasing enrollments while department struggles to fill classes taught by older, tenured fine arts faculty. Fine arts faculty control much of the curriculum during the first two years.  Attends DEC conferences each time submission is accepted for presentation (only funded if presenting). Applies to many conference to achieve tenure-driven goal of presenting at 2-3 conferences each year. Actively solicits collaborative projects with professors from other disciplines across campus. Struggles to develop defined area of research and find venues for publishing. Wishes he had better writing courses in grad school to prepare for the rigor of scholarship. Under pressure by administration to facilitate industry partnerships for sponsored studio projects but has no idea how. Worries that he is “not keeping up” with new developments in technology. Bases his curriculum on the project structure he experienced in undergrad. Wishes for more sample projects and case studies. Business school just started offering a “Design Thinking” course that is diluting the value of the design methods he teaches in his own courses. He’s not sure how to defend this territory from the encroaching, much better funded business school. Constantly asked by administration and various departments to either do free design work himself or recommend students to do free design work. Wants to create an inclusive classroom environment that deals with sensitive socio-political issues and/or neurodiversity but lacks the time to attend institutional events/training that supports this goal.

Persona 3: Kayla Works full-time in a Tier 1 research institution. Program situated within a College of Design.  Tenure-Track Assistant Professor  Age 37 Degree: BGD (Bachelor of Graphic Design) Teaching load: 3/2 (3 courses first semester and 2 courses second semester) Works with 4 other full-time design faculty, as well as faculty from Architecture, Interior Design, Industrial Design and Landscape Architecture.  Enjoys facilitating sponsored studio projects with various companies. Uses these projects, as well as her own research area, to stay at the forefront of the field. Teaches in the grad, as well as undergrad, design program. Serves on 5-6 master’s level committees each year with no compensation.  Publishes around 1 journal article each year. Attends and presents at 1-2 conferences per year, both nationally and internationally: AIGA DEC Conferences, DRS (Design Research Society) Conferences, as well as the occasional CAA (College Art Association) conferences. Networks actively with fellow educators. Travel is funded by sponsored studio projects.  Under tremendous pressure to bring in grant money. Needs to be PI (primary investigator) on at least one big grant before going up for tenure.  Wishes for more expertise writing grant proposals and finding grant opportunities. Struggles to balance heavy research demands with teaching responsibilities. Confused about the tenure process at her institution and worried she won’t make it through the university level committee review. Struggles to communicate the value of design to non-design collaborators inside academia. Other academics often view designers as a pair of hands to come in at the tail end of their large research projects.

Persona 4: Nate  Works full-time in a community college. Program situated within Fine Arts department.
 Assistant Professor (Tenure is called “continuing contract”) Age: 40 Degree: AAS Degree in Graphic Design.  Teaching load: 3/4 (3 courses first semester and 4 courses second semester) Enjoys watching students—as many as 65%— transfer from his 2-year degree and thrive at 4-year programs.  Works to communicate to students and other programs that design is more than knowledge of software products. Often successful
 in this regard.  Teaches with 2 other full-time graphic design faculty and a large adjunct population.  Wants to attend national design conferences but often lacks time, and sometimes funding, to do so. There aren’t enough faculty to “sub” for one another during conference attendance and there isn’t a strong emphasis on professional development in his program. 
  Wishes there were more options for membership and contact with AIGA for his students of low-socio-economic status—the current cost and time commitment for student members make it prohibitive. Class sizes have taken a nosedive due to population decline but is now starting to move up again. Classes are often in flux—added and staffed with adjuncts when needed.  Required to participate heavily in college service, outreach, etc. which often conflicts with time for scholarship and/or freelance design work.  Struggles to keep a balance between basic design courses/foundational technical tools and newer curriculum in only 2 years. Often has to backtrack and teach skills that adjuncts failed to teach.  Labors to teach students basic skills because students either don’t possess their own computers, have antiquated computers, and/or can’t afford Creative Suite or have family commitments that prevent them from practicing the basic skills outside of class. Often feels dismissed by 4-year program colleagues who don’t recognize the value of the 2-year degree program.

Persona 5: Julia  Works full-time as a department chair for a Graphic Design Department at a Tier 2 Research Institution. Tenured Full Professor. Age: 51 Degree: BFA in Graphic Design Teaching load: 1/1 (1 course each semester) Enjoys making a real difference at the policy level. Struggles to fill holes as her stellar faculty are promoted to admin roles, taking great teachers out of the classroom. Needs to find ways to make sure the senior faculty that remain in the department stay current within the discipline and can relay that information effectively to the students.  Feel disconnected from her field and the ability to deliver relevant content to her students due to the workload and learning curve of being an administrator. As a department chair she wears both hats of educator and administrator.  As a new administrator, she is learning on the fly how to write (grants, proposals, evaluations), build and balance budgets, fundraise, cultivate partnerships, manage operational functions, plan for growth, promote programs and more. The university offers some training and orientation but the learning curve is steep.  Feel daily pressure from above and pressure from peers, but receives low financial reward and has little real authority. Misses her relationship with peers prior to her tenure as a department chair Went into administration because it was her only path for career advancement in higher education. As a full professor she would have maintained the same rate of pay throughout her career.  Struggles to leave time for her personal growth and development while advocating for peers.  Frequently has to make the case for recurring funds to be allocated to have industry standard tools and resources available. Spends huge swaths of time on recruitment and retention because university level counselors and recruiters rarely feature or speak about design as a career choice to prospective students. Has to develop leadership skills on the job as she transitions from faculty to administration. There are few affordable options for academic leadership training and even fewer for leadership within design.

In sum…  What main service is the DEC providing?  Access to a community of design educators facing similar challenges and high quality opportunities.  What is the end-benefit of using it? Participation in an active community as both experts and learners in the areas of pedagogy, scholarship/research, and career advancements/pivots.

What makes the DEC’s offerings unique? The DEC serves as a hub for the many sub-specialities of design education.  As a part of a professional association, AIGA DEC helps forge contacts and partnerships between industry and education.  The DEC enables faculty to engage with the same organization, AIGA, as their more industry-focused students strengthening the synergy between education and industry.