TOLERANCE FOR AMBIGUITY

Author:
Paul Skaggs
Company/School:
Brigham Young University

 

The author had a couple of experiences with industrial design students and alumni early in his educational career. The first was a conversation with a graduate of a well-respected university’s Industrial Design program. This individual had graduated ten years previous to the encounter with a degree in industrial design. In a conversation about the profession they indicated that they were not working as an industrial designer and explained that their education had not prepared them for the “real” world of industrial design. They said after graduation they were hired by General Electric and were given an entry-level project. They admitted they didn’t know where to start. It was not presented like their school design program projects and it did not follow the process they had been taught and had practiced in school. They struggled with the project, and other group dynamics, and became more and more frustrated. After six months they quit the job and had not worked as an industrial designer since.

In another conversation with this same person a few weeks later, they told me they were interested in teaching industrial design. They said sarcastically, “I would give them “real world” experience, I would assign the students a project on Friday, and on Monday I would change it, cut the budget or cancel the project.”

A professor of the industrial design program at the before mentioned university said that the student had very good skills and that they thought they were creative. They had a portfolio good enough to secure a good design job (Skaggs, 2002). What went wrong?

The other experience was with an industrial design student found crying at their desk. “I don’t think I can do this,” they proclaimed. The curriculum, like many schools, teaches fundamental skills in the sophomore year; and experience the design process in their junior year. This student had learned all the skills but now was finding it hard to apply those skills appropriately to a more complex design project. What went wrong?

It wasn’t their training that had gone wrong. It was the ability to deal with the subtle complexities of the world of the industrial design. They had the skills, knowledge, and methodologies but lacked fundamental personality characteristics vital to practice design.

 

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