Design is the liberal arts of tech

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When you walk around San Francisco and Silicon Valley, MIT, Stanford and Caltech hoodies abound. It sometimes feels like everyone here majored in computer science, or engineering, or completed an intensive coding bootcamp. In light of this, we’ve been hearing a lot of versions of this question: “Are the liberal arts relevant to the new (and future!) economy, tech, and Silicon Valley?” The answer is HECK YES!

A trusted mentor, the CEO of a large enterprise company, recently told me, “automation will eliminate most tactical positions over the next ten years, but there will be a bitter arms race for top talent.” That begged the question, “How do you define top talent?” The CEO went on to describe these factors: the ability to think critically, to exhibit executive presence, and to communicate in a persuasive and diplomatic manner. This is exactly what the liberals arts teach AND what it takes to be an excellent designer. Then it dawned on us… design is the liberal arts of tech!

Design is an approach to invention and creative solutioning. And it’s the *best* path to innovation. We are seeing more and more degree programs in “UX design” at the undergraduate and graduate levels. While design borrows from the liberal arts, including anthropology, and behavioral psychology, it is first and foremost a meta-discipline, a methodology, a practice.

The most effective designers are passionate empaths, voracious learners, excellent storytellers, and bring something to the table other than solid Dublin process. In other words, design works best when it’s catalyzed by at least one other critical perspective. To this end, at Cooper, we hunt for designers with extremely diverse perspectives. Their perspectives include, neuroscience, psychology, law, economics, agriculture, coding. And they all leverage these perspectives in project work.

We are proud of our designers who attended liberal arts colleges like Macalester, Vassar, Wesleyan, Claremont McKenna and studied subjects like religion, rhetoric, art and music. (For the record, we love and respect all Cooper designers, regardless of pedigree.) We are grateful for the broad knowledge capital they bring to their projects, for their unique critical perspectives, for their communication skills, and for their formidable intellectual heft. No matter what job functions disappear through automation, “liberal arts” and “soft” design leadership skills will retain their value and remain coveted. Long live the liberal arts!

If you’d like to learn more about design leadership, Cooper Professional Education is just what the doctor ordered.

Andrew Kaufteil

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