Survey Results: Insights from a Year of Teaching, Learning, and Working at Home

By Verena Paepcke-Hjeltness, IDSA

Jul 7 2021 - 10:01am



Update: Survey Results

What feels like a life-time ago we asked you to ‘Share your thoughts and ideas’ in reflection of this past year. We had a total of 100 responses from the design community, a good mix of students, faculty, administrators and practitioners.

Here is a very brief summary of our call and what you shared:

Across the board, almost everyone had something positive to say about living and working in the virtual space, such as: the freedom of developing personal processes; interactive virtual classes; having easy access to faculty, guest speakers and experts from around the world; staying connected in different and unique ways; the flexibility of schedules and interactivity; and let’s not forget the time gained by not commuting every day. 

On the other end of that, we asked about what you wished had been different, or what you wish you knew before? Some of those responses were more sobering and something to learn from and build upon as we move forward. Being home all the time affected peoples’ mental and physical health. 

  • There was a desire to talk about how people feel, instead of jumping into business as usual, and to find a better way to foster an actual sense of community while apart.
  • The fact that eye contact is no longer possible, which makes it hard to interact with a group of people online.
  • The issues around equal access to resources across departments and also for the individual at home, such as slow internet access (if at all), overheating computer equipment, the lack of shop access, or not having a proper workspace.

Despite all obstacles and against all odds, we have an opportunity to build upon what we learned about our own resilience and ingenuity and apply it to reframe ID education. 

Here are your summarized thoughts:

  • There is no excuse anymore for the lack of diversity and finding someone of a different mindset. The virtual world made the physical world become much smaller, and connecting students to practitioners and mentors, exchanging expertise and know-how, should be the new normal. Just as taking care of our well-being and health should: such as by nurturing of the mind, reading a book, hopefully traveling again, having a conversation with someone very different from one's self, getting inspired, practicing mindfulness and kindness. And also treating our physical health with respect: eating well, sleeping and exercising, and not scheduling back-to-back virtual meetings without breaks ever again.
  • We learned that self-reflection and pro-activity is important, that students and faculty alike have the same stake in the ‘game,' and that the learning and teaching environment is a two-way street. Students should shape the learning environment as much as faculty and even practitioners, give and take, equally.

Some of the above is easier said than done, so let’s continue this dialogue and put actions to what we learned, together. 


In 2020, Verena Papecke-Hjeltness, IDSA (Education Director) created a survey for industrial design students and educators to shed light on what ID education has been like since the pandemic began.

Since spring break 2020 our lives have been upended—for everybody, globally, without exception. We kept hearing and are still told, “We are all in this together," although it is and feels different for everybody. My response each time I hear this phrase is: No, we’re not in this together.

Every individual lives through this pandemic on their own. The circumstances only overlap in so many ways, but not in all. As designers, we know a thing or two about the danger of making general assumptions based on quantitative data as opposed to making informed decisions based on qualitative data. Just because we all deal with the pandemic doesn’t mean we all experience it the same way.

Why is this important? Because it informs our day-to-day in industrial design education. Let’s shed some light on what our ID reality has been like since spring break of 2020, what we can learn from, and how we can build on it.

Students: You went on a spring break and came back to 100% online learning. You were asked to accomplish your tasks on your own, meaning without the studio environment, which has been at the core of your industrial design education. Unlike many other disciplines, we work, live, and play in the studio. We share spaces and have messy desks, serendipitous run-ins, and conversations after class. Then all of this was gone. You found yourself in your old bedroom at your parent’s house, or in the basement, or in a deserted dorm room, or in any other place that you had to choose to hunker down. Likely, you did not have a proper workspace, your internet connection was not stable, your laptop constantly overheated, and the temptation of not paying attention to what was happening on the screen increased with every class session.

Faculty: You had to figure out how to move all the remaining course content online: lectures and seminars as well as studio projects, model shop and making classes. There was no spring break for you. Some of you opted for an asynchronous format, or you kept the class meeting times and continued to meet with your students virtually. You explored Zoom, Webex, Google Hangouts, Slack, Miro, Mural, Paddlet, and any other virtual communication platform you came across. You video-recorded your lectures, sent out material samples and 3D printers, and tried to figure out how to provide your students with the hands-on education experience ID is known for. You watched endless tutorials, re-framed your curriculum, and tried to anticipate what will come ahead. That was spring term 2020.

Meanwhile we went through an entire term under pandemic circumstances and the next term is on the horizon. Fast forward to January 2021. How do we build on these past months and use this as an opportunity to re-frame and re-think ID education, and be positive toward what’s next?

We have a great opportunity to crowdsource our experiences so we can learn from them together and make informed decisions for the future. Because, if anything is true for designers, we seek challenges, thrive in ambiguity, and are trained to have empathy, take risks, and find opportunities for design where others see mainly problems. Let’s share some stories and compare notes so that we can make joint, informed decisions based on qualitative insights. 

As a starter, we are kicking off Tips & Tricks, lessons learned from learning and teaching during a pandemic.

  • MINDFULNESS & THE FIVE SENSES. Being in the moment and withstanding the temptation to multi-task is super important. Having a clear and necessary separation between individual tasks and more global activities related to work and life outside of work is key. Treat yourself to a time out for relaxation, conscious breathing, enjoying music, delicious food or an inspiring scent. The virtual space addresses only two of the five senses, so make sure to replenish the other three every day. Even in a face-to-face environment we tend to do too much at once and not take good care of our minds. Moving forward, virtual or in-person, being mindful and taking care of oneself is crucial.

  • WORKING FROM HOME. Setting up the workspace to accommodate sitting and standing makes a huge difference. Avoiding clutter on surfaces or in the space around you helps to reduce visual stressors. Make an effort to clean up your desk every day and put away that laundry basket. Having a set routine and sticking to it is key to work-life balance from home as well as when working on campus.

  • TIME MANAGEMENT & WORK ETHIC. Procrastination has been and will be around. The sense of urgency to get tasks done, however, is easier to ignore in the virtual space than in-person. This comes back to being in the moment. Turning on the camera in a virtual meeting, and not multi-tasking while in a meeting or in class keeps the focus where it should be. Creating manageable to-do lists, the ones that are broken down into small accomplishable steps, do help. Starting the day by revisiting what needs to get done and not overloading oneself with unrealistic expectations goes a long way. Holding oneself accountable is hard, so sharing those to-do lists with a work-buddy who keeps you honest might do the trick.

Verena Paepcke-Hjeltness, IDSA is Education Director on IDSA's Board of Directors and Assistant Professor of Industrial Design at Iowa State University. She has taught in Germany and the U.S. at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam, The Ohio State University, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Drexel University, and the University of Texas at Austin's School of Design and Creative Technologies. She frequently facilitates workshops on sketchnoting, design thinking, and strategic planning in both academia and industry.