What’s next for design education? Interaction 13’s education summit

Last week, a handful of Cooperistas attended the Interaction 13 conference and wrote daily recaps of what they heard for our blog readers (Catch up with a quick read about day 1, day 2, day 3, and day 4). The Education Summit, a full day workshop that explored the global problem space of interaction design education, merited the lengthier share-out below.

The Interaction 13 conference in Toronto was a five-day whirlwind of speakers, workshops and networking. Threaded through all this information was a tasty glimpse into the future: a world where technologies play nicely with one another, don’t demand our undivided attention, and are great at helping people do what they do best: be people. My sense (and hope) is that this utopian vision just might be possible (rather than the “Terminator-style” future Angel Anderson warned us of in the Great UX Debate. Scary! Let’s not do that, pretty please.).
While visions are great for building hope, the education of emerging designers is a key factor in helping us get us to that future. In an effort to learn more about the issues facing educators (that could potentially sabotage utopia), I attended the Interaction Design Education Summit. Here is a snapshot of the conversations and ideas that emerged:

How did you become an interaction designer?

Most of the attendees’ responses to this question fell under one (or more) of these themes:

  • Serendipity
  • Iterative wandering
  • I built my own journey (through books and mentors)

Takeaway: There are many paths, they aren’t always structured or intentional, and we need to take this into account in our approach to education.

What is the current interaction design education landscape?

There are a whopping 500+ programs in North America alone. But, those programs look wildly different. There should be one central collection of links to education resources, and we need to make sure students know about it. And, given the disparity in backgrounds and paths to programs, students need different levels of coaching and content. We’ll know we’ve succeeded as a community when non-designers start seeking opportunities to add design to their knowledge base.
IxDA is an organization of doing, so workshop leaders Dave Malouf and Haig Armen asked everyone to break into groups and brainstorm around this question:

What will you do next?

This inquiry led to a flurry of ideas around how IxDA could help improve design education:

Theme 1: Bring IxDA to where people are


IxDA on wheels

A traveling road show with the aim of increasing awareness and interest in IxD by sharing resources, history and inspiration. It could include:

  • Museum of IxD that has a library of congress for apps, shows you your place in IxD history, and more.
  • Expert talks
  • Fun design tools to play with (Post-its, graph paper, and stencils, Oh My!)
  • Partnerships with other orgs
  • Rotating curators


 A wandering course of study

  • 1-off classes offered at different institutions
  • Summer studios to supplement higher ed programs
  • Internships with IxDA firms
  • Mentorship program
  • You get a badge or certificate when you complete the course


Interaction design in middle schools

Interaction design doesn’t have to be a higher-education-only experience. If kids are exposed to the field, they may identify their interest in it much earlier (and perhaps avoid the years of “iterative wandering” some of us went through), learn critical thinking skills, and embrace experimentation. A few easy, short-term possibilities to get this started: workshops and career day presentations.

Design Camp

“If there are 50,000 designers, there must be 100,000 designer kids.”  If that’s the case, how about creating a one-week camp for tweens and teens? (I want to go!)

Expand the relationship between IxDA conferences and the universities that host them.

There’s a lot of fodder here, but the short story is we should find ways to strengthen these relationships and get university students more involved in the conference. For example, students could learn more about the field and expand their network by doing research about local IxD success stories, creating artifacts, and presenting their findings at the conference. Perhaps that comes in the form of a contest.

Theme 2: Create design resources for the public


The IxD Education Tool Kit

Created for people interested in entering the profession, this tool would answer common questions like, “Given my background, what’s the best way for someone with my background to study IxD? Where should I go to school? What is the difference between the names of different programs? What should be in my portfolio? What are companies looking for?” First step: a survey will be sent to IxDAers to learn more about and map different kinds of paths into IxD.

Library of curriculum: a repository of exercises and practices


Peer network of new and seasoned IxDAers


Resource list of schools & programs

This list was already started through and could be expanded upon.
So, did we resolve the pathway to utopia in a day? Perhaps not, but we did uncover interesting, creative ways to take education to the next level and build a stronger foundation for utopia to grow. If any of those ideas sparked your interest and you’d like to help bring them to fruition, contact Dave Malouf or your local IxDA chapter.

Teresa Brazen
Teresa Brazen

Teresa Brazen is the Managing Director of Cooper Professional Education.

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