James Smithson’s Gift

“I then bequeath the whole of my property…to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge…”
James Smithson (1765-1829)

James Smithson

As Cooper-Hewitt a national design organization and a part of the Smithsonian, I wonder how we can increase and diffuse knowledge for designers of all disciplines? I’ve been thinking about these issues for a while, and hope to get advice and opinions by starting a discussion in these early days in my new role.

We have sophisticated educational programs in universities and colleges across the country, offering programs that develop design skills in architecture, industrial design, interaction design, graphic design, web design, or more craft based disciplines like ceramic or jewelry design. Although the design skills learned in these programs serve as a valuable foundation for careers, they tend to separate the disciplines from each other, and do not always equip the students for the increasing rate of change in design practice, for the convergence between disciplines, or for the continuing expansion of digital technology. These forces for change beg the question of how a national design resource can help. Perhaps there are two opportunities, one for professionals and the other in design education.

Should our national design organization provide an umbrella organization to help professionals in all design disciplines? Organizations such as AIA, AIGA and IDSA tend to remain discipline centered. Can we develop connections across disciplines, integrating the expertise and communication abilities of these organizations? IDA (the International Design Alliance) has made strides in this direction by combining industrial design with graphic and interior design, but there is no umbrella organization at a national level in the USA. Should we help with standards for certification, or toolkits and information?

Is there an opportunity for us to play a role in the support of design education, helping design educators to teach about adaptability for future change? Should there be a structure for national accreditation linking between disciplines? Can we help to clarify the differences in curriculum and course structure between undergraduate and masters, or post-experience education? Should we support annual teachers conferences, interdisciplinary collaboration or toolkits and information to teachers?

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