The workshop around the theme of design education in Lebanon kicked off a few minutes past 12:00PM last Friday, with 6 design students, 6 design educators and 6 design professionals, at the Beirut Art Center, in Beirut.
During my studio projects in the last couple semesters, my team and i realized that it gets a little out of hand when a big group of individuals are discussing a specific topic — everyone starts talking at the same time and no one really listens to the other. For this exact reason we developed the “question/comment signals” that participants would use (raise) before asking a question or commenting on something, in order to have a more structured discussion. With a group of 18 participants, the use of this tool was inevitable.
The participants were Ronald Abdala, Danny Arakji, Marc Baroud, Salim Batlouni, Karim Chaya, Pascal Hachem, Rana Haddad, Pierre Hage-Boutros, Hala Hassan, Cyril Kallab, Diala Lteif, Joumana Matar, Simon Mhanna, Micheline Nahra, Rani Rajji, Elias Salamoun, Doreen Toutikian, and Mohamed Yassine.
It was very exciting to have 18 experts and key players in the same room, but it was also a little overwhelming.
The goal of the workshop was to compile a body of ideas and possible next steps we can implement, test, and evaluate within the coming months.
Once everyone was in the room (on the terrace, to be exact), I started by stating the goal of the workshop and setting some ground rules which we all agreed on, and continued with an ice breaker by going around the table explaining how and why we each became designers.
The activities were divided into 2 types: discovery/exploration and idea generation that would trigger discussions around design education in Lebanon. It was important for me to be as transparent as possible and explain the goal of every activity as clearly as I can, to avoid confusion.
We started our first activity by dividing the participants into 6 teams of 3 (a student, an educator, and a design professional) who were asked to pick a card that has 2 quotes from previous interviews about the advantages and the disadvantages of getting a design education in Lebanon and spend a few minutes to discuss and analyze the factors/reasons that, in their opinion, played a role or lead to the statement in the quotes, and list all the constituents that might have a stake in the mentioned statement.
After writing their ideas on post-it notes, each team stood up and read both quotes out loud and explained their analysis and thought process to the rest of the participants, by posting their notes on the wall. This generated great discussions and confrontations between students, educators and design professionals (using the question/comment signals), which shed light on major problematic areas as the wall got covered with post-it notes. Institutional politics, corruption, and lack of collaboration were some of the major topics that were discussed.
Generative design exercises engage the participants in creative opportunities to express their feelings, dreams, needs, and desires, resulting in rich information for concept development.
The purpose of this exercise was to allow participants to describe their long-term and short-term goals and possible roadblocks/obstacles relating to design education in Lebanon, in short anecdotes.
The teams were asked to start by identifying 2 or 3 descriptions that for them summarize the current state of design education in Lebanon, and write them on post-it notes. Once that’s done, they were asked to identify the most significant event in the immediate past that shaped the current state, and then, the most significant event that immediately preceeded that event that shaped the current state. This might sound a little confusing when read as whole, but imagine it as separate, step-by-step procedure.
After each group identified the current state and the “history” of design education in Lebanon, the fun part started. Each group was asked to imagine an impossibly good future — the heaven of Des. Ed. in Lebanon, and identify 2-3 descriptions that for them summarize it. Now, the teams were asked to make heaven happen, by identifying the most significant event in the immediate past that would have shaped heaven, and then work backwards, event by event, to one of the significant events that track back from the current state.
The same steps were repeated for an impossibly bad future — the hell of design education in Lebanon.
The teams worked very differently. The students’ team were the first ones to finish each step and wait for instructions on the next, whereas the other 2 teams spent a lot of time discussing and writing plenty of notes, having a hard time narrowing down to 2-3 short ones.
Once all groups were done, they each quickly presented their scenarios to everybody else, so we could all see the commonalities and the differences and prepare for the next exercise.
