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  /  PostCovidEd

What will Future Design Education look like in the post Covid-19 era?

In the days following the FutureDesignEd Symposium 2020 in San Marino, the Covid-19 virus forced the entire educational system to adopt adequate measures to guarantee distance teaching. In light of this situation, we think it is important to further the reflection on education in the field of design.

To inspire reflections, we invited both the organizers and the speakers of the two editions of FutureDesignEd to answer to the following questions:

What do you think the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be on the future of design education?

What are the potential opportunities for innovation in design education and education by design after the event?

Below the answers:


“On a short-term, we might be witnessing increasing stress levels amongst students and faculty given that our capabilities for teaching and learning in digital environments are still developing. In addition, distance learning has also revealed structural inequalities as not everyone has equal access to internet or a dedicated space for learning.

 Looking ahead, however, we will see strategic-level changes aimed at transforming design schools into truly student-centric institutions. Design education’s focus will also move even further beyond commercial gains, and as such design can become a catalyst for social change. (Design) education once again will be informed by strong values.”

Miikka J. Lehtonen, Assistant Professor of Strategic Design Management, Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, Dubai, UAE


“The COVID-19 pandemia is a consequence to the ongoing environmental crisis. Its understanding needs to be part of the education of a designer so that it can help shaping our collective planetary consciousness, and urge us to respond to it and act accordingly. This crisis reflects not our lack of knowledge but our inability to fully relate and empathise with each other, to other Earthlings, and to our planet as a whole. It reflects things that we are doing to the Earth, not just things that are happening to us. Design education always occurs in a set of political and social conditions which must be understood, felt, and redesigned for the benefit of all Earthlings.”

Massimo Santanicchia, Associate Professor and Program Director in Architecture at the Iceland University of the Arts


“In the first phase of the COVID-19 emergency I held several design and communication courses in different universities and with numerous teams of students. Being “challenge-based” experiential units, the distance between all the participants created a challenge within the challenge.

The pandemic has generally given a huge boost to the spread of digital services. In an experiential design course, where the activities are both cognitive and collaborative, the introduction of digital services never used before was decisive for effective remote interaction. These allowed to stimulate student involvement and ensure pre-established learning outcomes. The impact was both in operational terms (live remote conferencing, collective online visualization, project management), and in socio-economic terms in which democratic and inclusive access to the educational offer was safeguarded despite the contingent limits.

 From these challenges, I expect two changes: that when the emergency ceases, some advantages of the remote mode (especially the socio-economic ones) will not disappear, on the contrary, they will be valued, and that the teaching and learning of digital service design will be ever more relevant.”

Omar Vulpinari, Service Design & Innovation. Consulting, Training, Facilitating, Mentoring


“Information is the starting point for knowledge. Information can be conveyed digitally and knowledge can be acquired digitally. But that is not enough. Design students in particular need to be able to experience information and actively appropriate knowledge so that it becomes a skill. After Covid-19, this means that we must concentrate on making sure that design students experience information. Experiencing information means hands-on involvement with topics and things, means first-hand encounter with people and their situations. Information and knowledge must be actively put into context and linked to experience by students in order to create the kind of inspiration that leads to design which makes a difference to the world.

Angela Grosso Ciponte, Sociologist lic.phil., adult educator SVEB, lecturer, researcher, training & didactic support, developer University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland


“As most will confirm, the disclosure of all of us in home and the need to deal with internet-based communication tools has boost the use of the latter even to those who are less convinced and more resistant in adopting new tools of communication. Why they were (and perhaps will be again) resistant, has to do largely with personal background and experience which makes us all different: who is born with a cellphone in hand has sure a different approach than the one who learned the profession by using pencil, ink pen and rulers. 

Never the less, a simple question – at some point after perhaps two weeks of lock down – to some students, made evident that social life for young people keeps a high ranking in daily life and being (again) locked in home with commanding parents and noisy sisters was not an option. Therefore, the acceptance of using a communication tool or not is not the only parameter of comfort towards new learning methods. 

A further, general observation shared with colleagues was the missing value of “dead” times between single tasks: having coffee at the bar, chatting about work and others, walking down the corridor and then driving home for a longer or shorter time, gives important moments of digesting the enormous amount of input and thoughts that come up in meetings with colleagues and students. The passage from home to University prepares to what will come, a distance which is not long enough if you move from kitchen to the living room to assume work.

