Design School Curriculum Perspectives: Preparing Students for Today’s Agencies

I’ve just returned from Istanbul where Adobe hosted a two-day Digital Media Education Summit for design
schools across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. While many relevant and engaging discussions took place, one question stuck out the most: “In today’s competitive workplace, how do we best prepare students for careers in interactive design and media?” There’s a great deal of change in the market on this front – check out one of the recent SoDA reports here.

This is about curriculum design, and how to evolve project-based learning in ways that equip students for jobs in the ever-changing world of digital marketing. It’s also about teaching the skills needed to market an entrepreneurial idea successfully to today’s consumer.

So what do design students really need? Here are three areas to explore:

Cross Discipline Collaboration: Today’s marketing and design firms are looking for graduates that can understand how to work with front-end developers (across Facebook apps, mobile apps, HTML5 and Flash) as well as back-end data engineers who track how the creative content is being used in a marketing campaign. School projects that involve collaboration with various departments including computer science, business and the design school help prepare students for today’s marketing environments. We’re already starting to see this mainstream approach in many universities, which is great news.

Cohesive Design across Devices: Today’s design firms need graduates who understand how to optimize their design for mobile, iPad, Facebook and browser consumption. It is important, if not critical, that institutions require students to complete a course on mobile media and mobile app design. Assigning projects requiring that a design is expressed across several types of multimedia devices is a terrific way to prepare students for their future careers.

Social and Interactive Integrations: Today’s ad campaign typically encourages consumer interaction. The article you read online provides the opportunity for you to tweet, retweet or have a community discussion. Interactive websites engage users beyond the basic transfer of information, providing a much more memorable experience. Students should be encouraged to explore ways of making the interactive component of their work front-and-center, and understand the principles of usability in designs that will be viewed across various media forms. Until now, interactivity was often an afterthought to advertising design – but today’s successful campaigns need both.

It goes without saying that students still need to learn the foundations of design across composition, typography and color. But now is the time to look ahead and challenge the current model, to embrace new paradigms and to create approaches that integrate technology advancements and human behavior into the design curriculum.

I know that many of you have other thoughts and recommendations on this topic so, please let us know!


  1. Virginia McLeod

    Couldn’t agree more, the issue is upskilling teachers. What is needed are many one day workshops specifically aimed at designing across devices.

  2. Ralph Caouette

    Also agree. Further–though the technical tools, software etc., will be the major vehicles and enablers of learning, I’d go a step beyond…’What’s missing from almost ALL of education are vestiges of ‘design thinking’! The processes of learning and solving most any problem infused daily in education as a ‘way’ of learning would vastly throw the weight of learning and engagement right in students laps. Interest, curiosity, motivation, even creativity would all boost. Students naturally want an integrated approach, a hands on mentality to much work, and the ability to model and test. Reflection follows cyclically, at least when involved with the design shop mentality. The major block to this is that the overwhelming amount of educators have tasted little design based learning, do not recognize success at all from a design base, and therefore give little value toward its tenets, abilities or skills. So much for creativity and innovation. Major test companies and many other institutions also rail against values of design based learning without attacking it directly. It’s akin to the vast differences of Newtonian approaches vs quantum approaches. The question remains, ‘How might we…’ Our futures depend on unraveling and de-powering many of the dead end forms of thinking and value placements found in mainstream education. I believe this is where DESIGN has a PURPOSE!

Jon Perera

As vice president of product management for the Adobe Document Cloud, Jon Perera leads the company's strategy and roadmap for the PDF portfolio of Adobe – this includes Reader, Acrobat DC, and the SaaS offers across both consumer and enterprise segments. He also leads customer success for the enterprise e-sign services. He previously led the Adobe Education business, the company's largest vertical. Across more than twenty years in the software industry, Perera has held a variety of marketing, technical and field positions. He joined Adobe from Microsoft, where he last held the position of general manager of the company’s Academic Programs group. He also served as general manager of business operations for Microsoft’s international headquarters in Paris, France. He was one of the company’s first product managers on Windows NT, which led to innovations including Active Directory, .NET, and more; and he led the go to market for Microsoft’s middleware strategy across SQL Server, .NET, and Visual Studio. Perera has also served on the board of the Technology Access Foundation, which is working to help children of color in public schools become college-ready for the STEM-related fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. He holds a bachelors degree in Literature from Wesleyan University.

Jon Perera