Choose STEM or the Humanities…or Both with Design.

Industrial Design is a unique academic path because it does not fall into either traditional categories of the Sciences (perhaps now thought of as STEM), of the Humanities, or of the Social Sciences. In a famous 1959 lecture, C.P. Snow defines these two main categories, the Sciences and the Humanities, as “two cultures.”

The separation of the Sciences and Humanities was a postwar-WWII trend that later defined students’ educational backgrounds into two different categories. I will argue that a good designer offers expertise derived from the Sciences as well as the Humanities. As interdisciplinary academic areas of study emerge such as Design, we build a bridge between these two disciplines, and designers prove the worth of using both disciplines in a driven workforce.

What’s useful about the study of Humanities in a Design Education?

As a Major in Industrial Design and a Minor in a Humanities area, I will contest that my humanities education promotes my design practice. While Industrial Designers interpret work very visually, their non-design colleagues may be verbal learners. In my Political Theory seminars, I learned how to speak clearly and concisely, choosing specific words with meaning and avoiding over-generalizations and filler sentences. In the studio critiques, I often find interest in how designers verbally convey their work. Can they choose better words than “simplicity” and explaining the advantage of their design over claiming that it is “ergonomic?” In my humanities studies, I was encouraged to use critical thinking because words matter, even in a visual learning-based field.

What about the Sciences, or STEM?

I started my college education as an engineering student. As I transitioned to Industrial Design, I came to believe that Industrial Designers don’t need to know every mathematical or scientific formula besides the few that they have to use. The most valuable asset to a STEM education is learning how engineers and scientists think and communicate. Just as Designers must communicate to verbal learners, they must be able to communicate “the language” of engineers. Industrial Designers should offer parameters that are clear and understandable to the work that their STEM colleagues must do.

What does this mean for Design Education?

I’ve done a lot of thinking about how Design School should be re-framed to accommodate for skills in both disciplines. In terms of a degree plan, I believe that classes in engineering and philosophy, for example, would best be suited in an elective format.

I do believe that Design Professors should be adept at teaching skills from both STEM and the Humanities, and incorporate this knowledge into the content of their lessons to the students. My experience as an Industrial Design major has much been self-directed project based learning, but I believe that there is much content to be learned in terms of learning how to speak, present, and the materials and manufacturing knowledge needed to communicate with the technical learners or verbal learners of a future professional team.

Finally, I think that design students would be presented with the opportunity to collaborate with students in STEM and the humanities. I have only had this experience working in internships, but I believe that early intervention in design school would be a worthwhile investment for a successful design career.

Thank you to my mentors, both academic and professional, who helped me along this journey of discovery. Contact me to learn more.