The Power of Ten Show

Andy Polaine – ‘Is education broken?’ (Part 1)

John Carter
January 30, 2018
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The Power of Ten Show
January 30, 2018

Andy Polaine – ‘Is education broken?’ (Part 1)

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Episode Transcript

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Gerry Scullion: Hello and welcome to another episode of ‘This is HCD’. My name is Gerry Scullion and I’m a Human Centered Design practitioner based in Sydney Australia. Before we jump in, however, as this podcast was recorded in the Sydney CBD, I’d like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional custodians of the line we meet today and pay respect to the elders both past and present. In this episode, we caught up with Andy Polaine who is Regional APAC Design Director for Fjord and also professor Simon McIntyre from UNSW to discuss the future of education and ask the mammoth question of, “Is education broken?”.

Sponsorship thanks to Sustain Digital

So, before I continue I wanted to thank Holly Colbert from Sustain Digital in Sydney who has sponsored this episode with $500 being donated to Remember all advertising proceeds from this podcast go directly towards one of the most incredible Charities in Australia, which is

So Sustain Digital is a recruitment company with a difference, they are ethical and are really passionate about what they do with global recruitment experience. So they’re not your typical recruiters and they give back to the community. So most importantly they find the best talent, so they’re like a matchmaker between employers and employees. If you’d like to get in touch with their founder Hollie Colbert you can do so via Details in the show notes.

So, going back to the topic, with the topic as big as this, we’ve actually split this episode into two parts. In this episode, part 1, we speak at a high level, the current problems that exist in the educational system globally touching on the role of STEM and STEAM. It was really good to have Andy and Simon and to discuss this as we learn from different perspectives of Simon and Andy.

Simon’s perspective of actually educating students on a day to day basis and Andy, who has also educated for over a decade globally, before his role at Fjord. We hear his perspective from what it looks like in the consulting world who receive the talent post-University from the system. I think you’ll enjoy this one so let’s jump straight in.
Episode begins –
Gerry: Welcome to the show guys.

Andy Polaine: All right, thank you very much.

Gerry: Let’s kick off Andy, tell us a little bit about how you got into design?

Gerry: Originally I wanted to be a film director, so my path through was that I studied film photography video and digital media and in the very early 90’s, the beginning of interactive media when that was sort of segue, I discovered a Mac and MacroMind Director and Photoshop too?

Gerry: Macromedia? (Editor note: I was wrong, Andy was right. MacroMind came before Macromedia)

Andy: –and then I went carried on from there.

Gerry: Okay. Where are you working out at the moment?

Andy: I’m the APEC Regional Design Director at Fjord.

Gerry: Okay, excellent and Simon welcome to the show. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the design?

Simon McIntyre: Oh, I guess in high school, I didn’t study art or anything like that, but once I actually started I really got into it, I like creativity, I like the systems thinking and a lot of my work was in graphic design and interactive media back in the days of CD-ROMs, if anyone remembers those. And slowly after doing a lot of teaching in design, I started to really get interested in the hybrid of design and education, and how that can change the way we do things.

Gerry: It would be interesting to see both your perspectives on today’s topic which is, “Is education broken?” which is a nice segue into discussing how this topic originated. Andy, tell us a little bit about that.

Andy: So, Gerry and I, we had a discussion about this for about a potential topic I know Simon for just full disclosure and I’ve known Simon for very long time, actually since about ‘99, and we’ve both been lecturers at the School of Art and Design, UNSW, it was previously called COFA, College of Fine Arts. And then I’ve also been in education teaching design and service design in particular in Germany and Switzerland. One of the things that I realized as I was going through that journey of teaching is really you get involved in the educational system and you see it from the inside you see that there are lots of things that are very, very broken. But particularly our students are coming through into service design in particular where you really need that kind of systems thinking that Simon was talking about that we have kind of pattern thinking and networking, and it’s a multidisciplinary activity that the sort of conveyor belt style of Education, is really kind of broken for a multidisciplinary world.

Gerry: Simon?

Simon: Well, I think I would agree with that. I should also disclose I’m the new Associate Dean of Education at UNSW Art and Design. This is one of the problems I’m trying to tackle right now, but I think fundamentally from my experience what exacerbates this issue is the fact that everyone seems to be working in isolation. No one’s stepping back and looking at the bigger picture and understanding how they fit within it as educators and how to chart that journey or help students understand how to make connections between concepts. It’s just learning what’s right in front of you, come out and move on to the next thing.

