Is design science? Can creativity be taught?

Fashion Design defines the very essence of creativity that adorns the wearer’s personality and represents it for the world to see. It is an area of interest for one and all… it the little prince and princesses; young professionals or the who’s who of the social circle and let’s not forget the new age fashionably dressed grandparents. Creating fashion requires a great deal of in-depth knowledge of the craft and the skill to reach the market.

subject close to one and all, big or small,  practice of intentional creation to enhance the world we live in, based on ideas and craft skills that reflects on the consumer’s buying behavior. Design development invites skill and creativity along with logical thinking, the social and physical comprehension, trade and business.

Thinking design encompasses an assortment of approaches that identify and solve problems through methodical understanding of the consumer’s social, economic, geographical and emotional status and positioning, paying attention to the core issue before stepping up to a plausible solution. Thinking design is the fore most step for the success of any creative work.

Designers often craft realistic yet innovative merchandise and services. That is why designer products are so special. Learning these traits is what makes the study of design so fascinating and the topic of interest in comparison to others. Learning of design is predominantly taught by intuitions, instincts and the design inclination, something we refer to as the designer’s signature style. As a design faculty I strongly feel the need of all the traits mentioned above to be honed by practice, training, and mentoring. All this is fantastic, but the question here should be… a designer must think or carries out the process through design and end product in support with of its marketability?

So let’s take another connecting issue into consideration here…..Is design science? Can creativity be taught?

Many in the design fraternity would have a no as an answer to these questions.  I think otherwise….the first step to design is the conceptualization; Concepts are based on research; Research is based on the values of the target market. The conclusions based on such research work by the designers, identify the consumer challenges based on the socio-economic and geographical status of the target consumers.

Although design is subject to change, depending on the four seasons, cultural back-grounds, occasions etc….let’s not forget that India constitutes of such vast cultural differences and the fact that these are celebrated across the country by all religions and communities; There is, however, the sense of longevity to the subject creating larger scope and challenges for the design professionals creating and selling designs for the potential market. Today design is deeply embedded in human psychology, science and technology – hand held by process and services rendered by the designer, married seamlessly with craft skills and understanding necessarily looked upon as an aftermath of design education.

Catering to the market scenario of the 21st century, the design education in India is stuck to the yester-years, barring the use of computer aided design and the social network to sell, which again is not utilized to its full potential.

Design aspirants of the 21st century must take a different route to the design thinking process that will take them through the nooks & corners of the consumer psychology supported by the theoretical exploration of the area as well as the practicality of creating a collection for retail (both physical as well as e-commerce). Traditional design activities have to be complemented with an understanding of technology, business, and consumer psychology.

Designers often take pride in their creative thinking and are non-appreciative to criticism at the initial stage of design conceptualization, even if it is cited in the right spirit. What they need to understand is to take these inputs as an important aspect of the research component of design thinking.

As design educators, It is time to think creatively towards the curriculum blueprint and deliver the subject to produce designers who can think creative both in terms of design and the fierce business of design in play. We too, like designers, believe the mantra of no criticism during ideation, and are unable to apply it to ourselves when it comes to changes in the curriculum and its delivery.

As mentioned earlier in my thoughts above; we have taken to the new technology to aid our learning and reaching to the target consumers. So we are now thinking design in the mid-20th century and delivering to the 21st century market….that too with half the knowledge the ever evolving technology. Things around us have changed, for good I know, but design now is more than appearance; it is about strategies, interaction and the ease of buying within the budgets. The brands today are more affordable than ever and have better penetration in the target market; simply because some of us have understood the concept of using technology to our designs to optimize the very definition of the business of design.

In India, we are known for our craft skills, taught through generations, from father to son – mother to daughter. Even today many alleys through the streets of the ever busy cities of India, will give you a glimpse of the artisans working in the small dingy rooms, creating some beautiful work of art….works that are often used by some of the design professionals of the country under their brand name…..the work that they sell at premium prices; a lot of these craftsmen work only for their personal necessity. We still have some villages in the north-east where the weavers weave only for their family.

Learning since then has moved out of these by lanes to the design schools across India, still with the pseudo thought process of following what is done, without experimenting and venturing into the unexplored world beyond the borders. Not that we have not reached out to the rest of the world per say, but do we teach the “HOW-TOs” in the classrooms?  Maybe we do, but in a different class of subject specialization, with examples that do give knowledge but loses our grip in the design industry; the industry we chose to pursue our careers in.

It is not easy for a design aspirant to stay close to their traditional crafts while developing their design skills for the global markets and their behaviors while understanding new technologies emerging from the rapid changes in design communication, materials, retail, quality etc.

We all agree to this but we also need to make room for changes in the design curriculum that we deliver to these aspiring designers. Many of the design training takes place in specialized schools of art and design, where there is no understanding of the need to broaden the education that makes you ready for the real world. In fact there are very few design institutes that offer specializations; In a general scenario, every student is weighed down with the core elements taught in a typical fashion design course with some electives approved by the academic boards.

Does every designer have to have the same depth of skill in drawing and product development or prototyping?

Designers are geniuses at their design skills, but where do they learn the skills to make the concept-to-consumer theory smooth to understand and functional where marketability is concerned? Do they know how to validate the designs?

There are some design schools that have developed cohesive programs, combining design programs with business. Many have fostered individual courses where students from mixed disciplines do industry based projects. These courses are very attractive and exciting, often generating valuable, practical results. These look like just the answer to the aspiring designers prayers, but these changes (though required and a welcome effort), are detached, there is a separate curriculum within a few scattered programs.

These are generally aimed more towards practice, not backed with the relevant theoretical inputs. Fashion Designers put together their collections for the people and yet are not trained to understand the mechanism of human behavior and their buying practices. The very aspect of concept to consumer has taken amiss from the design curriculum.

The dots connecting the development of design curriculum today is significantly dependent on the practitioner’s acumen. While many institutes are sensitive on the subject, the prospects of real advancement in design learning are limited till we are ready to create a curriculum that spells “PRACTICAL THEORY OF DESIGN”.

This might be obvious to some of you reading, but yet acceptance to the change is rare.


Associate Dean, ICF

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