Teaching Moments: A New Era for Design Education

Design educators are reinventing the industry from the inside out as employers are less interested in students’ ability to sketch, and more interested in their ability to think and communicate strategically.


Taking the time to teach is one of the most rewarding ways of contributing to the growth of our profession. Through the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to teach and speak about design and design thinking at schools that include Harvard, SCAD, and Art Center College of Design.


This past spring, I was honored to be invited to Savannah to speak at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). It was no surprise that I was impressed with the students in the program run by Victor Ermoli and Tom Gattis under the leadership of Paula Wallace [one of Fast Company’s guest bloggers]. Like at SCAD, I see the quality of graduates from all design schools getting more impressive every year. But what’s different today is that the instructors of these programs are helping to redesign the direction our industry is taking.

Tom Matano of the Academy of Art University, Karen Hoffman of Art Center College of Design, Imre Molnar from the College for Creative Studies, and Patrick Whitney of Illinois Institute of Technology are among the leaders with whom I’ve had the privilege of working, and the chorus I hear echoing in the halls of design academia is that we have entered a new era. This resonates with my perception that employers are less interested in a designer’s ability to sketch, and more interested in their ability to think and communicate strategically. Gone are the days when industrial design was merely about creating a more beautiful product. Today, our industry is called upon to provide experiences that connect consumers to brands, for it is these connections that propel brands.


By recognizing and propelling this shift in paradigm, design educators provide unprecedented leadership to the profession by producing the most state of art programs possible, not through technology alone but also through new levels of thinking among the educators and the graduates. Indeed, design educators are producing the most valuable product possible–the design thinkers of tomorrow.

[Image via Hoefler & Frere-Jones]

Read more of Ravi Sawhney’s Design Reach blog
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Ravi Sawhney is the founder and CEO of RKS, a global leader in strategy, innovation, and design.

Since founding RKS nearly 30 years ago, Sawhney has earned a variety
of top honors in the design industry, and assembled a client list that
includes HP, Intel, LG, Medtronic, Seiko, Sprint, and Zyliss, among
many others. In the process, RKS has helped generate more than 150
patents on behalf of their clients.

In 2004 Sawhney was named chairperson of the Industrial Design
Excellence Award program, where he created the IDSA/BusinessWeek
Catalyst award for products that generate measurable business results.
Most recently, he was named Executive Director of Catalyst to direct
its evolution into a program to develop case studies illustrating
design’s power to effect positive change.


Sawhney also invented the popular Psycho-Aesthetics® design
strategy, which Harvard adopted as a Business School Case Study. He is
a regularly featured lecturer at Harvard Business School, USC’s
Marshall School of Business, and UCLA’s Anderson School of Business,
where he teaches this business-driven design tool.

In addition to RKS, Sawhney has played an integral part in the
founding of several other businesses, including Intrigo, an innovative
computer accessory company; On2 Better Health, a health products
company; and RKS Guitars, best known for its reinvention of the
electric guitar.

About the author

As the founder and CEO of RKS Design, Ravi Sawhney has spent more than thirty years at the forefront of product and technology innovation, and has grown his industrial design consultancy into a global leader in the fields of strategy, innovation and design. While leading RKS, Sawhney has helped generate more than 150 patents and over 90 design awards on behalf of his diverse list of international clients, and his work has been featured on the cover of Business Week’s best product design issue