Andy: And you see in higher education in particular that just by the physical layer of a campus run, so if you think of most of the kind of difficult and what in design we call wicked problems in the world, there are the intersection of culture and technology and politics and money and law and all those things, yet all those faculties are in different buildings. So, the chances for people to actually kind of get together, you get a couple of people doing double degrees, you get occasional moments where there’s some research project that’s labeled ‘multidisciplinary’ in order to usually just to get the funding, but in reality it’s very siloed, but its traces run right the way back to school education as well, that’s very siloed as well. It’s rare to have much collaboration between different disciplines at school.

Gerry: So looking out at universities, obviously what Andy was saying there about being in silos, how do those problems manifest itself into the workplace or what’s your experience with that?

Simon: I think one of the biggest issues is that education is existing in a competitive ecosystem. You mentioned before Andy something about looking at competing for funding and faculties and schools, they’re all scrambling over trying to get that dollar to keep themselves going which I completely understand given the way that funding is set up. But the problem that comes out of that is that people tend to close off and it’s really not about looking at how we can leverage all the different educational opportunities available as a holistic experience. When students go through a system like that and then go out into the workplace, I don’t think that their experience in education matches how the world works now. It’s very much about being more interconnected, is very much about collaboration but we’re not really teaching our students how to do that. We just expect them to be able to know.

Andy: I completely agree except I think that the real thing is that the student’s experience of Education doesn’t match the things that need to be done in the workplace, and unfortunately it does actually match, mostly what’s going on in companies which the exact same thing happens in large organizations. They are silo to their kind of convertible careers from graduate going up the hierarchy, which is also part of the problem. So a lot of things we’re trying to do in service design is trying to break down those silos. And we think it’s about business but I think it starts much, much, much earlier. The longer version of this is education is a product of the Industrial Revolution. It’s a public education that Ken Robinson’s talked about this a lot, where you’ve moved from artisans creating something, creating one object and talking to each other, talking to customers and then creating another one. Also the agrarian society, well, people learn on the job. In those situations, people learned on the job. If you were sort of wealthy elite you’d have a tutor, but other than that you’re learning then in the rise of factories a lot of the first public schools were funded by factory owners. In that situation the parents who sort of move into a city, the parents are in the factory all day, so the kids need something to do. So, they go to school and of course, at school, you’re taught to sit down, be still, learn to write tasks, learn repetitive tasks, do what you’re told, obey the hierarchy which is a great priming for a job in a factory.
And really this thing that’s at JM Culkin said it about Marshall McLuhan of, you know, “We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us”. The dominant kind of paradigm of their they day, decide how we kind of think about things. So back then, education is a convertible. It’s an assembly line you put some raw material at the beginning, the kids, they go in, they get stamped into shape and you pop out as a tax accountant or a designer, or a lawyer and so forth. That kind of worked quite well in an age where you pretty much had a job for life. And in fact most of what you’re doing then you come in at the bottom and you’re learning really your profession on the job as much as you did. You’re just learning some of the kind of basics in the university.

I think that’s very, very different now. Most of us here have careers that didn’t exist even so 10 or 15 years ago, interaction designer or an app designer just didn’t exist. So, I’ve no idea what the future is going to be for students today and that actually would hate to be a teenager today. That makes it very, very difficult for education to be set up in that kind of predictive way of, well, “You learn this and then you’ll get a job”, It’s just not as simple, you actually have to learn a capability of ‘thinking’.

Gerry: So like looking at from a service design perspective where we zoom out and we kind of identify that it’s not really how the universities are structured themselves, it’s actually how the system is structured. What countries have you seen that where the ‘structure’ is correct in your view?

Andy: Well, Finland, we were just talking before the podcast is a famous example of getting education right. I think when the use of reading about or look at people talking about who working in the Finnish education system and one thing they generally don’t have homework, it’s also illegal to have any tutoring outside of school in Finland. Apart of that is about a kind of whole societal belief in the value of education and in the value of inquiry and being curious.
I mean the big killer for education is standardized testing and the sort of audit culture that institutions have gone through. So in the UK and also in Australia in all of the institution get, audited all the scores get ranked and it’s a competition and just recently in the UK there’s been a headmaster just resigned because they were basically telling the students who didn’t get A grades, “You have to leave our school because you’re kind of pulling the ranking down”. Which is any kind– in the Finns would just be kind of–

Gerry: Appalled.

