There is nothing more disruptive to the traditional workplace model than a start-up, which makes it the perfect inspiration for transforming the conventional design education model.

This thesis presents the hypothesis that applying start-up principles to design education fosters an environment of shared collective satisfaction, the exhilaration of new experiences, and time and monetary investment for a larger future pay-off. Such a hypothesis calls for a disruption in design education—an encouragement of multi-disciplinary collaboration across the fields of design, engineering and business, in order to foster peer-learning, transparency and innovation. Facilitating multi-disciplinary design education provides design students with a channel for inspiration outside the realm of design, an opportunity to build meaningful relationships with future collaborators, and a reflective framework within which their growth and potential are maximized, ultimately allowing for an expansion of the role of designer.

Design education can be better, bolder and more purposeful. Let’s disrupt the status quo and hack education.

The current design education model isn’t enough. From a multi-disciplinary perspective, this thesis is a reaction to my experience in Pratt’s graduate design education model and my time spent working in both agency and startup models.

A start-up is a place where individuals run fast, work hard, defy odds and reinvent themselves. Individuals at start-ups are open, proactive, resourceful and confident in their ideas and actions. By placing high importance on flexibility and transformation, there is increased productivity unhindered by bureaucracy and ample opportunity for innovation and collaboration. Let’s challenge students and bring this spirit to design education.

Photo credit: Percolate


This experiment was a study on how place influences work. By gathering imagery, from the web or taken live in person, of both established agencies and startups, a rough painting of how place shapes the culture and values of the individuals in each space started to emerge as well as further proof of how the start-up model would benefit education.

Space Compare

To the left is an infographic comparing space in both start-up and agency models. In the start-up model individuals from many disciplines worked in close proximity to foster collaboration and communication.

In the agency model, teams sequestered by trade, were subjected to an environment of isolation. By creating a physical divide between teams, inevitably psychological barriers formed between teams as well.

Instead of walking halfway across the office to talk to an engineer about best practices, or a marketer about language, with such ease within the start-up model, we could all have a casual chat, and together we’d figure out the best solution.

Spacial observation speaks to much deeper issue of hierarchy. In agencies the goal for designers is to move up to the next title because moving up to the next title means have more of a voice and ownership of projects. It’s a very top-down system where all the information and decision-making is held at the top.

In the start-up model there is of course a hierarchy, but there is a fluidity and connectivity in the way information passes through the organization and descisions are made. Every individual has a voice and is encouraged to use it to shape projects and influence decisions.

Flow of Informations


A comparison of audio recordings in both agency and start-up models reveals a difference in environment, productivity and individuals.


There seems to be a spectrum of collaboration on which both start-up and agency models exist. Design education should be on the proper end of it.

Inspired by learnings from Scott Doorley at the Stanford, the scale is broken up into three categories of properties that influence collaborative action: orientation, density and setting. Orientation is the relative position of people from singular, which directs all attention on one person, to multi-faceted, which shares attention equally among all participants. Density characterizes how a space feels in relation to the activity. Density controls energy levels and collaborative potential. Setting speaks to the variability of meeting spaces available. Design education should be multifaceted, concentrated and flexible.

Make Space


As it exists in design education today, departments are still very much isolated, and students miss opportunities for peer-learning and outside influences.

Even in the most progressive programs like 30 Weeks and Hyper Island, where students may work on multi-disciplinary projects, they are all still learning in parallel.

Education Today

Design today sits at the intersection of business and technology. Let’s bring those influences into design education.

The most impactful products, experiences and campaigns are those created by multi-disciplinary teams who build on each other's different perspectives to create something innovative and new.




There is a disconnect between the current education model and the workplace.

While in school, design students are limited to the feedback and experiences within their own departments, leaving them unprepared for the workplace and limiting their work as a whole in scope.


Photo credit: Percolate


This is the disruption that design education needs, the collaboration between design, engineering and business. Bringing this skill and idea share to design students will improve how they approach design education and ultimately open up their design solutions to more creativity and innovation. How this takes shape is in the form of DesignJams calling students from all three professions to participate in day-long hacks on real briefs.

Designjam Disruption Chart

Why does DesignJam encourage collaboration? It fosters peer-learning, transparency and innovation.


Peer-learning encourages the development of T-shaped designers—designers with both a breadth and depth of knowledge. The concept was popularized by IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown. The most important facet of T-shaped designers is their ability to empathize, with their peers in other fields and their clients, something that only comes with experience but greatly increases productivity and yields amazing results.

T shaped


Transparency is essential to producing great work. It minimizes friction among teammates and ensures compromise on difficult issues. By learning how to work best with peers from different disciplines, design students will be informed about how and when to ask for elements they need in order to do their part. Furthermore, they will be able set up frameworks for discussion and feedback, how to obtain information they need when it’s most useful. Transparency also ensures that frameworks remain firm but adaptable.


Innovation is related to peer-learning in that when working with peers from other disciplines, designers are thrown into an unfamiliar space with many perspectives floating around. This is the space in which innovation happens. As these different and unfamiliar ideas percolate, new connections in the brain are made between seemingly unrelated things, which is why there is such value in being surrounded by an open network of individuals or being the fulcrum of many disparate groups. It’s a predictor of success according to renowned network scientist Ron Burt.



DesignJam brings together design, engineering and business students to collaborate on real client briefs. In equally represented teams of 4 or 5 they create and pitch their solution to a panel of judges who give feedback. After, the pitches are sent to the clients. Learn more about DesignJam at Pratt

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© 2015 Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya. All rights reserved. DesignJam

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