Design Education Bridging Academy and Local Context

Soares, L. Aparo, E. Rivas, M. Curralo, A.

Retirado de:

RESUMO: Este trabalho aborda o ensino de design no século XXI, englobando o design cognitivo (Cross, 2006) eo design de experiência (Brown, 2009). Esta primeira parte explora o desenvolvimento de métodos de design durante a segunda metade do século, no mundo ocidental, a fim de compreender a sua aplicação no ensino do design, questionando o que o ensino de design significa hoje. Este artigo argumenta que o produto construído é uma conseqüência lógica do pensamento filosófico (Latour, 2008). Esta abordagem destaca como o ensino do design pode ser idealizado, interpretando as raízes culturais do lugar na realidade de hoje. Através da interpretação deste fenômeno pretendemos demonstrar que o projeto pode estimular conexões entre todos os participantes. Na segunda parte, argumentamos que o design para artesanais e microempresas pode alcançar uma nova existência, se pensada em conexão com a Academia e a realidade empresarial, agindo de acordo com as restrições de projeto atuais. Para sustentar essa noção, os autores apresentam quatro estudos de caso em um mestrado de Design. Metodologicamente, os autores utilizaram o raciocínio do meta-desenho (Mendini, 1969). O artigo destaca a importância da conexão entre o design e a empresa como um sistema de aprendizagem comum, uma vez que as alianças de negócios de design podem reinventar contextos locais e criar oportunidades para empresas e designers.

PALAVRAS-CHAVE: Cultura de Fazer, Sistema de Produto, Meta-Design, Desenho de Experiência, Incentivo à Micro Economia Local.

ABSTRACT: This paper addresses design teaching in the twenty-first century, encompassing cognitive design (Cross, 2006) and experience design (Brown, 2009). This first part explores the development of design methods during the second half of century, in the Western World, in order to understand their application in design teaching, questioning what design teaching means today. This paper argues that the built product is a logical consequence of philosophical thinking (Latour, 2008). This approach highlights how design teaching may be idealized, interpreting the cultural roots of the place in today’s reality. Through the interpretation of this phenomenon we intend to demonstrate that design can stimulate connections between all participants. In the second part we argue that design for artisanal and micro enterprises can achieve a new existence, if it is thought in connection with the Academy and the entrepreneurial reality, acting in accordance with current design constraints. To support this notion, the authors present four cases studies in a Design master's degree. Methodologically, the authors used the meta-design rationale (Mendini, 1969). The paper highlights the importance of the connection between design and enterprise as a common learning system, as design-business alliances can reinvent local contexts and create opportunities for companies and for designers.

KEYWORDS: Culture Of Making, Product System, Meta-Design, Experience Design, Incentive To Local Micro Economy.

1. Introduction

The field of Design is ever-changing, according to the complexity, fluidity and transformation that characterizes the ‘liquid modernity’ (Bauman 2005). If transformation itself is a benchmark of reality, contemporary reality leads us in different directions and associations, with increasingly faster changes.

For design teaching, Master degrees are subject of analysis and international debate, as they focus on students’ interests and their current employment status. Therefore, they involve using design methods based on the principle of interpreting a new rationale, reinforcing the specificity of “designerly ways of knowing” (Cross, 2006).

In particular, the Master’s Degree from Instituto Politécncio de Viana do Castelo, located in the north of Portugal, proposes restructuring through a strategy based on thinking local to act global. Considering the present economic situation of the region and Country, we propose a course in 3 semesters. The reform concerns key territorial units. One is the Business Association of Viana do Castelo, which can facilitate business connections. The other is the creative industry of Biennial of Cerveira Foundation, which will integrate design students in their platform. These actions are intended to stimulate design students to act as entrepreneurs, creating their own enterprises. This change will render the master's level of education more professional, closer to learning in a working environment, and therefore phenomenological.

