Fernando Emanuel de Pina Mendes

Design Education. From the Classroom to the Workroom: A Stigmergic Coworking Model

Carlos Duarte, UNIDCOM/IADE
 Lisbon, Portugal
Katja Tschimmel, Mindshake/ID+
 Porto, Portugal

Some say we live in a world rapidly entering into dystopia, designers prefer to focus on new paradigms for society. New technologies emerging every day, robotisation, artificial intelligence, digital nomadism and a myriad of other profound changes in the way we live, learn and work seem to point to a re-design of Design and its Education. Accordingly, designer’s role and how we teach and learn Design will have to change. This project aims to propose a "new classroom" to teach/learn Design observing the current multitude of new roles, new disciplines and new contexts of Design and especially how its Education might blend with the learning environment proposed by the new Coworking spaces (we founded the first coworking space in Portugal, back in 2010) . We also suggest Stigmergy – a decentralised phenomenon conducting many if not all aspects of our lives – could possibly be the common context of these new ways of teaching and learning Design.

Keywords: Design, Design Education, Coworking, Stigmergy, Mass Collaboration


Coworking spaces are a kind of new shared workplaces used by all kinds of professionals. These spaces host coworkers from all over the world, many of them working remotely or even in a digital nomad mode, roaming from a country to another, settling from a few days to months or even years. A coworking space can be described as a common workspace to a wide variety of people and therefore a space founded on diversity which is the key factor to what is the biggest advantage of this kind of facility – its community.
Coworking spaces are often self-organised, sometimes even operating in leaderless modes. This characteristic implies a great level of freedom of action / autonomy for the resident coworkers. Collaboration is the natural drive between them. “Alone, together” is a common mantra.
We anticipate learning from peers at coworking spaces is “natural” and, as we suggest, sometimes eventually not even perceived. We just learn. 
This project aims to observe, investigate, and understand how these learning modes in coworking spaces can contribute to a new model of classroom for Design teaching and learning.

Literature Review Methodology

We started by collecting and reading everything coworking-related. Being founders of the first coworking space in the country helped us empirically understand that these spaces were far more than just “shared workspaces”. In fact, people do a lot more than work at coworking. One of the findings was that people used information, skills and learnings as an “exchange currency”. This finding, although almost auto-ethnographic, lead us to a wider collection of readings, including many other kinds of “shared workspaces” based on collaboration methods, such as Makers spaces, Fablabs, Third places, and others. 
We also deep dived into the history of Design Education, from the Bauhaus (and for instance, the Black Mountain project ) to our days, when new kinds of experiments are ongoing on how to teach and learn Design. We found it hard to find a comprehensive list of readings on this subject. Design literature tend to focus on history, societal implications, technical aspects or philosophical matters.
Finally, these readings started at some point to match this global phenomena of Stigmergy. At first, it seemed that there wasn’t an obvious connection with the Design field. The more we read the more we found this could be the missing link between what we empirically observed at coworking spaces and what we already knew from our design classes: young design students use a huge array of learning modes beside the synchronous time of the class (be it Youtube, other online platforms, peers, etc) and they do it in a self-determined mode.

Stigmergy is a form of mass collaboration and its implications (also) on Education are yet to be fully understood. In a fast-paced connected world, learning is becoming a continuous mode. An extensive survey we proposed to designers, design teachers and design students, pointed out that all these actors urge Design schools to change their learning experience.


We believe a model based on a coworking setup combining findings on stigmergy and mass collaboration would benefit Design Education. Such a model would dramatically change the actual design classroom. New kinds of “schools” are emerging, many attempts are being made to offer new learning experiences in Design but the majority of these attempts don’t address what we are proposing, I.e. a decentralised classroom based on a combination of digital mass collaboration and a physical learn / workplace where learning Design is self-determined by the learners.

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