Andy: –appalled at that.

Simon: I think just continuing on that thought something that I’ve seen happening over the last few years is, education is too slow to actually adapt holistically to some of the challenges that are facing us, and some of the needs that society has. What tends to happen is the values tend to be eroded to keep the machine going. What I mean by that is you have to have a certain amount of students that are shovelling into the system to be able to pay for the complex unwieldy system. And then to actually maintain that there are more and more education providers popping up for a quick fix so to speak, and so you have to lower the bar and shovel more students in, rather than taking the time to stop and really look at the context that the education system is in holistically and redesign it and overhaul it. It’s a massive undertaking. It’s something we’re trying to do now at Art & Design, it’s nearly killing me, [laughter] but I think it’s absolutely necessary. We can’t keep patching and changing in small increments anymore because outside of the system, the way we live, the people who are designing the apps, who are disrupting normal businesses, they have changed what’s required and we have to be able to actually match them.

Gerry: What could happen if we don’t change how we educate?

Simon: I think there’ll be a bigger and bigger disconnect and a devaluing of what education means. There are people out there who are actually ‘making it’ if I can put that in add quotes, who haven’t been through higher education for example, but they understand how the world works, how the new share economies work. They’ve used disruptive innovation in a way to change things from the grassroots level and that’s where a lot of services are drifting towards because it’s more convenient, it’s the path of least resistance.

Andy: Yeah. I think there are a few things, that one is that education has been– it’s expected to be run like a business at the same time as it’s a public institution and service, and that’s a real problem. So you can’t keep– [crosstalk]

Gerry: So you just look at the bottom line…

Andy: –yeah and you can’t keep driving efficiencies in something like education some things that cost money because we think as a society that they’re worth spending money on. In Germany for example, education is completely free. My wife’s constantly appalled at the idea that people have to pay to go to the University, my wife’s German.

Gerry: it’s relatively same in Ireland as well.

Andy: Yeah and because that’s seen as an investment in the future, whereas if we look at the States where people are leaving a higher education with enormous amounts of crippling debt, it’s a massive problem, I mean it’s a really huge problem, and you see it also causes a societal problem.s So that’s one side of things and then what happens when you run education like that is it’s the same as kind of top 20 radio stations right there. If you’re going for advertising dollars then you play popular music because that’s what brings the audiences, but then what happens is every radio station starts playing all the same music. And that’s what happened at the universities, all those kind of niche and sort of more fringe and in some terms often interesting and important subjects get cut, and it’s just a real focus on say STEM, the science technology, engineering, and math, at the expense of everything else. So you lose that kind of diversity and like with anything as soon as you lose diversity, you start getting some really homogenized thinking and it just becomes a kind of vicious cycle.

Simon: I think the other aspect of that is, I’ve seen a trend of decisions being made in terms of what’s being offered, based on what students want. It’s become a real driving imperative to try and actually lure people in with what they think students want, but sometimes it’s also what they need and as educators we have a responsibility to understand the world we’re putting these students into, and to make sure that we can give them the tools they need to be able to thrive in that environment. We’re not doing that as well as we could.

Andy: I agree and I think the upshot of that is this credentialing, so you get students who come and they just want to get the degree because they know that that’s what they–

Gerry: Piece of paper.

Andy: –they’re to the piece of paper and really that degree is– it’s like currency. If someone comes in your door with a CV and it says, “I’ve got a degree from Harvard”, you believe it’s better because everyone kind of believes it better. It’s an illusion like currency so as long as everyone believes in it it’s fine, but it’s very easy for that to start to collapse and as you see on currencies collapse. It’s because people lose faith in that as an investment and I think what the danger for education is in higher education in particular. And you’re seeing it as you get these kinds of other institutions and private institutions popping up like you know Academy XI or General Assembly, in all of those, particularly in design where to be honest, I take a cursory look when I look at someone’s education and their CV, we now get an application, but most of the time I’m looking at their portfolio. And then most the time I’m actually saying, “Yeah, don’t show me the shiny stuff. Tell me how you’re thinking behind that and how you got there?”. So actually, the sort of credentialing bit starts becoming less and less relevant and that’s a huge problem for higher education.

