Guellerin is also the executive director of L’École de design Nantes Atlantique, an institution of higher education in design based in Nantes, France.

What is Cumulus?

Cumulus was founded in 1990 by two universities – one in Helsinki and the other in London. It was founded on the idea of joining forces with others, sharing knowledge and creating a synergy between students and academics and university staff through a network. Four more universities joined the network and its name, Cumulus, was created by Dutch professor, Peik Suyling, in 1992. Within the Cumulus network, students and teachers could work on exchange programs. A number of intensive courses were carried out and some jointly managed courses were planned.

In April 1998 the first Cumulus conference was launched in Prague. Members realised that it was great to network and share joint topics on education and research. Since then Cumulus has organised conferences twice a year. Cumulus is fully not-for-profit and became an association in 2001. In 2006 it became the Cumulus International Association of Universities and Colleges of Art, Design and Media. It is now a platform where knowledge is shared and activities are established for the benefit of students around the world. Cumulus is a voice for art, design and media education and research in the world.

During our last event in May, we were happy to announce that Cumulus has 189 institutional members from 46 countries. It is open to institutions of higher education in art, design and media whether they are government or non-government institutions.

How does Cumulus work?

Cumulus collaborates with institutions and organisations from the field of art, design and media and encourages cooperation with industry and business as well. We assist academic institutions in their development and we work with international professional organisations like ICSID, IFI, ICOGRADA, BEDA and others. Cumulus started publishing working papers to document the discussions and sessions of each conference. To stimulate design actions, projects and research leading to a more sustainable society, Cumulus representatives signed the Kyoto Design Declaration in March 2008. The Cumulus Green award was established to implement the ideals of the Declaration.

Cumulus aims at building and maintaining a dynamic and flexible academic forum that would bring together top-level educational institutions from all parts of the world. Cumulus promotes higher education in art, design and media on an international level for a better recognition of the professions of these areas. Cooperation between academic institutions is the key that can trigger many developments in such areas.

Cumulus’s core knowledge in art, design and media has remained the same, but it has been branching out towards the changes occurring in society and the environment. Art, design and media education and researchers have been implementing innovations and solutions in these areas for some time. Cumulus, in this respect, responds to issues like sustainability, social innovation and user-centred design. As a network, Cumulus gives value to its members, in collaboration with industry and business bringing individuals and institutions together with networking as the tool to connect them.

What are the important directions for design education?

Design is a technical discipline of creation, but its status has changed. It is now a strategic discipline that enables society and its economic and social agents to offer future life scenarios. Given that social, economic and ecological contexts are uncertain, design is now a discipline that is set at the heart of all reflections about the future. The designer has now become a project manager, who drives projects that are more and more complex, with engineers, marketers, philosophers, sociologists and artists all gathered around the same table – all those who raise questions about tomorrow.

Creation is no longer the ultimate goal for a designer, it is merely a support, a way to start thinking about the future. This approach is not new, but it has become essential at a time when uncertainties about our future seem unsettling for humanity, and when globalisation and the pressure on civilisations and cultures make us wonder about transcendence.

How are universities and colleges responding to these challenges?

Schools of design and designers have opened up, in particular, to companies with which they are now setting up more partnerships. Designers are no longer lonely creators, they have now become idea sharers. They are communication agents for whom the challenge is not simply having new ideas but making people subscribe to them, share them and carry them out. Designers have always been talented, but they should not focus on protecting their ideas and locking them up. They should share their ideas to enrich other cultures. Universities and colleges of art, design and media have the responsibility to accompany this evolution in practise. Design schools are schools of creation that have the responsibility to transform into innovation schools – design being the mediator between creation and innovation.

What are the biggest challenges for design educators?

I think that institutions will evolve in two different directions. Some will move towards design research and others towards innovation and project incubation. Academic research in design will have to be very precisely defined so that it can turn into a scientific discipline. It would be a shame if the same thing happened to design as it did to marketing, where PhD theses turn out too often to be sociological or mathematical theses under cover. The most objective opportunity seems to be that of becoming incubation centres for new projects. In this context, the responsibility for design educators is to teach the fact that design does not dwell in the opportunity of having ideas but of being able to set them forth. A project only has value once it is launched and put into use, this is a major evolution in design teaching. Teachers have the responsibility for creating awareness about this.

Are these challenges the same worldwide?

Yes, and it is important that we work together with a humanist approach towards the future we wish to build. However, the industrial and commercial problems of Western countries and those of the new emerging economies are totally different. Emerging economies are working to grow their development by supplying new products and services to a middleclass that is discovering mass consumption. For occidental companies, the issues are quite different. A lot of them will have to think about strategic mutations to adapt and acquire more innovative and flexible structures.

What are students looking for from their design education?

I think that the responsibility of students has changed. The issues in regard to development are now at the heart of creation. Creation cannot be unmotivated and simply reflect talent anymore. It has to be useful.

This preoccupation for utility brings with it another responsibility: that of being a perfectly integrated actor in the socioeconomic world. It is no longer about being marginal and being satisfied with it, so that talent can be justified. The question of employment is essential for young designers, as is the question of the designer’s career. Few establishments take care of the designer’s career. What happens to a designer after working for 15 years in design? As designers they need to work to reach strategic positions in companies.

What are employers looking for from design graduates?

They are looking for skills and the capacity to communicate and share. It is useless to have good ideas and let them sleep. Beyond technical skills, employers are looking for the capacity students have to present their project and to argue how the transgression of the existing – creation – is relevant enough to be actually set in motion to ameliorate the existing. A designer’s reflection about their career becomes unavoidable in job interviews. When asked, “Where do you see yourself in 15 years?” designers have to have the capacity to project themselves into the future; a notion they are seldom able to answer.

What is design education lacking at the moment?

We are experiencing a revolution in our pedagogical approach: a cardboard model of a bicycle or a beautiful graphic representation is not sufficient to demonstrate a project’s relevance. There must be a prototype, which is expected to be functional, and which you can actually use. Incubation centres are also going to testify to the quality of training courses. Today few institutions have actual project incubation centres within their walls, yet a great opportunity lies here in investing in partnership with engineering schools, business colleges and human science universities.

What aspect of design education needs extra attention and funding?

The more the world is globalised, the more important it is to think about the question of identity and differentiation. Humanity feeds on difference. A reflection on the cultural identity of creation seems relevant to me; to justify a design means to help the greatest number and allow for a humanist approach to creation for progress. If schools need to raise money to create the innovation and incubation centres I mentioned, they must also invest in this idea: before becoming someone, you come from somewhere.

The rise of engineering schools has corresponded with the emergence of industry, as have business schools with that of marketing, mass communication and the financing of industrial and commercial activities. Design schools could well be the new schools of project management that bring together science, economy and human sciences, and rehabilitate the idea of progress for humanity.

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