Eclectic Curiosity

Specialization and Design

Posted on May 17th, 2005, by Steve Hardy in Archives, Uncategorized. No Comments

Design consultant and educator Terry Irwin thinks design education today is overspecializing at its peril. In this AIGA article, Specialization and Design, Irwin argues that many new design students have lost sight of the big picture and of their craft’s relevance to larger problem solving.

Graphic design comes out of a craft tradition in which mastery of an area of expertise was achieved only after years of intense study and practice, and the desire to attain this level of ability within a highly specialized area runs strong within us. I myself spent many years studying a particular facet of graphic design (typography), and yet today I feel conflicted about encouraging my students to devote the same amount of directed effort in specialization. …

High degrees of specialization may be rendering us unable to see the connections between the things we design and their consequences as they ripple out into the biosphere and technosphere in ways we aren’t trained to see or may never fully understand. This ability to see ‘wholes’ and think in terms of interconnections and the relationships between things is characteristic of a broad and interdisciplinary education, not a specialized one.

Complex solutions call for interdisciplinary collaboration and often, within highly specialized areas of study, students are not given projects that encourage the development of interpersonal/interdisciplinary skills. These types of skills can only be learned in collaborative situations with other people whose concerns are different (yet complementary) from one’s own.

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