Gerry: I just want to take the conversation back, just a little bit around the bottom line and how universities are run like businesses. Who’s making that decision to focus in the bottom line, is it Government or is it they’re out of the universities themselves?

Andy: Or that’s an ecosystem right?

Simon: I was going to say it’s a chain reaction because as funding is cut further and further, people go into survival mode and you have to actually be able to maintain the bottom line to stay open to keep doing what you’re doing. I think as Andy said before the Government’s investment in education and I guess understanding that by doing that you’re improving Society or a whole other level that’s not just about the quality of the graduates, is something that’s really missing.

Andy: And as part of that kind of short-term cycle thing, and that’s the thing of running it, trying to run a country like a business again, which is one of the big problems in business and organizations an organizational change is the short-term sort of quarterly cycle as a shareholder reporting at. So really, it’s not really about the people are working there or even the end customers it’s about satisfying a kind of elite group of wealthy investors over who upset if they don’t get their made-up number each quarter, but the same thing then goes in Government.
So you have politics is really plagued by short-term thinking because it’s just about the next election and just about this at the next thing and not really thinking all of those kinds of fundamental services and education is one of them, all kind of ongoing public institutions. In many respects public funding for education is like fossil fuels, right? It’s just getting less and less and less. It’s probably never going to come back and then so you need some kind of radical thinking, and it’s plagued by the same problem where you’ve got a problem that’s really long terms, very hard for anyone to kind of conceive beyond their own little kind of career bubble.

Gerry: So what happens? Is this trying to move government’s forward into that way of thinking, changing the mindset of governments to think more like Finland? What can we do as practitioners, me being a practitioner and you guys being educators, what can we do to change the system?

Simon: One of the things you have to do is break it if you can and show that it works. At the moment at UNSW, for example, we have a new vice chancellor who has a very different opinion about what university should be, so it should be measured on how it gives back to society on the whole. It should be about more cross-disciplinary interaction, it should be about less siloing, very easy things to say–

Gerry: How are you going to measure that though that’s [crosstalk]

Simon: Well, that’s the thing. I mean, there’s a lot of investment happening into trying to make that happen in terms of the measurement it’s a long game, and I don’t think we’ve worked out all the parameters yet. And I think some of the skills that Andy was referring to earlier about what students need to be able to do when they leave these institutions, we have no way of measuring yet either and it’s not as easy as that standard test to show I can do that calculation or explain someone else’s idea. It’s about a whole series of complex concepts that allow students to adapt to any different situation, so the measurement becomes a lot more difficult.

Gerry: Yeah. I remember when I was choosing, I studied industrial design back in NCAD in Ireland and locally I had parents who were open-minded to allow me to take on those kinds of career choices at 16 and 17. They were like, “We hope he’s going to get a job but we’re not entirely too sure”. When I left University there was really– I went into this kind of void and I didn’t really know what to do with my degree. And for a couple years afterwards, I was kind of like discounting my degree. I was like, “I don’t know why I did that, I wasn’t able to get a job”, but it’s only in the last decade or so I’m actually really thankful that I studied industrial design because that system thinking was– just was native to how we worked and we collaboratively work together with other departments and stuff. But just following on from that, I’m seeing a lot of people in the industry, who are trying to get into the industry, you were trying to move careers from say, law into a design. I think it’s really evident from the fact that they’re making these choices too early like they want to become a lawyer and then they go into that system and then they realize that that system is broken and they want to change it. And how do they change it it’s kind of like they want to learn these skills. So they’re going to Academy XI and they’re going to General Assembly trying to up skill, but they can’t get into the industry. It’s the whole system is seems to be in conflict with each other.

Simon: What’s interesting though I think we can use those standardized measures to our advantage in trying to change the system. For example, QUILT scores, quality indicators of learning and teaching has suddenly become very important because it’s a national ranking scale of how universities measure in terms of student satisfaction with programs and employers satisfaction with graduates. And all of a sudden universities are sitting up and really taking notice that “Well, we actually rank up here on the research scale”, but all of the sudden its public knowledge, “We’re not doing so well on the education scale”. One thing we’re trying to do is co-design curriculum with industry because if we can engage industry with our programs and with our students, not right at the end, not in professional placements that happen at the end of the degree when it’s too late for students to understand where they are and what their shortcomings have been through the educational experience, we can form a sort of permeable membrane between the education bubble and the industry or societal bubble. And I think that’s been one of the big problems as we’ve existed in our own self-important, self-defined kind of environment.

