Educating Design Leadership: Pt. I

The words ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ are usually synonymous. Place together the words ‘leadership’ and ‘business’, it remains valid. Try putting together the words ‘leadership’ and ‘design’, and we now enter a brand new territory. How does a designer connects oneself to design leadership within the context of his or her study or work environment?

Today, we have a plethora of information through literature. We subscribe to feeds and podcasts, we can even select to consume contents relating to any topics on design businesses, innovation, and management. Despite the enormous amount of available information, from my 8 years of teaching experience, I discovered that many have been leading without realising. There is no right formula for leadership, let alone design leadership. If design leadership is essential today, why hasn’t this conversation begun in design education?


Leadership; The action of leading a group of people or an organisation, the state or position of being a leader.


Let’s first establish the fact that leadership is not an emphasised subject in our design institution’s syllabuses. Systems and protocols alongside rules and regulations have been the basis of organised learning; to progress via instructions, to qualify through evaluations, to receive knowledge in the absence of arguments. Secondly, schools and institutions require dictation from the top, to streamline teaching practices and auditing assessments on knowledge-transfers or practical-trainings, all in the name of awarding certifications.

Think outside of the box.
What if there is no box to begin with?

We encourage out of the box thinking, but are we aware of the size of our own box or how it looks like? We say “be more creative”, however we demand our teachings to be obeyed and not be questioned. Where education is concerned for innovation and critical thinking to flourish, leadership aspects in design education took a toil to achieve breakthroughs.

Yet by placing leadership within the said context of education has its benefits inside the current conventional models. Ask any design educators if this makes any sense at all, and they will be too embarrassed to admit otherwise. A design student needs to be prepared of adapting changes, filling design needs in the industry and to act as though they are already a Professional. Additionally, it is imperative that an undergraduate is sensitive to and self aware of social responsibilities as a designer. It relies on exemplified leadership by action.

“Unknowingly practiced by some, intentionally developed by a few, consequently ignored by the rest.”

Are we able to inject sentiments of leadership in design education today? Can we divert restricted learning of design education to include developing leadership traits? Can we expect from design educators to inspire leadership qualities under the current education system?

Through real collaboration and concerted efforts from design educators, I believe there is a real possibility that this can inspire learners to foster leadership qualities. Share with us your thoughts or stories on design leadership from your classrooms. It could only come from you.

Next Week: Educating Design Leadership: Pt. II
“…education of design leadership can be achieved only with inspirations and leadership”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *