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About Design

Design is a broad subject area with many definitions. At its simplest it is the process of envisioning, planning and creating objects, interactive systems, services and the built environment. It is user and planet centred and is about creating solutions for people, the natural world, physical items, or more abstract systems to address a real or future need or problem. It encompasses traditional disciplines like graphic and packaging design, craft design, product design, fashion design, and interior design. More recently new forms such as interactive digital, UX, strategic/service design and design for government have emerged. Formal design education dates from the early years of the 20th century and even earlier in certain European countries. It is firmly established as a university level subject from the 1960’s and taught in specialised academies and general universities across Europe. A notable development in the last 30 years has been the emergence of research for and through design as an important element of design education at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Typical degrees in the general design field in Europe are awarded at EQF Level 6, 7 and 8 with a varied nomenclature including BA /B.Des., MA /M.Sc., M.Des./M.Phil. and PhD.

Typical degrees that are offered

Design graduates find employment in a very wide range of industrial, social, educational and cultural fields which can be summarised as follows: Design as Strategy: Strategic Design, Design management, Co-design, Design innovation, Service design, Process Design, Design for Government. Design Communication: Animation Design, Visual Communication, Digital Design, Graphic Design, Brand Design. Digital Design: Web Design, Computer Games Development, Interactive Media, User Interface Design, User Experience Design, Interaction Design, Multimedia Design. Product Design: Furniture Design, Engineering Design, Craft and Applied Art (Ceramic, Glass), Jewellery Design, Packaging Design, Industrial Design, Medical Device Design. Fashion and Textiles: Gourmet Design, Design Manufacturing, Textile Design, Accessories Design, Costume Design. Structures and Places: Stage and Screen Design, Urban Planning, Interior Architecture, Landscape Design, Architecture Technology. Research Design: Design Anthropology, Design Sociology, Design Philosophy. Design Pedagogy.

Typical occupations/employment students achieve

View and download the Overview of typical Design field related Generic and Subject-specific Competences

Learning Outcomes


Design process and authentic assignment as teaching-learning methodology in distributed learning environment in design studies. Dr Aija Freimane, Lecturer at TU Dublin School of Art and Design Reference: Freimane, Aija, “How do you feel? Emotional wellbeing in distributed learning environment in design studies.”, 2023, 25th International Conference in Engineering and Product Design Education, 2023.   The best practice of design studies reflects an international collaboration within distributed learning environment (DLE) over time, place, and cultures: learners were separated by geography, technology, experience, time, and people. Learning-teaching paradigm of DLE was linked with situated cognition and design process where learning a subject was a process of becoming a member of that subject's community and participating in real-world situated contexts. 5 ECTS. 


Aim of the module:  The aim is to develop skills and gain experience that will enable students to work with various organisational members cross-culturally and geographically in the distributed product development process.  Project Description: The best practice was an authentic assignment of a specific example, event, or situation within a cultural and social context, requiring the student to apply theoretical concepts, critical thinking and collaborative, participatory and co-operative competencies. A teamwork studio project is a peer and group work assessment of the student's ability to work effectively within a group, focusing on communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.   


Learning-teaching methods: lecture, workshop, studio, group critique, case study, projects, distributed environment, learning synchronous / asynchronous, online forum and discussion boards, video conferencing and real-time collaboration.  Competencies that students developed during the module: co-designing, teamwork, responsibility.  Learning outcomes: Demonstrate a knowledge of co-designing principles of working effectively and productively with others.  Be able to collaborate, produce results, and take a leadership role if needed in client-led settings. Organise tasks/activities to achieve a result independently or as part of a team in a collaborative and/or client-led contexts; ability to take responsibility for team allocated design tasks. Assessment types: Written portfolio assessment of case study analysis. Oral presentation. Peer and group work assessment.  


Assessment criteria were based on the Rubric in 7 principles: Research 15%; Analysis 15%; Subject Knowledge 15%; Experimentation 15%; Technical Competence 10%; Communication & Presentation 20%; Collaborative working 10%. Each study week as learning phase corresponded to a particular stage in the design process such as: Introduction, Exploration (1), Design Brief (2), Design Brief Evaluation (3), Concept Design (4), Concept Evaluation (5), Design Concepts Refinement (6), Detail Design (7), Prototyping (8), Testing (9), Design Evaluation (10), Delivery and Reflection, and outcomes from each of the phases inform the subsequent design phase of the projects over one semester’s 12-week learning-teaching process. Moreover, students had to act from two different ‘personas’ – the client and the designer - to address given assignment.  