Andy: Yeah. It’s one of the things I really liked about Germany is, they still have that whole apprenticeship model. It’s actually kind of– the education system is quite complex– [crosstalk]

Gerry: That’s part of the degree is it, it’s part of–

Andy: One at so easy at the age of 16 there’s this sort of different pathways you can go down in fact, you start deciding that even though, even younger, which has its own problems, but still in certainly in what would be called vocational careers which I kind of really always sort of hate the term of because it’s slightly sort of looked down upon, especially and sort of from universities often as though they’re the people who do kind of practical stuff, like sort of painters and electricians as if those people aren’t important. But Germany has a really strong culture of you– if you’d learn any of those trades, for example, you go to Uni or you go to some higher education or further education institution whilst you’re working at the same time. So you have that kind of combination of Industry and education and then that it’s naturally kind of feeding backward and forwards through the student. It’s been the biggest kind of killer I think for quality education in all the countries that dispensed with that. It’s sort of come back in a fairly ugly way with internships and we see it in the States, a lot of people who are highly qualified in terms of their graduate or postgraduate careers spending years, being unpaid interns and that’s another problem in its own right. So, the earlier you get industry involved in education, the better.

Simon: And another really interesting insight. We’ve been having discussions with different industry partners about what our graduates are lacking because one of the big problems is that a lot of academics have been in academia for a very long time and the world has actually changed around them.

Gerry: The paradigm has shifted–

Simon: Exactly.

Gerry: –even in the last two years as opposed to the last decade.

Andy: Well, you used to be that if you’re an academic, you were– academia where you was so secular priesthood, right? You as the professor of some of the chair or something, you’re the source of knowledge and information and now that’s the internet changed all that, of course. You’re no longer the source of information and it really shifts as the sort of classic phrase in education from the sage on the stage to the guide by the side, right? [laughter] Now it’s you need to look at well, how do I help and sit next to someone as we sort of discover and make sense of this information out there and turn it into knowledge and learning, but the institutions aren’t really kind of set up for that. Academic careers are really sort of built upon building your own little tower and whilst demolishing everyone else’s, particularly in research. So, yeah, I’ve heard that paper “that Gerry wrote it’s wrong because of all these reasons that I’ve just proved in my paper”. It’s inherently actually not that collaborative although research teams obviously collaborated together it’s not very multidisciplinary either.

Gerry: So the conflict is related to the funding.

Andy: And the structure, yeah, and they all kind of interrelate to each other.

Gerry: Yeah, it goes back to the original thing, it’s a system problem as opposed to like–

Simon: Well, another example of that is there are hundreds of measures of research performance and how many measures do we have of teaching performance at the moment at, well, there’s one.

Gerry: Who defines those metrics?

Andy: That’s just it. We’re actually trying to do that now in the institution and it’s incredibly difficult because it’s something that is not done the same across the board. If I’ve got X number of papers that I have to write or X number of dollars I have to bring in in grants, that’s very easy to measure. But how can we measure a practice which is done in so many different ways and the benefits may manifest themselves much later than when a student is sitting in your class.

Andy: I mean a measurement thing is a fundamental problem in education and it’s all the way down to lots of auditing culture of– I was talking about before within schools where you look at school ranking and it’s kind of based on how many students got this of these many A grades and so forth and don’t really tell you anything about the experience. And it’s to bring about to design, it’s our classic problem. We know this makes a difference but it’s very hard to kind of measure that in a quantitative way. Some of those measures of like student satisfaction and Industry satisfaction give you some more qualitative understanding of it. But in a scenario where everyone’s just being sort of measured quantitatively you end up focusing on, anything you measure it becomes a thing that you focus on and you drive on…

Gerry: You chase those numbers.

Andy: Yeah, you chase those. You end up measuring things that are easily measured quantitatively so the sort of standardized questionnaires, multiple-choice ranking systems and so forth. And then other stuff that doesn’t affect those measures because people chase the money, it gets reduced. There’s a massive problem for the Arts and Humanities, but it’s also a massive problem for us culturally in that. If you see what’s going on in Silicon Valley with the kind of tech bubble and the Tech Bros and the likes of where engineering is king, you really need people at Facebook and Google who have studied ethics and about society, and what their role is as their own biases and all of those things. And those conversations that knowledge comes from humanity it doesn’t come out of science and engineering.

Gerry: Or engineering, absolutely So Andy, what metrics should be we measuring?

Andy: So we talked a lot at Fjord about impact and what’s the impact, and that if you start there– [crosstalk]

Gerry: Impact the society?

Andy: Well, yeah, that’s the thing, right. If you start there it’s a really useful question because it will impact a society, impact on people, impact on people’s lives, impact on the individual. There’s a kind of useful starting point to then think about well how do we go, what are the components of that and how do we measure it. Because then it’s not just about a set of numbers because the impact is quite a complex thing and it can be short-term and also long-term. So, classics are triple bottom line stuff of you know, there’s obviously economic impact but there’s the social or environmental impact you could look at. I think some of those softer metrics are things that you need to measure. I was interested in that kind of finished thing which was they were saying, when they were asking about it to give kids home working again, no. Because they’re doing other things and so what kind of other things? Well, you know, being with their family and exploring the world, playing with each other, being together, playing music and all of those things. All of those things that if we took them out of society, everyone would be distraught. We all listen to music or listen to podcasts, we all listen– we read the newspaper, read books, we consume enormous amounts of media and all sorts of other stuff, but those also have to be made by someone.

Gerry: Yeah. Simon, you were about to say…

Simon: Well, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in some ways that longitudinal measurement is critical at the moment we’re just looking at what happens in my class or what grade they get when they graduate, but it’s a longer-term investment of faith in some ways to be able to look at longitudinal impact across these different sectors. I guess part of that is shifting from just teaching a subject area to teaching how to integrate that with the rest of your life as well. All those experiences of climbing a tree or listening to music are important in being a holistic human being in society, but for some reason, the education system assumes that people automatically know how to do that, whereas we could look at a more holistic approach. I think Finland giving more time for children to be children and to experience those different things and to put an equal importance on those experiences is something we should be looking at a little bit more closely.

Gerry: So Simon, we were discussing before we started recording and what we can do in the short term to change the process, what are your thoughts?

Simon: I could talk quickly about some of the approaches we’re trying to take at UNSW Art and Design because we’ve really started to see a disjoint between what the students are when they come out of our programs as they are and the world they’re going into. We’ve been doing a lot of work in stepping back and looking at the curriculum as a whole, rather than lots of separate individual kind of pieces. So, part of the challenge we’re facing now is real cultural change within the institution. We’re looking at changing the educational experience of students to being more pathway driven, helping them actually understand who they are as practitioners very early and that’s a lifelong process, but giving them the tools to be able to reflect on that. And clearer pathways about, if you’re interested in this general direction, these are the sorts of different combinations of experiences you can have. Another thing is looking at programmatic assessment. Instead of being assessed 500 times in one semester over and over and over again, all you’ve got time to do is get that assessment done. We’re looking at stripping back the number of assessments significantly and having a course studio that runs through the entire program where students need to synthesize their understanding of all the different experiences they’ve had key points, and some of those experiences were working with other faculties to make them very much collaborative. We’re also working on better integration of industry experience throughout, not just placements but actually having students working on industry projects with students from business, engineering, whatever. It’s a big challenge but there’s a lot of faith in the fact that we can do it, and it needs to happen because the universities I think suddenly noticing the students aren’t maybe at the top of their game when it comes to getting out in the real world.

Gerry: Yeah, that’s really interesting, so just going to move on to another topic. I know a couple of people in the slack channel for ‘This is HCD’ we’re mentioning about the role of STEM or STEAM as some people are starting to refer, I know this is an extension of the word Arts in there as well. I know Andy, we’ve discussed this a little bit, being able to play in the future of Education, is this the silver bullet, STEAM as being the silver bullet to solve all the problems? I know it’s a loaded question.

Andy: I don’t think it’s the silver bullet but I think it helps. Actually, part of the problem both in education and in sort of business, in general, is they’re looking for the silver bullet there which is–

Gerry: What can get us to the next stage?

Andy: –what can get us to this thing quickly because this is in the too hard basket and something that’s taken many decades to become complex and tangled and broken, takes a long time to unpick so that that’s one part of that. What I really like what Simon was talking about just before about doing a mapping exercise of the curriculums and programs across the entire faculty because that’s a design process.
And for me, my entry into service design was actually whilst I was at COFA. And we were having a faculty reshuffle back then and I’m everything this is a design process and while we were sitting around a table reading out sheets of A4. And then I’d start to think about the design of organizations and that was my sort of lead into service design. I think that that’s one important thing which is to understand that this is a design process.
Policy writing is a design process but it’s an act of design to write policy both in government and in institutions. I think in terms of the STEM and STEAM question there’s been this very vocal voice in the public discourse about science technology engineering and maths. How important they are and we need to get more of that in schools and this is the future and so forth. Now there’s no doubt that technology is a big factor in contemporary life and that you need people who know what they’re doing in it, and they’re not saying the STEM isn’t important. I don’t want my plane to fall out of the sky and I want my iPhone to work on, but at the same time I don’t want to have kind of rubbish experiences with those either and I don’t want have things that have knock-on effects for society, like Brexit or like Trump, or any of those things too because of kind of a narrow point of view around what I’m doing. So, STEAM was John Maeda’s, I think was one of the people who originally pushed it which was into to put the arts back into a STEM. I think that’s really important, that interplay between the two because they are at the moment two very different mindsets. My current theory about design thinking is it’s a corrective kind of measure for the lack of arts thinking in education. You’ve got a load of people have kind of gone through education and they focused on what subjects am I going to do, they’re going to get me at a proper job out there, they go into business. If you imagine around the sort of age of 17 when you’re choosing and you’re thinking, “Well, I do like” quite like to be get into the arts or media or design or be a writer or something, when lots of people around you are saying, “Well, I don’t know, it’s a risky career”, it’s like you just said, you know, “Maybe should do a proper job”. I spoke to someone the other day and she was brilliant, she’s a service designer.
When she studied I think visual communications and international relations, and I said, “Did your parents tell you to do the international relations bit?”, and she said, “Yeah, yeah, they did. I really wanted to be designer”. So then that kind of flows on or if you think of where we are with design thinking and business, you’ve got a whole load of people in business which is a broad term who effectively kind of risk-averse.
All right, naturally because that’s they’ve chosen that path in many respects and it’s not entirely true, obviously, people chose things that they wanted to do too. But to choose to be in a design or arts profession, you are basically choosing risk. You’re choosing a career that you know might mean lots of unemployment and lots of instability. So, you’re comfortable with ambiguity, which means you’re comfortable usually with a design process which has lots of ambiguities if don’t know the answers to it. You’ve got that kind of clash and now what you’re seeing is business saying, ” I know, we’ve sort of got to a dead end and we need someone that we need some people who are able to think a lot”. There’re two really different mindsets and I think that’s where a lot of the cultural clash comes when you see sort of design meet kind of organizations and business, and I would love to see that thinking earlier.
I had a student in Switzerland and she was teaching service design. She’s now a service designer working in Berlin now but she was a teacher, she was a primary school teacher previously. She came in after that career into the Masters. And interestingly enough she sort of got it more than a lot of product designers did or people who had come through a design education. So I found– [crosstalk]

Gerry: What is that?

Andy: –I know I found when I get Master students in general by the time they’ve got that far, they’re sort of mind has been moulded. I think often bachelor students are more open but often people who come in from other careers, they’re already there because they’re kind of curious and they want something different and they’re less kind of defined. One of the things she did was wanted to bring design thinking into primary school teaching, and she did a project and she had to make it a little kind of toolkit and some stuff a teacher, and when she was doing her sat validation of it. The teacher was like, “Oh, then I see, it’s more stuff for me to do, incredible time pressures. There’s this kid at the back who never says anything, never takes part in class and I don’t think he’s going to be had to do a design exercise”. And she said, “Well, let’s just see”. And when she did it this quiet kid suddenly blossomed, was just completely engaged along with the rest of the class and the teacher was absolutely shocked that that could have that effect.

Gerry: That could happen, yeah.

