Division of Design

Centralizing design: A new division on campus

State has centralized the design disciplines under one administrative system, and is pushing toward the ultimate goal of establishing a school of design.p16-comp-design

An interim model of the division of design was announced in January and brought together faculty and students from across three colleges and various departments and programs to better serve design majors.

The students involved in the division are studying architecture, interior design, studio art, landscape design, graphic design and art education. The division is a temporary structure ending in May 2015.

Prior to that date, a recommendation from the division will be presented to the president.

“This recommendation could range from disbanding—which is very unlikely—to removal of the interim tag and continuation as a formal SDSU Division of Design, to a recommendation for the creation of a formal SDSU School of Design,” said Dennis Papini, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

If the SDSU School of Design is approved, it will become a permanent administrative structure within the College of Arts and Sciences, complete with its own director, department heads and faculty.

“It’s more than a concept,” said Tim Steele, head of the department of visual arts and chair of the SDSU Division of Design operations committee. “Before, we were departments in different colleges. Now, we are bringing together all design majors to participate in core design classes.”

Previously, the various design majors were dispersed throughout the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Education and Human Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences.

Now, all design majors will graduate from the College of Arts and Sciences.

As it stands now, there are no plans to group all of the design departments and units into a single building.

Core classes

The division’s curriculum committee is establishing a common core course for freshman design students across the board.

“During first-year classes, projects will not be major-specific,” said Brian Rex, department head of architecture. “When we do that, we take away the stigma surrounding each specific discipline and focus on design principles. In the beginning, there may be a loss of intensity, but bringing the creative fields together will ultimately benefit students.”

Faculty members also are creating an introduction to design course, a creativity class and an upper-level course where students will work on specific design projects. Within these core classes, students will collaborate with students outside of their specific design discipline.

“I think all the faculty members finally agreed that we would seize this opportunity to pull our strengths together,” said Matthew James, an assistant professor of landscape architecture. “The time is right to distinguish our design capabilities in South Dakota.”

According to James, all design disciplines share common design principles.

“Bringing us together is the most sensible thing in the world—considering the design process, sense of professionalism and the notation of selling and proposing an idea—things all our design majors have in common,” said Angela Boersma, interior design instructor,  whose students were previously under the College of EHS.

Academically and socially, design students will benefit from the division.

“Design students’ set of peers will go from 60 to 100 to 300,” said Boersma. “Instead of interior design students, for example, only knowing other interior design students because they spend half their lives in design studio—they’ll now interact with architecture, landscape, graphic design and fine arts students much more consistently.”

Boersma said another benefit of the division will be the synergy among design teachers.

“It will mean interior design students aren’t learning graphic design principles from an interior design professor, they’re learning from a graphic design professor,” said Boersma. “Suddenly, students have more access to instructors who are experts in their field, which allows us, as faculty, to specialize more.”

Design students also will have the benefit of a design school specification on their resumes. “Graduating from a school of design is almost like brand recognition,” said Boersma.

Before, James said the landscape architecture major was often overlooked by students pursuing design because it was listed under the department of plant science. The new division will give students who are interested in design, but not exactly sure which area, the benefit of having all majors together for the beginning core classes.

“Students may start in architecture and find out about landscape architecture through core classes and decide that’s more of their interest,” said James. “And I’m sure it will flip-flop like that through all design majors.”

Thought-out process

Extensive research was done before the interim division was approved. “I was on the original task force that looked at the overall concept,” said James. “Our eight-person committee did about two years of our own research, looking at several other universities that have similar structures.”

According to Boersma, the discussion of collaboration has been in the works for 10 years. “Architecture wasn’t at the table 10 years ago, but there were other faculty members who started these kinds of conversations,” said Boersma. “The idea didn’t go far until the architecture program began four years ago. Architecture tends to be a recognized program on any campus and draws a lot of students. With that, design collaboration has become feasible. Combining design principles has gained traction, and it’s exciting.”

Boersma said the biggest concern of current students is transitioning from one college to another. “It’s the same concern I’m sure most faculty members have,” she said. “We just want to make sure we manage the transition well for our students.”

The SDSU Division of Design, and possible SDSU School of Design, will lay the groundwork for an incredible new age of design at South Dakota State, in Brookings and the state.

“Design has the power to completely transform the way people think about space, print, reading materials, landscapes—all of those things and more,” said Boersma. “In bringing students together, we can be more efficient, more effective and give our students a broader sense of the way design impacts our world.”

Karissa Kuhle and Madelin Mack

1 Comment

  1. David J. Ulschmid at

    How exciting to see the progress towards a School of Design at SDSU! I believe it is true when they say ‘Design is intelligence made visible’. There are so many very intelligent students at SDSU that could benefit from a bit of design theory and it’s good to see that students with a design bent will have an path to challenge them and give them some prestige.

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