The State of Design Education in Nova Scotia

I am extremely interested in all aspects of the design profession, from how it’s taught to how it is practiced, especially as it relates to online or ‘new’ media.

It seems that our local educational institutions are largely out-of-touch with the skills, design processes and requirements of the the interactive industry as a whole. Through the teaching that I have done at NSCAD, I’ve tried to bring a standards-based approach to the classes I’m putting together, but this isn’t the norm across all of the Universities and Colleges found locally. Recently, May Chung (a tenured professor at NSCAD) and I have been discussing how to better equip our grads for the current economic and work environment. We’d like to create a a curriculum that benefits everyone from students, to faculty and the businesses who employ designers.

I put out a call on Twitter the other day to see what people would be looking for in a design program. I heard from industry folks, recent grads and others. Last night, at a GDC event, I spoke with a number of young designers, all of whom felt like they were not being properly prepared for the working world. Now, don’t get me wrong, NSCAD has never been about giving designers the ‘hard’ skills, it’s a school that is about teaching the design process. However, interactive design isn’t even being taught in that capacity. And let’s face it, if we don’t give designers some skills in HTML and CSS they’re not going to know how to integrate with the businesses that are leading the way in the new media space.

One thing a former student mentioned was the need for a more intensive studio-level course in web design. I couldn’t agree more. A dedicated course in web typography (perhaps combined with print typography is also absolutely essential. Typography and grid-based design are one of the most sorely lacking skills I see in not just new designers, but web designers in general.

So what are designers to do if they’re not getting the education they need while in College or University? Perhaps continuing education courses would help? A quick look at the NSCAD and Dalhousie (PDF) con-ed listings reveals that the courses being taught here use outdated methodologies, with no focus on web standards and the Dal courses even use software that is three versions old!

The NSCC con-ed program is much better. Many of their programs focus less on the technical aspects but instead on the theory of web-standards based design. In all honesty, I think that NSCAD and Dal could learn a great deal from how the NSCC is teaching web design.

So what can we do? As industry members we have a responsibility to push our educational institutions to provide up-to-date and appropriate courses for students. We’re the ones who will reap the benefit. Just the other day I sat in the office of the president of a major local web developer who was crying for at least two web designers with front end coding (XHTML/CSS/Javascript) capabilities. I was able to think of only one person and he’s not even from our city. Industry groups like the GDC and ACIMA also need to get more involved in the students side of things, and the student side of ACIMA is something I’m going to be working towards next year. The GDC doesn’t seem to have much interest in the web at all, but if enough of us got involved, maybe we could change that.

In addition, industry needs to put forward talented designers and developers who can teach part time. Getting fresh blood into our universities and colleges is the only way that current techniques and methodologies are going to be spread. It’s an incredible learning opportunity for both you and your students, and it’s also a chance to find out who the hot young guns are before anyone else gets a crack at them. And hey, the pay sucks, but at least the hours are long. We owe students at least this much. Get out there and get involved. At the very least, offer to give a presentation to students on what you’re doing to help inspire them to seek out the correct techniques on their own time.

What do you think? How can we improve design education?

Previously posted on

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