Here are some of the notes that summarize the current state of design education in Lebanon, according to the teams–
“Disconnected from reality”, “curriculum doesn’t address problems; overall stagnation”, “no coherence between departments”, “lack of social responsibility and no culture awareness”, “implicit ideology of teaching”, “embryonic, misunderstood, alone, isolated”, “lack of tools and research”, “no preparation for the real world”, “time for opportunities”, …
The different heavens of design education in Lebanon was described by the following terms–
“New consumerism; new market”, “a design ecosystem is created”, “collaboration between university departments”, “interdisciplinary design centers in universities”, “transdiciplinary design”, “expand into new design disciplines”, “customize your major”, “professors become facilitators rather than lecturers”, “design instructors are also working professionals”, “constructive criticism”, “no separation between education and practice”, “partnerships with corporate and public sectors; funding for student projects”, “cultural renaissance”, …
And here’s how the teams saw the impossibly bad future (hell) of design education in Lebanon –
“Matryoshka”, “design becomes an adjective”, “teach [war] fighters”, “education by religion”, “illiteracy”, “designers as operators”, “totalitarian system”, “only technical and theoretical courses”, “no room for creativity”, “mass production in shelters”, “isolating design departments”, “governmental control”, “total private control”, “power struggle”, “unfit educators”, …
To put these insights into use, the teams were asked to split in 2 (total of 5 teams), pick their favorite step from the “make heaven happen” series of steps (not necessarily their own), and spend a few minutes to break it down to detailed, actionable steps. This would help us define and discuss actual steps we can take moving forward.
Once done, the teams advocated for their idea (and steps) by presenting them to the rest of the groups. To game-ify it a little, each team was asked to roll the devil’s advocate dice, twice, and answer the questions asked to test the feasibility of their idea. This is another tool developed with my team in our studio project, and it essentially turns the “Devil’s Advocate” role into an inanimate object: making it less threatening. The performative nature of the tool also encourages others in the group to give quiet attention to the person rolling the dice and answering the questions.
TEAM 1: FOSTERING EMPATHY (students)
The idea is to get together students, educators, and professionals and have them work in groups by designing activities and games (like role playing) that would help them get into each another’s shoes and hear each other’s point of view. This will allow the different key players to communicate better, negotiate and reach a common ground, which would result in a more accepting, tolerant and open-minded group of stakeholders.
TEAM 2: THE STONERS (educators)
Quite often, the most surreal and silly ideas turn out to be the easiest to implement.
After decoding/solving a riddle-like, discrete invitation, select designers and stakeholders are asked to go to the Bekaa valley, into the fields, where illegal substances are grown, and get high and drunk. Once in the desired state, a sober facilitator will easily convince the people to drop the institution (together with its politics) and do actual “field” work.
It’s quite a nice metaphor of having everyone in the field (a big, outdoor place in Bekaa) drop the frame and the boundaries that the institution has put on us. In other words, it’s about letting go of these boundaries and going into the field.
TEAM 3: DESIGN IN HIGH SCHOOLS (educators)
The team aims to bridge high schools and universities by integrating design classes on high school (or middle school) level. Sadly, art classes are vanishing from schools, but “injecting” more design into them, where students would learn more problem solving skills to understand and embrace the practicality of design, would prevent that. On a university level, there would be more projects that reach out to the society and the environment around them by collaborating with high school students.
A joint exhibition of the different projects that link design students in universities with high school students tackling social and environmental problems will create awareness about the potential of design.
TEAM 4: NEW FOUNDATION YEAR (design professionals)
The team would like to start breaking the boundaries of design by hosting an open cooperative workshop with educators, professionals, students and creative minds to create a common foundation year for all universities to implement, or an external third party to administer. This would bring all design disciplines, old and new, to the same space, where students can deduce what they want to focus on in the future according to what they’re learning
TEAM 5: STUDENT REVOLUTION (students)
Since a top-down approach doesn’t seem to be effective and very feasible, this team of students would like to reach out to other students and student councils and take matter into their our own hands. Planning group meetings and starting a design movement that would create a hype and grow through social networking, will result in a strike to take radical action to change the course of design education in Lebanon. Why s this idea effective? Because it’s been done several times before and it’s worked every time. It requires little effort compared to the drastic change it triggers.
“The only grounded and implementable solutions came out from the students, which is very significant, because as educators, our hands are tied by the knowledge of how the system is broken. It’s refreshing to see how the students remain hopeful, and we should encourage that more.” –Diala Lteif
We concluded the workshop by voting for the best idea out the five presented, in order to implement it next as our first step moving forward.
The “Student revolution” took the lead, followed by “Design in High Schools”, “Fostering Empathy”, “A New Foundation Year”, and “The Stoners”.
Let there be revolution!