Designing the next generation of design curricula


Holly Thorsen is the Associate Director of Professional Education at Cooper. A veteran of the improv stage, Holly specializes in helping individuals and teams build creative confidence through interactive training programs and leadership coaching to create lasting change.

This is the third of a five-part series where Holly shares her knowledge of design education, educational philosophy, and the importance of shifting company culture to one of creative leadership and feedback.

Every great educator recognizes the importance of curriculum revision. Particularly in the digital age, the rapid acceleration of innovation necessitates frequent consideration of our course content. Are our courses meeting the needs of our participants? Are they exceeding the expectations of learning? Are they leading the pack in introducing new design philosophies and practices?

To answer these questions and develop a new curriculum at Cooper, we practice the design methodologies we preach. We interview prospective attendees to understand the needs they are looking to meet through the course. We investigate the challenges they face in their own work and consider the contexts in which they plan to apply their learnings so we can offer the advice and skills most relevant to them. Additionally, we conduct secondary research with subject matter experts to learn where the field is going and discern the key strategies attendees need to know, even if they aren’t requesting them directly.

These two streams of learning are combined into a curriculum approach that blends multiple styles of learning. These experiences may happen online, in the classroom, or even on the job through prompts and job aids. The learning experience is deeply tied to the content itself.  

When designing curriculum, we have a hundred things we want to teach and maybe ten things we can actually cover in the time allotted. Throughout our process, we make hard choices about what will be most practical and purposeful for our attendees, and we structure our curriculum in a way that creates cohesive learning experiences across topics, days, and different courses.

We also consider how the course might appeal to both more experienced designers and relative newcomers to the field. Finding an appropriate balance can be difficult, but our focus on real-world practice is  a powerful approach, regardless of background and experience. 

As we continue to finalize and formalize the content, we begin to weave in opportunities for personal reflection. Understanding the most valuable elements of the curriculum and reflecting upon the tools acquired is critical in transferring knowledge to the individual’s context.

Designing a cutting-edge design curriculum that is applicable to the daily lives of leaders, designers, and forward-thinking participants is certainly an adventure. As educators, it’s essential we celebrate what we’ve learned in the past, but more importantly, keep an open mind to whatever creative, meaningful new content our world needs.

Interested in learning more about Cooper Professional Education and our philosophies around design and education? Read more on our curriculum and class schedules at  

Holly Thorsen
Holly Thorsen

Holly Thorsen is a Director at Cooper Professional Education and a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach.

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