Hugo Reis Rocha

Paradigm shift in Design Education to drive Strategic Innovations, Sustainable Solutions and Social Change


Ana Margarida Ferreira, IADE - Universidade Europeia
Jefferson de Azevedo, IFF - Instituto Federal Fluminense (Brazil)

The present research intends to discuss design education and its role in a paradigm shift moment, pointing the need to change how designers think and learn to face wicked problems in a more complex society. New active methodologies will be considered in order to promote a teaching-learning process that reinforces the construction of new competencies, which increases students' perception of the reality that surrounds them and makes them evident the impact of design processes and solutions. This conceptual broadening will make them more socially responsible agents, aware of the importance of their civic action and active role towards innovation, social wellbeing, and Sustainability.
Keywords: Design Education, Creative Thinking, Social Innovation, Ethics, Sustainability


The present research is based on the premise that a designer needs to become more sensitive to the current sustainability issues – social, environmental, and economical – faced in the world today, and act as an agent of change, supported in cultural context.
Designers must be aware of their impact on society when developing new products, system or services. One possible way to success in this endeavor passes by rethinking design education, where: Students must be solving problems related to their local realities and face real problems;

To understand how design education can effectively help overcome the barriers and promote a paradigm shift, our research aims at understanding how design students may develop a more critical thinking towards sustainability, dealing with real projects that provide social context and interaction between students and community. For comparison, a control group of students will not be exposed to the same protocol, but only to learning processes, they are used in their universities/ courses.

The study aims to analyze three main aspects: problem-solving methodologies, learning environments, and the role of the teacher, combining them for a most effective result. To accomplish a new teaching model, different approaches of disruptive design schools and programs will be analyzed, through case studies, paying close attention to the three points presented and how they are combined for the intended outcome.


After a deeper understanding, and based on the research and previous expertise gather from case studies, a learning methodology will be designed and tested with students of institutions in Brazil and Portugal comparing the results to a control group to be established during the research process and to the expected outcome.


Within this research context, some objectives are expected in different layers.

  • First of all, the study was motivated by a personal reflection after years of teaching experience. For that, rethinking the role of the teacher as a changing player towards a new design mindset is a crucial outcome of the entire process.
  • At an institutional level, having an international perspective might result in a rich experience to help restructure design education in Brazil. Being able to experience different institutional and cultural reality should provide valuable insights on how to consider and implement different and more sustainable practices in Brazil.
  • For the design dimension, we aim to provide reflexion, new methods and teaching-learning experiences that shall contribute to different training programs and future professional practices. We believe that change in the professional posture might also contribute to a better understanding of the role of design in sustainable development and social wellbeing, as well as in businesses.
  • At last, we believe that with a more ethical, impactful, and responsible practice from the design community, it will be possible to shape a better society and a world worth living in.
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