Andy: Yeah and so one, hearing stories like that is one data point, but I think you need to have that integrated much earlier would be fantastic and I think it makes it real difference to the way people think. How many see what’s going to places like Finland or countries where they have a much broader kind of education or education systems like Montessori and Steiner that do that. I think you get much more fully rounded individuals coming out and I think Simon’s point you get more fully rounded society as a result, but that’s a really long-term– [crosstalk].

Gerry: Yeah, so look, this topic we could obviously speak for hours on it. There are lots of different areas and some questions that I had around, the roles of parents in enabling, this type of thinking and what they can say to their schools, but we’re going to move on, we’re going to move over to Mark’s three questions from hell as we know it is and three questions for Andy and my pitch it to Simon as well, cool?

Mark: The first question is to both of you what professional skill do you wish you’re better at?

Andy: Shorter sentences. [laughter]

Mark: That was a good start. [laughter]

Gerry: You’re nailing it.

Andy: Yeah. I wish I didn’t have such as of allergic reaction to spreadsheets and that’s one of those kinds of knowledge that I think, the way math is taught in school it’s just soul-destroying. And when I started doing some programming it was really great because I said, “Oh, alright, that algebra I learned, now I can see the results of that on screen” and that was an eye-opener. I wish sort of math had been taught to me differently so I actually kind of enjoyed or felt more comfortable in that later on with numbers.

Gerry: Simon?

Simon: I don’t know if it’s a professional skill per say but positive subversion, being able to actually speak the language better of the existing systems, so you can get within and then start to change people’s minds. I’m getting a little way with that now but it’s definitely a skill.

Andy: That’s a good one. I’m an angry ranter. [laughter]

Mark: No, I like that too and I heard that before.

Simon: Difficult to say.

Mark: [laughs] What’s the one thing that you wish you were able to banish? So I guess if you’re both in kind of different industries but could be anything?

Andy: I think I would banish the idea of efficiency and switch it for effectiveness. So I mean, from everything from industry and business through to education has been plagued by this drive towards efficiency which usually just means cutting back on the staff. And whereas effectiveness going back to the point of impact is more about is this thing effective or not, and I think it would be much more useful metric.

Simon: I would have to say possessiveness. So, particularly in the higher education context it’s very much, this is my research, this is my topic area, this is my time and those things have been incredibly hard to try and change within people to let them understand it part of a bigger picture not just, “You will be made nothing if you give up these things” and that’s the fear a lot of people actually have, that’d be one thing.

Mark: Final question, any advice that you give to an emerging HCD talent?

Andy: I’m going to steal something from Brendan Dawes who said this to me once, which I thought was really great, which said to be a more interesting design that you have to be a more interesting person. So, you need to be curious, I think is really important, and to be able to connect things together and then explain how you can have got there, I think the number one skill. All the other stuff the actual technical and craft skills, I think you can pick up quite easily without thinking bit that has to start earlier. It’s really, really hard to turn around people’s thinking style later on in life.

Simon: I probably extend that and say ‘always question’, because one thing I’ve seen is particularly with new students is the fact they get in and they’re solution-driven and they’ll get to that solution immediately, “Go there, I’m done” whereas that’s not the way it needs to work. It’s always about questioning yourself and understanding the context, so that would be number one for me.

Andy: Yeah, that’s a great one. You often see, “Tell me what I have to do and I’ll do it quicker and better than one else so far” but that’s the one I’m interested in.

Mark: Cool, thank you, guys.

Gerry: Andy, Simon, thank you so much for being on the show this week, I’m really enjoyed speaking with you. If anyone wants to reach out to get in touch with you, how might they be able to do that?

Andy: I’m @Apolaine on Twitter, A-P-O-L-I-N-E and is my neglected website and you could find me on Fjord as well at

Gerry: And you’re also on the slack channel for ‘This is HCD’.

Andy: I’m also on the slack channel and you can and you can Google and I’m sure you’ll find something.

Gerry: And Simon we need to get you onto that slack channel as well.

Simon: Yeah, that’s sounds great. Otherwise, Google is a good option or

Gerry: That’s a short email.

Simon: It is.

Gerry: It’s another problem in education, long emails. I’ll put your email in the show notes as well. Guys thank you so much.


Andy: Thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure.


Simon: Thank you.


Gerry: So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this episode and if you’d like to be part of the conversation or community hop on over to, where you can request to join the slack channel and help shape future episodes and connect with other designers around the world. Thank you for listening and see you next time.



John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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