But what about the future of Design Education? First of all, the experience of the disclosure itself. Life condition can change dramatically from one moment to the other without necessity of a war, also in stable social and political environments. What has been a “theoretical” scenario in design briefs of social and future studies, has now the experienced background that motivates for better studies and solutions. While the use of online tools definitely 

  • can merge distant design communities by more regular meeting events on a “kilometer 0 sustainability” basis,
  • can ease consultation before exams
  • can ease international collaboration
  • can ease attendance of students abroad (Erasmus, foreigners etc)
  • will push forward new tools for problem solving like VR and AR
  • etc…

All agree that however personal contact will keep its high value in establishing the necessary relation between individuals, on all levels (professor-student, colleagues-colleagues, conferences attendees etc). Therefore, I expect that the change will consist in a more ease use of online tools to participate in meetings and conferences (which will provide for more professional online participation), and partly use in teaching where convenient. Beside this, there will be perhaps even more charming moments of co-working and workshop in order to balance the social distance, in which we will be pushed by time by using internet always more.”

Andreas Sicklinger, Full Professor in Industrial Design, Department DA – University of Bologna


“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced an awakening of global proportion, which has made the human race become even more acutely aware of its vast shortcomings. The world is an interconnected, complex network. Every decision – good and bad – has a ripple effect, affecting business, government, community and individuals who are all plugged into a global ecosystem and value chain. Despite the Earth’s inherent beauty and magic, we have for years succeeded in engineering an unjust and often destructive world for living in.

As an optimist, I do believe that we have the capacity and the ability to design the exact opposite if we shift our priorities to the development of relevant skills and creative intelligence. In order, to effect systemic and sustainable change, we must invest wisely in appropriate human capital like empathy, agility, resourcefulness, multiple perspectives and holistic thinking, skills development that’s optimised and underpinned by creativity. Such an investment will enable us to design with context, the resilient, just, and prosperous future world we are now desperate to realise. The UN SDGs give us very clear outcomes of this desired world. The time is now to write the most important design brief since our existence: we need to design and develop new orders and strategies for education, systems, services, environments, policies and cities so that we can collectively deliver on the demands of the future with purpose and agility.  

Investing in the integration of creativity across all curricula will strike a much needed balance in developing the whole child, the whole brain! With a special focus on STEAM education (integration between science, technology, engineering, art and math), from kindergarten and beyond tertiary education, is not only crucial to create conducive, playful and inclusive learning environments but also to develop creative and emotional intelligence, nurture human problem-solving capabilities, design and creative thinking and other future skills; doing so is imperative to unlock and optimise new potential, identify appropriate innovations, technologies, solutions that ultimately change mindsets and behaviour, which will enable us to create new aspirations to design our preferred future. 

Design Education and all other disciplines in Academia plug into the global ecosystem and value chain and have a collective responsibility to rethink and redesign their curricula in order to develop human capital that will be equipped to navigate the design of our preferred future world to achieve the UN SDG’s. How will you adjust the curriculum of your discipline so that students develop multidisciplinary perspectives, skills and human qualities that will enable them to “design to include”, “design for change and impact”, “design life and wellbeing” or to “design a circular economy and community resilience”? How will you change your approach to teach students future skills as well as how to apply multiple disciplines as powerful activation and execution tools? Design Education is well positioned to take the lead in achieving these crucial agendas. 

Within this changing and current context, creativity has become second to none and needs to be seriously prioritised if we truly want to empower future generations. We can achieve this aim with pride, purpose and a higher level of insight, empathy, authenticity and the confidence that will stand us all in good stead to navigate what lies ahead in all spheres of life. Most importantly, these skills are uniquely human, and cannot be automated by machines. Hence, striking a balance also through financial investment in humanity and technology, will underpin a solid foundation for creating a strong, symbiotic relationship that is crucial for humans to thrive in. Ultimately, it is only through our collective actions that we can pledge to co-create a better world today, by and through design.” 

Suné Stassen, Founder And Executive Director Of Open Design Afrika