Contemporary Issues in Design Education Friday, June 8th, 2018

Methods for Encouraging Risk-Taking in Design Education

Nathan Matteson, Assistant Professor, DePaul University
Heather Quinn, Professional Lecturer, DePaul University
Lee Zelenak, Professional Lecturer, DePaul University

Fostering experimentation enables innovation & offsets an emphasis on minimizing risk & tracking metrics—bridging the gap between practical & inventive methods

Much is made today of the importance of innovation, experimentation, and failure: risk. Risk aversion is, in theory, biologically motivated by environmental dangers—more danger in the environment drives less risk taking in an organism. We propose that experimentation in design education is affected similarly, as a response to perceived risks within larger contexts. As the ‘real’ world becomes more problematic (in the form of ubiquitous social media, consequent reduced privacy, economic volatility, etc.) there is anecdotal evidence of increasing risk aversion among design students–emphasis on final products and job preparation over the exploration of design process and the development of new knowledge and novel concepts. We propose that risk-taking in a student’s design process is necessary and best fostered within systematic frameworks; and in such a way that risky, chaotic, stochastic decision-making in design education supports systematic outcomes. So that risk-taking behavior is scaffolded within more predictable frameworks. This paper will advance ideas that support student and faculty efforts to support systematic risk—pedagogical models, curriculum structure and scaffolding, iterative methods, and consideration of digital and analog approaches. Our belief is that fostering healthy attitudes towards risk allows students to become adaptive thinkers and makers, focused on concepts rather than specific tools. Tolerance for experimentation and failure encourages the agility necessary to transition into and navigate the rapidly evolving design field. It results in students who are fearless.