Field Reports A window on the future: Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a great window onto the future…..and yesterday we caught a glimpse of it courtesy of Lorraine Justice, Martin Smith, and Babette Strausse. As Bryan mentioned one of the topics we converged on was Design Education. I think that at the end of the day, design’s greatest value proposition is in its education.

It has always been with great dismay that I have had to acknowledge how little we invest in the art of teaching this most valuable asset. My first experience teaching (which is just about universal with anyone who has taught) is that I was simply thrown into the classroom and expected to swim. After all if one designs, one must know how to teach it, right? Well, try again… not really (actually far from it)….. So it was wonderfully refreshing to hear Lorraine and Marty talk about their investment into the art of teaching (take a look at the Design School’s Education program- I think this is very visionary work). And Lorraine, you have to write about your insights on this topic!

But how much of an audience is there for design education? Well we have the professions we serve, the growing businesses community that is awakening to design.…. and more fundamentally, a growing base of decision makers who need better strategic tools to confront an ever growing complex world. This is all on top of an exploding developing market of design education. Lorraine spoke with great clarity and vision about our changing global landscape, and the reality is shocking. Here’s a fact I’ll leave unanswered: guess how many new design schools are emerging in China? And it does not end there…. the thirst for the innovation process called design is insatiable, and well… you can see how that puts a critical lens on the design question of “how do we prepare those who teach design to be effective?”

Our education discussion posed another interesting question (its late so I’ll leave this one unanswered too): given the same innovation process, will all cultures innovate the same way? What kinds of cultures will spur what kind of innovation?

I think the challenge for countries that are homogenous, obedient, consensus driven, highly structured, and/or risk adverse (this describes Finland in many ways) is that the environment may color the kind of innovation that can be leveraged. A process alone is not enough. China’s culture will shape the kind of innovation it will prepare its students for… my guess would be that it will prepare great incremental innovators, but will have a hard time with those innovations that need a higher level of re-thinking, critique, and counter-culture perspective. Finland too, will have an innovation challenge. While it has the right ecosystem for innovation, its challenge will be to create the right conditions for thinking differently in a consensus driven culture.