4 Keys to a Great Design Education

Over the past decade the adoption and proliferation of new technologies has spurred an ever accelerating evolution in the world of design. Over just a few short years what was once an after thought for many companies, has shifted to become the critical driver of value creation and competitive advantage. The speed at which this change has occurred creates significant challenges for design education.

For starters, the design profession itself is in tremendous flux. As more and more companies embrace design they struggle to define what it means for them. This means position titles, job descriptions and expectations can change significantly from company to company. Additionally, the rapid evolution has created an ever-changing landscape of tools, approaches and best practices. Rarely do academic institutions thrive in this type of dynamic environment.

For lots of reasons, academic institutions are often slow to respond to change. When an industry is flipped on it’s head, as is happening with design, this creates an education gap, where students are coming out of institutions lacking the skills that employers need.

Seven years ago the BDW program was created to bridge the gap in design education. Over seven years the program has seen tremendous success with nearly 100% graduate placement at companies like Uber, Apple, Spotify, Wieden+Kennedy and Pinterest, not to mention a few successful startup founders. In the process we’ve learned a lot about what it takes to create successful design professionals. Here are a few of our keys to success.

Students Learn From Industry Professionals

The only way to know what skills will be important tomorrow is to be on the front lines of design today. Every class we offer is taught by a working professional. They are the driving force behind the day-to-day learning within the program. They also shape the content of the overall curriculum. We keep our finger on the pulse and over seven years the program has never had the same curriculum two years in a row. It constantly evolves based on what’s happening in the real world and the trends emerging on the horizon.

Students Make Shit

This is probably the most critical piece of the program. This is not about portfolio. This is about bringing ideas to life. Through out the program designers are driven to develop a comprehensive understanding of how their designs could be implemented. This includes writing code, building prototypes and getting their hands dirty. The builds are often messy and unpolished, and many grads leave with only rudimentary code skills. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that by actually building something designers develop empathy for the engineering process, an understanding of terminology and an exceptional ability to communicate their ideas and requirements.

Students See the Big Picture

We have embraced the idea of creating a program that covers a wide range or topics. Students are exposed to the full spectrum of the product development process, from ideation all the way through to revenue modeling and marketing. While we only scratch the surface on many areas within that spectrum, we’ve found that the exposure allows students to see their designs as a piece in a larger puzzle, where decisions are made based on a lot of, sometimes competing, considerations. When you have a view into how other parts of the puzzle work you are not only able to shape your piece to get the best fit, but you have a great chance of shaping the overall puzzle itself.

Students Tackle Real Problems

While design theory is important, the world of design is not theoretical. It is real. It is messy. And it is full of subjective opinions, user needs, business requirements and conflicting feedback. Simulated design projects can’t replicate the real world, so we throw students into real world situations every chance we get. Whether it be multi-day design sprints to help real clients like Uber and Allstate, or engaging the local community in a proposal to redesign a public space, or developing and launching marketing campaigns for Microsoft and Toyota. We turn theory into reality early and often, and we’ve discovered that doing so makes the transition from classroom to real work almost seamless.

The BDW program was built with a spirit of constant evolution. And while we have seen a lot of success with our approach, the world has not stopped turning. In fact, change is happening faster than ever. As such, to stay ahead of our ever-changing world, we are carrying our learnings from the last seven years into our next evolution. BDW is now the IXDMA program at the University of Colorado Boulder. A one year masters degree in Interaction Design. Classes start this fall and there is still time to be part of the next class. If you are interested check here for enrollment details.

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