Uncertainty is an inherent part of the design process, and it can be both exciting and tough for designers to navigate a range of different challenges and obstacles to arrive at a successful outcome. International collaboration initially asked not to instruct students in which phase they had to act as clients (phases 1; 2; 5; 9; 10) and when as designers (3; 4; 6; 7; 8). Phases 1 and 9 asked students to become a member of subject's community and become involved an authentic experience as a critical reflection of context and culture. Students were divided into teams (three students per team) and paired with international student teams to work across diverse cultures and time zones. If one team were not performing on time and not delivering output weekly, the partner team could not progress.  


Current students are representing Generation Z (Gen Z) and they prefer intrapersonal or solitary learning as a backup to using technology; they are accustomed to learning independently. Hence Gen Z’s need time for individual learning and reflection before group work or Think-Pair-Share processes. Gen Z value peers and instructors as learning resources only after thinking through a concept, problem, or project on their own, and the content they are learning needs to be applicable beyond just a single practice.  


The core skills and competencies that students learned was communication (100%), indicating that design studies through DLE is more about communication than creativity, which was mentioned only by 50% students. 70% students identified critical thinking, teamwork, conflict resolution and collaboration whereas no one recognized that media and information literacy should be taught in design process trough DLE.  It is essential to provide clear guidelines, communication channels, and feedback opportunities to help students navigate the uncertainty of the design and learning process effectively. It is even more important for Gen Z students as they need to know what and why are they studying and where can they apply their acquired knowledge and skillsets. Teamwork, collaboration, and people are crucial aspects in the design process and distributed learning environment. It can be challenging to sustain the emotional connections between lecturer and students, to perform independent learning, to build trust and establish strong working relationships when working with colleagues who are geographically distant over time and place. Building trust in distributed teams requires an elevated level of communication, transparency, and shared understanding of goals and expectations, empathy, and responsibility towards peers. To decrease ambiguities by providing communication channels, and feedback opportunities in person would help students navigate the uncertainty of the design and learning process, something that is centrally important for Gen Z students. Lectures and administrative staff should be aware that technologies and digital communication platforms are supportive and user-friendly. DLE should facilitate the learning process with all involved parties explicitly visible. Lecturers should consider that Gen Z need time for intrapersonal or solitary learning and reflection before group work or Think-Pair-Share activities.  

Examples of good practice in Higher Design Education

The education model used in Design focuses on providing students with an intensive critical, theoretical, and practical foundation to their programme of study. It consists primarily of the application of design practice and theory through the medium of practical studio projects. In this area students examine the nature and operation of the design process and gain an understanding of the implications of their design decisions. They also develop competence in the critical appraisal and creative evaluation of design problems and learn how to generate and realise complex design solutions. Students also acquire a proficiency in a range of technologies relevant to the visualisation and production of complex design solutions. Normally design programmes are divided into two sections: Studio Practice and Critical Theory /Contextual Studies Studio Practice focuses on a fundamental and developmental study of design principles. In this area students examine the nature and operation of the design process and gain an understanding of the implications of their design decisions. 


Critical Theory /Contextual Studies provides a critical and theoretical context for design practice. Key issues in the history and theory of design are covered and these in turn are related to relevant developments in the evolution of 21st century theories of humanity, culture and society and related technologies such as AI. The programme provides the learner with an understanding of the social, cultural, historical, and environmental context in which they will operate as designers. In the final year students in many programmes complete a dissertation or extended essay of 5-10,000 words on an approved topic either in the history/theory of design or a critical reflection on a final year studio project. 


Studio teaching is fundamental to design education and employs a range of innovative programme delivery and teaching methods. The primary mode of programme delivery is through studio-based projects where the principles of design are acquired through experiential learning. These projects become increasingly student-led as students‘ progress through the programme. At the outset of each project, students are presented with a detailed brief. This consists of relevant background information, research criteria, a set of assessment criteria and directions for presentation. Tutor facilitated peer-based studio critiques take place at the completion of projects. This provides an opportunity for students to give and receive formative feedback. A wide variety of learning strategies and activities are employed including studio-based projects, lectures, demonstrations, workshops, site visits, laboratory-based workshops, directed and self- directed design research. Group work and peer-based critiques are an essential feature of studio- based learning and teaching strategies. From year 1 students must present their design solutions to their peer group which helps develop valuable key skills in communicating and presenting design ideas. These presentation and communication skills are reinforced in the critical theory area where in addition to formal lectures students are often required to make group presentations on selected topics on the history and theory of design. 


