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In a typography class, two students show their work to an instructor.

Typography is a subject in a course in the graphic design program, College of Human Ecology.

Designing a college

By Pauline Oo

Published on October 25, 2005;
updated November 2, 2005

Work is under way to create a new college of design as part of the ongoing initiative to transform the U into one of the top three public research universities in the world.

While bringing the U's design disciplines under one roof may seem like a radical concept, it's neither new nor extreme.

"The idea of a new design college has been floated before," says Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (CALA).

Ralph Rapson, head of the School of Architecture between 1954 and 1984 when it was part of the Institute of Technology, wanted to bring the design disciplines under one roof, Fisher says. The idea was seriously discussed again about 10 years ago.

Other universities have done it. North Carolina State University, Iowa State University, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Cincinnati have a design college or an interdisciplinary design school.

"But we will be, if not the most, one of the most diverse," says Fisher. One of the reasons the concept of a design college has resurfaced now at the U is the growing importance of design in the world, he adds.

"Design is getting to be a much more important part not only of everyday life, but of our economic future, and that, I think, is part of the opportunity we see with this new college," says Fisher. "Design takes ideas and makes products, services, and environments people can use. One of our strategic ideas here is to help the University convert some of the discoveries generated in lots of different disciplines into marketable products. We want to see design, which in scientifically oriented universities like this has played a somewhat marginal role, move into a much more central role, as a partner with a lot of other disciplines."

The charge of the design task force--one of 34 formed to help transform the U--is to create a multidisciplinary college of design that incorporates CALA in Minneapolis with the Department of Design, Housing, and Apparel (DHA) in the College of Human Ecology in St. Paul.

Talk to the task force--all are welcome

Thursday, November 3, 12:30-1:30 p.m., 145A Rapson
Topic: History, theory, culture, and preservation interest group

Thursday, November 3, 1:30-2:30 p.m., 145A Rapson
Topic: Metropolitan design interest group

Participants should be prepared to answer the following questions:

* What are our current strengths in this area?

* What are the major issues and projected trends in the field?

* What are current and future collaborative opportunities or partnerships?

* What's dear to you? What motivates your work?

Such a multidisciplinary approach will enable the U to better prepare students for the growing demand for hybrid design skills in areas such as service design, experience design, and interactive design.

Janet Abrams, director of the U's Design Institute in CALA, has substantially expanded the U's design minor, created in 1998, since she joined the Design Institute in 2000. The interdisciplinary program blends traditional design courses and nontraditional views of design to give students a broad perspective. Now Abrams is playing a central role in the creation of a new product design program. She says she favors bringing the design disciplines together.

"I think it is overdue but, for the college to succeed, we need to focus on what is really at stake here," says Abrams. "In the end, everybody has to agree that it's about something bigger than the college--it's about rethinking 'What is design for?' If we lose sight of that philosophical question, then we're just doing an administrative reshuffle."

The task force will submit a report on its recommendations in mid-December. The report, says task force cochair Becky Yust, will recommend various features of the new college such as its mission, strengths, and areas of investment, as well as its actual name and location. Right now, the units that make up CALA and DHA are housed in at least four buildings.

"I see the report as a framework--an overview--for how we are to continue to work toward achieving the goals and opportunities that this new college alignment can offer," says Yust, a professor of housing studies who heads the DHA. "It is more than just saying, 'Okay, go form a new college.' We hope to give the parties involved in that continuing process some direction, but the initial report obviously is not going to answer every one of the questions."

Yust is chairing the task force with Katherine Solomonson, an associate professor in the Department of Architecture.

This month, the task force is busy gathering input from people interested in the new college, researching trends in design, studying other design schools and programs, and identifying the U's own existing strengths in design research, teaching, and outreach (see box, above). Forums have already been held October 27 and 31.

"Everybody realizes that change can be difficult, but the task force makes us ask some questions that maybe would not have been asked otherwise," says Yust. "And it allows us the opportunity to achieve some goals that currently might not be so possible."

For updates on the task force's work, see design college.