Group Work and the Externally-Oriented Capstone: Opening Students to the Challenges of Professional Practice

Group Work and the Externally-Oriented Capstone: Opening Students to the Challenges of Professional Practice

Nicole Wragg (Swinburne University of Technology, Australia) and Carolyn Barnes (Swinburne University of Technology, Australia)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 27
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0726-0.ch014


Professional learning, where students gain skills and attributes relevant to their future work, is currently emphasised in tertiary education. Group work is promoted here for preparing students to work with clients and colleagues. We report on two capstone projects undertaken for external clients by teams of design students. In discussing the curricula and pedagogy of professional design education, the chapter addresses the value of group projects in developing graduates' work-readiness and insight into professional practice. Variances in approach, knowledge and perspective between colleagues, combined with differing needs and expectations across the designer-client-end-user divide, make goal setting and project resolution challenging in design. Project work approached from an expanded sense of the group and which delivers implementable proposals for clients provides graduating students with authentic learning around the demands of practice, stressing collaborative problem-solving based on knowledge of the design context and the wider relational systems surrounding industry practice.
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The design industry’s expectation for work-ready graduates has long encouraged the use of client-supplied and simulated professional project briefs in tertiary curriculum, but the nature of practice in contemporary creative industries like design is changing. The rise of service industries, the culture of co-creation and the spread of digital technologies have made many established ideas about design practice irrelevant. Designers now need to design from the perspectives of the consumer rather than focusing on the qualities of the designed artefact. Clients and employers expect a steady stream of design invention geared to commercial and social contexts in a state of flux. Communication design and digital media design are fields focused on conceptual and stylistic invention, but entrenched beliefs in designers’ innate creativity, intuitive understanding of the design task and myth of the designer as lone creative genius, have made both fields resistant to new approaches such as user-centred design, with its requirement to base design on knowledge of people’s situation and preferences.

Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary professional practice is increasingly the norm in design with the rise of projects delivered across multiple platforms, both digital and print. Designers typically work in teams, engaging in the brainstorming, banter, critical feedback, discussion and negotiation that drives the process of conceptualisation, proposal making, design development and implementation, reflecting growing understanding that creativity is mostly a collective process (Sawyer, 2007). A design program that lacks group work, especially in its final year, misrepresents contemporary design practice. The capstone projects discussed here challenged students to connect the heterogeneous requirements, approaching their project as emerging from a community of practice in which differences of knowledge, meaning and practice must be actively brokered.

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