Educating Design Leadership: Pt. II

Before we dive into the subject of educating design leadership, let us ponder on the term ‘design education’. Adding adjectives to the word design renders a fresh perspective, for example, ‘designed education’ and ‘designing education’. At this point, I am upright bias to acknowledge that design education is in turn, a result of design by its own distinction.

Allow me to rephrase, “design education needs to be designed, to educate design.”

Education requires design; To identify issues, brainstorm for ideas, shortlist the solutions, testing methods, obtaining feedbacks, refining a process. We termed it the ‘teaching plan’, ‘course plan’, ‘syllabus’, or ‘modules’. These intentionally designed education plans create an outline to affectively learn and evaluate any design subject
or majors.

Course objectives, learning outcomes, coursework and assessment plans are parts of a well-designed education, applied to teach design formally. It seems that Design and Education is inseparable, nor will it ever turn into an arbitrary or spontaneous practice.


Design; A plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings before it is built or made.


Education; The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, an enlightening experience.


Yet a systematic setting to any design education challenges the conception that education in design relies on the pedagogy of design educators. The struggle lies between adhering to paperwork and documentations, balancing off with its emotional and humane side. While pedagogies depend on individual qualities and experiences, wouldn’t it contradict with the fundamentals of standardised education?; To grade and divide students based on potentials.

Given that design education is bind by its definition of education, it is unlikely to remain a question of holistic learning anymore. A much needed query is on how able are we to design an education, to progressively impart design leadership as a part of design education?

The truth is that our options are limited, as far as formal education is concerned. It is rare for topics on leadership to be listed in an undergraduate’s module, what more on exploring design leadership within a context of practicing design? But it is a silver-lining, as leadership qualities require development with experience, the real action of doing and failing.

To teach, is for others to understand. The teacher to stand above others. To lead, is for others to follow. The leader to stand in front others, leading.

Should the definition of leadership translates to ‘the action of leading a group of people or an organisation’, what could possibly ignite a designer to be in a state or position of becoming a leader? For any designer to realise a gap or need that could be filled by his or her awareness to make a difference, what could kindle such passion if it’s not from being inspired by other’s leadership to do the same? If that motivation is true, our perception on the limitations of conventional education to teach design leadership is invalid. In fact, these trivial concerns have distracted us from integrating design leadership into our design education plans.

The education of design leadership, is mainly to inspire by leading, with words and actions.

Hence it is imperative that design educators uphold their teachings, at the same time to advocate as a leading role model to inspire design leadership among students and learners. Pedagogy alone is incomplete to create the urge or ability to do or feel something in a person. To inspire, one must bring himself to care, with mutual respect and ultimately integrity.


Leaders make good decisions learned from mistakes. To make mistakes, make bad decisions from good leadership.


Most design educators including myself learned through the hard way, to realise that the lack of leadership in students is in fact a direct reflection of our own leadership. It is hardly ever a generation-gap issue, nor does it really involve the kind of upbringing or social inequalities. We who are associated in the business of education, failed to constantly remind ourselves that our role is to assist students in bridging and transiting between levels of education.

Some design educators including myself also learned through a reflective way, to realise that a ‘hardball’ approach results in more harm than good. In contrary to the notorious belief that design education should also include some sort of ‘informal’ teachings, tormenting students with an excuse to prep them for the industry were merely an act to satisfy one’s egotism.

To care with respect and integrity forms the basis of inspiring leadership, a form of educating leadership that could be retained and passed-on to benefit the next person. Empathy and allowing mistakes open-up room for growth, further amplified with positive choice of words.

Although it is assumed that the nature of creative industries are hesitant to allow such time-wasting costs, we must realise that leadership qualities within individuals are fostered only through trust and respect. The rest are just work and tasks to accomplish, in which a considerate leader casts aside any human noise, emphasising only on leading and inspiring.


If there is a flaw in the system, it is either outmoded, or it never have worked in the first place anyway.


Indeed there are shortcomings to design education, that we are probably aware of. We might be far from grasping the idea of educating design leadership, yet I believe drawbacks motivate possibilities. Of ideal conditions that we have visualised for design and creative industries to be, what is missing is for us to connect with each other, to inspire altogether.

We live and work in an interdependent eco-system. From a design business point of view, it is imminent to place qualities of design leadership at the forefront of making change and breaking old chains. Educators are doing the best they could to cultivate design leadership, what could businesses contribute in channelling part of their efforts toward a common goal?

By |2017-08-18T08:57:39+00:00February 14th, 2017|Thoughts|0 Comments

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