These are rare and wondrous times to be a college president. Everywhere you look, the value of a university degree is being scrutinized. Political types and families are asking for accountability in higher education. What real difference does education make in the lives of our clients? Our clients, of course, are the students and the professions they serve. This effectiveness question goes for design education as much as anything else. Students want to know: Is it worth it, and is it relevant? The question is even more pressing right now, with the start of fall terms around the country. So I thought I'd spend this week in conversation with a few educators, to talk about the value of a design education.
Professor Peter Fossick with a student.
I'm going to start with a man named Peter Fossick, who teaches in the Savannah College of Art and Design industrial design department (Peter is also the coordinator of our new program in service design). He's a native of Manchester, England, and has worked in London, Glasgow, Paris, Berlin, Hong Kong, Silicon Valley, and now Savannah.
PW: Okay, Peter. On more than one occasion, I've overheard you say, "Design is changing." How do you mean?
PF: Everything is moving toward service design. Design is becoming more intangible, less about product and more about the experience of the product. Look at Vélib', the bicycle rental program in Paris. The technology is ancient—it's a bicycle, after all—but the program is so brilliant thanks to the service architecture. I'm not saying we'll stop inventing new products. I'm just saying that designing the experience of the product is becoming just as fundamental as the product itself.
A Vélib' station in Paris.
PW: How would you describe service design to someone outside your field?
PF: It's the design of a set of experiences through a series of touchpoints, which include tangibles and intangibles like magazines, Web sites, kiosks, conversations, anything.
PW: It's like interactive design meets industrial design.
PF: Meets advertising, meets interior design, meets graphic design, meets sequential art.
PW: Sequential artists? For storyboarding?
PF: Precisely. Sequential artists make the best visual storytellers, I think, at least when you're working with clients.
PW: Give me an example of a company whose service architecture you admire.
PF: You know, Apple really had an enormously difficult time with hardware in the nineties and earlier this decade. They seemed to be focusing too much on product, without considering the product experience. Then—whop!—iTunes, really even more so than the iPod, changes all that. That's not a music player. It's a design of the user's interaction with sound.
The iPod shuffle.
PW: What's been your proudest moment as a design educator?
PF: In the last two years, I've taken students to Hong Kong, to work with VTech. This year, we looked at how we use data in the home. For example, a text message. Five years ago, when you were wooing someone, you wrote a letter. Now, you send a text. What if you want to keep those texts, like the way we used to keep love letters? This is what we were looking at. The students had some great ideas for VTech, and their senior designers always provide students with an experience that's practical, professional, and life-changing. The good people at VTech always end up hiring two or three of our students every time we're in Hong Kong.
PW: Okay, so service design is the future, but do you still consider yourself an industrial designer?
PW: So what's the best-designed product on your desk right now?
PF: I love my Kidrobot toys. I love the Mini Munny. It's brilliant. This is, what?, a few cents of PVC plastic, transformed into a $10 collectible. That's called adding value through design. You can color it, design it, display it. It's tribal. It's everything good and fun about design.
The Mini Munny.
Paula Wallace is the president and co-founder of the Savannah College of Art and Design, which was established in 1978. Over the last three decades, she has served as the university's academic dean and provost and was appointed president in 2000. Since that time, Wallace has led the university in unprecedented growth, transforming SCAD into the most comprehensive art and design university in the United States—a nonprofit, accredited institution with more than 9,300 students and 1,500 faculty and staff.