Expecting Experience

Samuel a. Martin
Western Washington University


Samuel a. Martin, IDSA
Western Washington University

“I decided to drop out, and trust that it would all work out… looking back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

In saying this, Mr. Jobs referred to his decision to leave Reed College, a decision that lead to the eventual founding of Apple Inc. There is significant value in the exploration of this concept. While most employers expect at least an undergraduate degree from qualifying applicants, the pursuit of that experience takes place within a variety of institutions, of varying caliber, who provide 4-5 years of educated practice.

For once, practice does not make perfect.

Case studies abound of individuals who pursued their passion outside of academia, striking gold. As exceptions, these are evidence of the value of applied experience over practice. In academic institutions, rarely is an emphasis placed upon applied experience as an expectation. This burgeoning development as a focus of education requires one key element to succeed; emphasis upon entrepreneurialism. 

This is the very reason why IDSA Student Chapters accomplish so little annually, and IDSA professional membership is characteristically low - a lack of ownership of process, and professional incentive to participate. 

Western Washington University has made recent strides, both in its IDSA Student Chapter, and in its curriculum, to provide students consistent opportunities in which to actually apply themselves. What becomes truly interesting, is to reference and compare these actions, witnessed and co-developed first hand, both as successes and failures, against traditional education methodology.

We live in the next golden age of design. For the first time in history, students apply to industrial design programs having grown up with a vested interest in the profession. In tandem, the time has come to actively alter the means and intent through which we educate young designers. Unless action is taken, given the choice between four years of practice and actual experience, traditional education will continue to be seen as a detrimental cost rather than the opportunity it is.