Three years in the making, the college’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in Collaborative Design has been fully accredited and will be offered in fall 2012. Classes will be held on the fourth floor of the historic Federal Building, slated to open this spring.
“Our intention is to provide a place for students to explore design thinking in a whole systems approach,” said Gayle DeBruyn, professor at Kendall College and chair of the program. “Collaborative design will engage students in a higher level. We want them to go on to advanced degrees in business, education, law or whatever.”
In the past, schools turned out specialists by the dozen, but a shifting economic reality forced companies to rely more on generalists who could work in many different disciplines and understand complex problems from many angles, she said.
“There’s a need in business for folks in leadership to understand design thinking ideas and be able to connect the dots and facilitate discussions at a higher level,” she said. “If you’re in a specific program, you’re pretty tied to that special area. We want people to be adaptive.
“We recognized the gaps (in education) and we think we will fill in those gaps. Working across the table is very different than it used to be 20 years ago when design worked on designs and then gave stuff to someone else (to build). It’s a recognition that design is integrated into the process from the beginning. Progressive businesses recognize that.”
John Berry, executive director of Design West Michigan and special assistant to the Kendall president for academic initiatives, said the program is also reaching out to local, national and international connections to serve as advisers.
Because the program is one-of-a-kind in the nation, Kendall had to create its own curriculum from scratch while drawing from courses in the college’s various design disciplines. Courses will range from research methods and human factors to dialogue and personality and build on the program’s “collaborative, project-based curriculum,” DeBruyn said.
Last fall, the organizers piloted a new improvisation class to help improve students’ abilities to communicate. Berry said many good business ideas might never see the light of day because they’re not well communicated.
“Improvisation is a skill,” he said. “It’s not about humor, but about getting a comfort level to take an idea, grow it and generate a new idea and make connections you might not have made.”
The program hopes to attract 15 to 30 students in its first year.
“Some have asked what’s the job when you get out of the program,” DeBruyn said. “In our curriculum, it’s the job you want — go find it. We recognize the core competencies of the companies in our region, but we want (students) to have a longer reach. We want them to stay in the region, but also we really want students to have a sense of global scale, to get out of town and have experience outside of their comfort area.”