Schools of design for digital


Continuing the discussion from What is next after" Flat" design? (Ui/UX discussion):

I wanted to spin this off into a new topic. The idea of schools of design specifically for digital (or interaction) is an interesting one to explore.

What makes a “school of design”? Is it a style? philosophy? world view? IMO, the best ones combine all three, and often the style/aesthetic of the school is largely dictated by a formalization of their world view into artifacts.

For example, if you take the world view that everything is interconnected through technology (not saying it’s right or wrong), how would that impact aesthetic choices around graphics, interactions, and even the types of objects you put into the world?


I’m going be the guy who talks semantics…

Is the issue that current (and past) schools of design don’t include digital design, or are you calling for a school of design specifically for digital design? There’s a distinction to be made there. When I think of schools, they tend to be medium-agnostic, or at least they include different media within their overall design philosophy. Would a school of thought for digital design be too limiting?


@Thomas_Wendt yes, that’s all absolutely true. I think the most productive way to think about this would be as a school that emerges from a digital-centric design practice, rather than as an add-on. It can certainly include other media (and should include them), but potentially also from a digital/network perspective? What is physical architecture in the age of the internet? How would a new school of design include things like that from a digital perspective.


That’s not always true. Or at least there are sometimes strong links to a particular medium. Think of the way that Brutalist architecture is strongly associated with exposed concrete construction. Or how you couldn’t have late modernist / hi-tech architecture without the infrastructure and processes for things like glass curtain walls.

I don’t think it’s necessarily that simple to separate aesthetic, philosophy, medium & practices.


Definitely not so clear cut… every movement/school has had its own view on medium and aesthetic, which is really part of what makes it a “school” in this sense. A contemporary digitally focused school of design may include lots of media, or might not…

What about things like glitch art or “new aesthetic”? Could those be considered “schools”? They are very digitally focused, but often use the aesthetic language of digital in other media.


I wonder if what makes a “school” a school is that there are traditional components of teachers and students. Are students rushing to learn from the masters? Is there a philosophy and set of principles that distinguishes what’s being taught from other forms of design?


Those seem more like movements, than schools, much like Dadaism or Surrealism. Is a school a movement that, as @jmspool suggests, develops into a set of principles that are taught? So, then, New Aesthetic could become a school if practitioners started publishing books on it and universities began incorporating it into their curriculums in a way that was sustainable over many years. It seems there must be a certain amount of weight behind it—some threshold of participation and documentation—to cross over from movement to school of thought.


That might be a good delineation… a movement emerges based on a shared philosophy/aesthetic/culture/etc and becomes a school when it’s explicitly trained/taught. Although I’d argue that a school could come out of a studio as well as formal education. Studios often mentor and teach in a specific philosophy, method/process, and aesthetic.


Another way of approaching the question…

If we had a school of design specifically for digital (or interaction) — what would the resulting change in the world be like?

I have to admit that I don’t have a good answer to that question — which makes me a tad suspect of the idea of a digital design school.


You’re skeptical that it’s a good question because you don’t already have an answer? :wink:

I would hope that a well developed school of design would help us make better stuff. Or at least stuff that helps us create the kind of world that we each subjectively this is “better”.


I’m still not sure if we are talking about a “school” as in an institution, or a school as in a philosophy, or a school as in an institution structured strictly around a philosophy?

If the former, I can see how we need to evolve existing philosophies to include aspects of materiality and context that didn’t exist when those schools were first created. I would not want them to only evolve on lines of digital or even interaction, but also include things like new social norms as well as sustainability, no? But I like Jared’s addition that even these philosophies are called “schools” b/c they have leaders that teach, and followers there to learn. Just not through the institutions.

If the institution, then don’t we already have this in CIID (Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design)? They don’t seem to have a digital philosophy, but they do have a human philosophy, no?

To be selfish, this sounds like an interesting talk for the IxD Education Summit.


I’m talking about the old notion of school of thought. If you look through history, it’s geographically located with a few people who start to take the design form in a different direction. People then travel to study with those folks. Philosophies emerge and factions split off.

There’s a physicality to it because people spend time together in a city at a point of time (Wiemar, Dessau, and Berlin for Bauhaus, for example). It’s not an institution like we think of today, with accreditation, but more of a center of thought.

In an internet world, where co-location isn’t central to the growth of a philosophy, I’m not sure where it would be. There would need to be some sort of discussion and interaction that leads to expansion of the school.

The other thing I think the school needs is something opposing it. There has to be a generalized philosophy or methodology that makes the school be in opposition, so that when the work is seen side-by-side, it’s clear what is in the school and what is outside of it.


So there seem to be at least two types of schools: 1) the teaching entity, 2) the philosophical and practical thinking that emerges from the teaching entity.

Are we all assuming that the second school can be consciously and deliberately created? Don’t philosophical and practical thinking styles emerge from the conditions in which they were fostered? In other words, do we need the teaching entity first, and then the philosophical and practical outputs are results of the collective efforts of students, teachers, and the public?


Nope :wink: I’m sceptical because I can’t imagine what a good answer would give us!

Something like “make better stuff” seems too weak a definition. How is this different from HCI / UX / IxD / IA / DT / etc. ?

Thinking on it a bit, how I think of school is more like a community of practice. Probably a geographically located one at least initially… but that’s not very useful either :wink:


… and then I read the next message where you’ve made exactly that point! D’oh!

So I guess when I think about ‘schools’ in this sense I think about some of the communities I’m part of. They’re not really role based or medium based, but are aligned on attitude and values. Folk like Balanced Team ( for example.