January 2013

A shared future

The landscape of interactive design is one characterised by constant flux; it’s changing and evolving at a rate we have never experienced before. Few, if any, industries reinvent themselves yearly, monthly, weekly, etc. Ours is one of these industries.

It’s an industry that, thanks to its global and connected nature, forces us to rethink the manner in which we shape and grow it almost daily.

With this relentless change, our industry faces a challenge to find fresh creatives, with the complex skillsets required to thrive and flourish, who underpin our rapidly growing sector. How do we create these people?

Many argue that education is broken and that a better route towards excellence is to eschew formal education altogether, in favour of hands-on experience learned en route. I think that’s an over-simplified and short-sighted view. Education – and educators – must play a critical role in the growth of our sector, helping to shape it and define it. I believe we can move forward faster, together, if we rethink education and the opportunities it offers our industry.

Education can take many forms – formal and directed; informal and self-directed – both have their place in a richer, reimagined learning environment. It’s never been a more exciting time to learn and it’s never been a more exciting time to rethink learning.

Rethinking education

Formal education focused on interactive design needs to change, dramatically and urgently.

As an educator who maintains an ongoing practice as a designer, working day-to-day on hands-on projects, I believe that education must play a role in the growth of our industry, however, I believe education must change. All too often, academics are detached from the everyday reality of industry, closeted in a comfortable world of theory and divorced from practice. That separation of theory and practice leads to educators who are often unable to equip their students with the real world knowledge they, and our industry, needs today.

Academia – for far too long isolated in its ivory towers – suffers from numerous problems, not least an often wilful dislocation from the coalface of industry and a pace of change that is self-servingly glacial, where innovation is all too often crushed by over-hierarchical structures which stifle the agile approach we need to embrace to keep pace with the rapid changes our industry is undergoing.

To address our industry’s needs we need to dissolve the boundaries that exist between academia and industry and forge partnerships that enable us to progress more quickly, evolving a richer curriculum that serves not only industry now, but industry as it might become.

We need to build a shared platform for the future, equipping the designers and developers of tomorrow with the skills they need to thrive and flourish in a landscape we can, in the here and now, barely imagine. We need to equip them with a rare quality: inquisitiveness.

The mentor-protégé relationship

How might we shape a shared future? One answer might lie in widening the pool of educators contributing their knowledge within an educational environment. Working hand-in-hand, academia and industry might develop mentoring programmes, pairing younger, emerging practitioners with older, experienced practitioners. There exists a rich seam of knowledge within industry that we could tap into to create richer learning experiences that are more engaging and, crucially, fit for purpose.

Our community – one characterised by sharing – offers us a rich pool of potential mentors from which to draw. Academia should embrace this talent.

In his excellent book ‘Mastery’, Robert Greene explores the dynamic of the mentor-protégé relationship, encouraging a return to a master-apprentice model of learning. Greene states: “Mentors streamline the process [of learning]. They invariably had their own mentors, giving them a richer and deeper knowledge of their field. Their knowledge and experience become yours; they direct you away from unnecessary side paths or errors.”

Mentors draw from lived experience. They can help shape and facilitate learning, acting as catalysts for change, enriching learning by moving beyond curricula and sharing the lessons of life. Mentors needn’t be ‘designer celebrities’, they simply need experience and a willingness to share and nurture the next generation of talent. By embracing the mentor-protégé model we can weave a rich tapestry of learning, for the benefit of all.

Time is finite

We only have so long on this earth and we should strive to make a difference.
As Trent Walton put it in his excellent article, ‘You Are What You Eat’, the average US citizen can look forward to just 28,616 breakfasts in their lifetime. When you start to think about it – remembering the breakfasts you already have under your belt – you begin to realise time is a limited resource, and you need to make every day count.

Time is finite, we cannot escape it. As Steve Jobs so eloquently put it, we should strive, “to make a dent in the universe,” but perhaps we can – and should – make a larger dent, by working collectively, embracing a collaborative approach towards shaping our industry and its future.

We all, regardless of background, have a duty to help shape our industry. The old-fashioned, and largely unhelpful, chasm between academia and industry isn’t working and we should seek to bridge this divide to shape our collective opportunity. We all have a responsibility to find ways to close the gap; our industry needs to shape these new models of learning.

By taking an active role in education, we can all play a part in the development of our industry – and we should. We need to rally together to collectively shape our future. We are navigators. We are shaping what comes next, mapping pathways that others follow; let’s embrace the opportunities and make a difference. This is our industry. This is our responsibility. Public. Private. Academia. Industry. Let’s dissolve the boundaries and work together to shape a shared future.


Christopher Murphy

A designer, writer and speaker, Christopher Murphy works with purpose-driven businesses, helping them thrive. He’s currently writing his eighth book, Designing Delightful Experiences, which focuses on the importance of human-centred design.


This article was commissioned for our January 2013 magazine. Like it? View all articles, grab our RSS feed, and subscribe to our newsletter.