Design ; A discipline of opportunity*

Is ‘All are creative’ a fact or a myth?

‘We believe everyone has the capacity to be creative’ — this is the first text you would read if you browse the homepage of Stanford — D School. This is very optimistic yet a cliche in design education in the modern world. One might argue this has more to do with profit oriented education as a service in a capitalist context than the pedagogy of creative education — simply it is about making your degree brand relevant to a wider audience. But how does this term relate to a country like us who are focusing on free education. How does this statement relate to creative degrees offered via free education?

Challenging some famous assumptions

When it comes to deciding the head count of an intake in a degree program of Sri Lankan State university, ideally two things should be considered. The first is the economic demand for the particular profession (What is the annual demand for engineers in Sri Lanka?), and the second is the resource scarcity (How many engineers can our economy bear to produce this year?) For both aspects we need very specific & rational criteria to select students in an unbiased manner. The common known criterias are A/L stream, Z-score (standardised marking system across disciplines), district quota and in some cases an aptitude test.

These selection criteria commonly cause debate, especially in the interdisciplinary degrees like Design, Architecture or Entrepreneurship. As a staff member of an institution which enrolls students after an aptitude test, I have come across numerous debates related to this selection in formal level like University grant commision’s (UGC) decisions as well as very informal situations like lunch room discussions. Most of these discussions are either in favour of D-school statements or against.

One of the most prevailing assumptions is, the higher the z-score, the higher the chance of performing well in the degree. This is common at the formal level discussions, especially when it comes to UGC decisions. Another typical assumption is, some A/L streams give additional advantage to perform well in the degree. It is common to hear among students ‘I have not done art in my A/L”, commonly followed by an excuse for a failure. This is happening due to the common perception of art as the symbol of creativity. Sometimes it takes the form of “He/She has done science for AL”, commonly followed by an explanation for a success. This is due to the adoption of science subjects into design discipline for its progression. As a staff member who is commonly engaged with level one students, I can tell that these doubts created by those dogmas are killing the students’ confidence who enrolled in the degree.

Amidst this formal and informal theories of factors related to the students’ success and the selection criteria for a creative degree, I decided to dive into the quantitative aspect of this question. As a matter of fact I did this as a part of my ongoing master’s degree, and it should be noted that I purposefully selected this topic to quench my thirst that I have had for a long time as a design student and now as a design educator — are these popular folk theories & cliches true?

“I hv a doubt about my slf

How do you select students for our course

I do not know how i got selected

and do not know whether I can do this”

- A message I received from a level one student (One of many)

A promising result

The online survey received 150+ responses from graduates of B.Des degree of Department of Integrated Design, University of Moratuwa. This is almost 50% of all the graduates the program have produced since its first batch in 2000. Having considerable doubts about the above mentioned assumptions I ran quantitative tests related to the following key hypotheses.

Z-score has an influence on the success in the B.Des degree.

Some A/L streams favour the success in the degree more than other streams.

Having 47 cases from Colombo, I decided to run an extra test to find an association between Colombo & non-Colombo factors and the successful completion of the degree. For the purpose of this study I used GPA as the scale for the success of the degree. To be honest, sometimes I have also felt like some of the above hypotheses are true. But surprisingly none of them are true and we can reject them due to its statistical insignificance (P < 0.01). Statistically insignificant means that if we randomly select another 100 graduates from alumni, we can confidently say 99 of them will prove again that the Z-score or A/L stream is not a factor to determine your final results of the degree.

Simply put, your secondary education has nothing to do with your success in the degree of B.Des. I ran these tests to the overall population as well year by year where there were enough cases. And still in all of those cases & years it did not show any statistically significant association. The only relationship that I discovered was that people who obtained a first class show less tendency to be an entrepreneur that we need to consider separately since at the degree we are promoting entrepreneurship rather than conventional employment.

if batman can send you a design related message

Design — a discipline of opportunity.

So does this mean D-school is telling the truth beyond marketing? Before jumping into quick conclusions let me remind a common factor which was shared by all the respondents of this survey — all of them have faced an aptitude test and scored sufficient marks. In other words, this shows the importance of the aptitude test beyond z-score or A/L stream. Therefore we can come to a secure conclusion that you can start a new journey in the discipline of design regardless of your secondary education history, but as long as you have passed the aptitude test. The condition represented by the asterisk mark in the title of this article is the aptitude test in the current form.

In future I expect to find the relationship between the marks on the aptitude test and its influence on the final GPA, and then I might be able to update the condition of the star mark. The recent UGC’s decision to abolish aptitude tests leaves a big question mark, considering these results. Enrolling students based solely on z-score is like letting you do engineering based on the number of windows you have in your room — yes, it is irrelevant!

Before ending this article, I want to remind you about the delusion of statistics also. The above statements should not be taken as final truth, but more as a start to deep dive into these matters in order to find the clear picture of design education in Sri Lanka. For example, in this study population the representation of people from Commerce stream is zero since it was opened to commerce stream very recently. Also, for the purpose of measuring success, GPA is used. This does not mean all of those who got higher classes are successful practitioners. But for a start all of us can be confident about the opportunities related to this discipline — especially if you are a current or prospective student.

Design enthusiast / design researcher