Incorporating design into our curriculum not only strengthens our programs but also produces higher-level thinkers who are technologically creative and innovative. In response to the growing number of design-related careers, teaching design from kindergarten through high school and higher education provides students with substantial knowledge about design and communication tools that will last them a lifetime.
Jane Montero (left) and Nancy Walkup (right).
As art educators in a rapidly changing techno-world, incorporating design into our curriculum not only strengthens our programs but also produces higher-level thinkers who are technologically creative and innovative. In response to the growing number of design-related careers, teaching design from kindergarten through high school and higher education provides students with substantial knowledge about design and communication tools that will last them a lifetime. Students’ eyes are opened to new ways of creating when they use computers, tablets, and digital design programs.
Tools of the Trade
Design education requires more than just paper and pencils. In my first career, I was an art director for an advertising agency, and I hold a design degree from ArtCenter College of Design. What I learned in typography class has stayed with me to this day: Artistry can be learned if we are given the right tools. Design education requires technology—whether it’s tablets, laptops, or the latest laser cutters; yet many school districts do not designate funds to support such equipment to art rooms.
Design education isn’t a “given” at all grade levels. Many lower elementary art classes remain set on traditional, tactile art-making—which may be the right focus for that level. However, with so many new design tools and programs, it’s possible for students of all ages to learn about design. From third grade on, many teachers incorporate design, and at the middle- and high-school levels, design is much more common and popular with students. But the question remains: Why aren’t all art educators including design in their curriculum?
Design for a Balanced Education
We must continue to improve our practice to ensure that students learn the most up-to-date skills in the art room—whether we are introducing traditional art methods or launching design projects.
Teaching design is a critical skill for the present and long into the future. In The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World (Catapult, 2018), authors Brandt and Eagleman state, “A balanced education nurtures skills and imagination. That kind of education will pay off decades after students throw their mortarboards in the air and step into a world that we can barely foresee.”
Having our students use design to problem-solve helps them learn to work collaboratively and increases confidence in their creative abilities. As author Samuel Franklin states in The Cult of Creativity (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2023), “Kindergarten teachers, mayors, CEOS, designers, engineers, activists, and starving artists, we all basically agree creativity is a good thing and that we should have more of it.”
I suggest we provide as many different options as we can for our students to freely explore and experiment with new ways to showcase individual creativity. Design and art are not separate entities, and I hope we will view them as equally important in our quest to educate the whole learner.
Jane B. Montero is an art teacher at Creekside Intermediate School in Dexter, Michigan, and a regular contributor to SchoolArts. MonteroJ@DexterSchools.org
Art teachers support their students in recognizing and understanding the part that design plays in their everyday lives. Students express emotions through physical drawings of robots with digital symbolism, create visually impactful infographics inspired by real or imagined travels, develop real-world skills by collaborating with clients on design-related projects, and more.