Degrees of Post-Secondary Design Education
Until recent years, furniture design education was the purview of art schools and polytechnics. These institutions followed curriculums developed over years by faculty with a range of art, design, industry, science and technical experience. Teaching centred on studio-workshop courses where students built what they designed. Over a four-year program in classes of 10 to 15, students were assigned increasingly complex design briefs to be developed from rough sketches through working drawings to hands-on production. More than just classrooms, studios functioned as learning crucibles that allowed students to learn from their own projects as well as from exposure to their peers' different solutions to the same problem.
In the past decade, many art schools and polytechnics morphed into universities. Results of this "higher-learning" approach include a decreased emphasis on studio courses, more "academic theory" courses and a move toward "virtual" products developed with sophisticated 3-D rendering software. In some cases, students can now graduate from degree-level design courses without having produced a full-size furniture prototype.
With globalization causing the closure of many large- and medium-sized European and North American furniture factories, this focus on "academic" curriculum makes little sense in design education, particularly for domestic furniture design. Many smaller furniture producers, recognizing the need to adjust to the globalized marketplace, use CNC production technology, develop designs that can be "mass customized" and ship faster than their offshore competitors. These manufacturers need graduates with practical CNC experience, knowledge of new materials, sensitivity to the needs of today's consumer and respect for the environment. Many post-secondary design programs lack the required direction and equipment (literally in some cases) to produce competent designers needed by today's industry.
Furniture designer Scott Klinker, a strong believer in the future of "custom-mass production," instructs at Cranbrook Academy of Art. In 2006 he told VCR that " . . . students still have to be trained in making things; they just can't make images, because a computer rendering has nothing to do with gravity or structure."
Chairs designed by Scott Klinker using CNC technology
VCR provides a list below of post-secondary design and woodworking schools in Canada. The sidebar (right) lists schools in the US and worldwide. Lists include schools with a strong studio component. Please contact VCR with comments, suggestions or corrections.
K-12 Design Education
Compared to the K-12 curriculum offered by many European countries, the Canadian and American curriculum does not emphasize the importance of designing and making skills. In the UK, Design and Technology is compulsory for all grade K-9 students and available to all students in grades 10-12. This results in UK post-secondary institutions graduating 20,000 professional designers a year. The impact of these designers' talents on the UK economy has been substantial in recent years. Decision makers in North America should take note of the connection between design education and economic growth.
Canadian Education Programs