Many design programmes use problem-based learning methodologies as a means of fostering independent learning among students. The approach also promotes important key skills including, teamwork, negotiation skills, problem solving, project management. It also reflects the nature of the design industry where designers work in teams. Many design programmes place an emphasis on students documenting and reflecting on their design process thus establishing skills they will carry with them beyond their undergraduate degree. A key aspect of this learning and reflection are written design reports and reflective portfolios where students are asked to state what they have learned by doing each project along with the strengths and weaknesses of the outcomes for each project. This enables students to develop reflective skills which will enhance life-long learning. It provides learners with the opportunity to develop awareness of their own educational potential and to deepen their understanding of their own practice. Design programmes include a wide range of lectures, presentations and workshops from visiting industry professionals. Many programmes run industry led projects with outside design companies as a way of exposing their students to the operation of professional design world and preparing them for professional practice on graduation. 


Assessment Methods in design programmes usually follow two forms. Firstly, there is continuous assessment which involves the submission of projects at agreed times during the academic year usually by public presentation and followed with detailed formative feedback. This can take the form of interim critiques, peer and tutor reviews and individual discussion with lecturers. Secondly there is a form of summative assessment through an assessment of an end of year portfolio of work which may include several projects completed over the course of the year. There has been much debate in design education on the balance between continuous and summative assessment with some programmes opting to drop any form of summative assessment in the earlier years of the programme. In the final year there is an end of year exhibition of completed projects which usually forms the basis of the final assessment. External examination and moderation play a major role in this process with some design programmes opting for a public presentation of work to a panel of lecturers and external experts while other programmes use external examiners to moderate the final assessment process and benchmark student work against international standards.

Learning, Teaching and Assessment

Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Design Education and Examples of good practice

Student workload & ECTS

In the CPAD European Higher Education sector Bachelor programmes normally vary between 180 and 240 ECTS-credits. Master programmes normally vary between 90 and 150 ECTS-credits. When specified, Doctoral/PhD programmes usually last three years and have 180 ECTS. Some countries, like the United Kingdom, use a different credit system, however, the education level and experience is comparable.​

Quality Enhancement

In working on the qualification framework and defining the learning outcomes/competences for the three cycles the SAG stresses the outcomes are not to be taken as prescribing the content and curriculum of individual arts academies/universities programmes but helping these institutions to ensure the quality and standards of their programmes. 


In developing the quality framework the SAG has adhered to the following values:


  • commitment to respect and promote cultural, artistic, and pedagogical diversity.

  • the needs of society and the world of work for the development of creativity and generative critical thinking, which are key attributes of higher arts education.

  • operating a review methodology based on peer review, in which the participation of students, relevant professional bodies and/or employers as stakeholders is embedded.


The CPAD SAG stresses the content and distinctiveness of the programmes are: 


  • the primary responsibility of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in assuring the quality of their own provision.

  • being responsive to the diversity of higher education systems, institutions, programmes and students. 

  • taking into account the needs and expectations of students, other stakeholders and society. 


In institutions developing their internal and external quality assurance policy and processes the SAG recommends:


  • to promote student-centred approaches to learning, teaching and assessment.

  • to develop a quality culture for excellence and its continuous enhancement.

  • to guarantee the equivalence of minimum threshold standards for any academic qualification offered in the EHEA.

  • to continually enhance the student learning experience to achieve the highest standards; 

  • to operate a review methodology based on peer review, in which the participation of students, relevant professional bodies and/or employers as stakeholders isembedded;

  • to support staff research and encourage the transfer of knowledge gained through it back into teaching and the curriculum.

  • to instil trust and confidence in the processes of quality assurance and enhancement. 

  • to build institutional capacity for high quality internal review and enhancement.

  • to ensure that all its activities are underpinned by explicit criteria and transparent processes.

  • to ensure that all its processes are open to external scrutiny.

  • to establish a range of formally verified external and international reference points and/or criteria (primarily guided by the 2015 ESG).

  • to ensure that the outcomes of its accreditation and assessment processes have formal status, are decided independently and are publicly available.

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