2. The Basis: How to Educate Designers for the 21st Century?

The Masters in Design Studies (MDes) have long been object of discussion. In fact, the overall field of Design Education has changed, in tune with reality changes. In addition, the fluid reality has led MDes to multiple associations and collaborations, introducing the element of haste in local change, alongside the widespread element of global financial crisis. It also demands Design innovation to meet the requirements of a complex, volatile society. Almost paradoxically, uniqueness and individuality remain fundamental values, coexisting and pervading the project development process.

To innovate in Design Education through MDes implies considering time, space and circumstances to define the reality to interpret (Brown 2009), and requires adopting a curriculum in educational institutions that targets creating real possibilities for students during their academic education. Therefore, in our contribute to MDes discussion, contemporary reality is regarded as a system, and Design Education as a creative transdisciplinary process that should prepare students to build their own distinguishing narratives

Hence, Design Education cannot be restricted to answering organizational demands. It embraces customs and attitudes, involving the future designer’s adaptation to context. MDes should therefore expand the students’ ability to connect and relate, towards the construction of a cohesive professional identity, able to affect attitudes regarding the own work, in a holistic process intersecting political, economic, technological and social contingencies.

To reflect about teaching designers for the twenty-first century is to think the building of a new rationality, reinforcing "designerly ways of thinking and designerly ways of Knowing." (Cross, 2006). This approach aims to contribute to the characterization of an innovative design: one that cannot solves only one problem or target only one solution with no dialogue with the question, but rather a “semantic agent, interpreter of a purpose, producer of meanings by the shapes it produces, creator of new circumstances and contexts that contribute to human freedom” (Soares, 2012). The methodological processes applied to innovative design cannot be understood as linear or sequential. Their path had advances and drawbacks, faced questioning, criticism and several constraints. The model for Design practice is a dynamic rationale, from the initial question (situation, problem) to the final solution.

Over time, projectual methodology was intertwined with philosophical thinking, debated and transformed according to the cultural, economic and social context. The relentless transformation of concepts determines changes to methodology as technique to explain the design method, and subsequently validate the project efficiency. It benefits from all that exists, instead of imposing that certain manifestations are unnecessary for design teaching.

Authors such as Nigel Cross (2006), Victor Margolin (1995), Richard Buchanan (2001), and Nigan Bayazit (2004) suggest the 1960s as the beginning of the studies concerning Design methods. According to Nigel Cross (2006), the problem of action in new projectual methodologies emerged in the 1960s as a reaction to complex issues that defined the period following the Second World War. Factors such as the introduction of computerized hardware and software, new materials, the scientific evolution, the population boom, cultural issues, the boundaries or limitations of techniques and production methods motivated the need to develop new design methods as an alternative to classical projectual methodology, centered on the individual as the object creator.

Nigel Cross (2006) and Nigan Bayazit (2004) identify the 1920s as the beginning of activity, relating this decade to the new rationality proposed by movements such as De Stijl group or the Bauhaus School: “Many writers have pointed to De Stijl in the early 1920s as an example of the desire to ‘scientize’ design. The roots of design research in many disciplines since the 1920s are found within the Bauhaus, which was established as the methodological foundation for design education.” (Bayazit, 2004: 17). The aftermath of World War One determined changes to the design’s modus operandi. The 1920s witnessed the impact of a design method associated to the industrial society, due to the post-war war one rebuilding and technological development, based on standardization, producing more ‘democratic’ and more affordable products.

In the 1970s according to thinkers such as Jean Baudrillard, Umberto Eco, or Mario Perniola, the world became a repository of dangerous image. For instance Jean Baudrillard wondered about new problems created by the media: “What else do the media dream of besides creating the event simply by their presence? Everyone decries it, but everyone is secretly fascinated by this eventuality. Such is the logic of simulacra, it is no longer that of divine predestination (…)” (Baudrillard, 1994: 55).

By the contrary, authors such as Maurizio Vitta, Mary Douglas, Baron Isherwood, Andrea Branzi, or António Petrillo argued that the excess of images mirroring the reality of the end of the 1960s could become an advantage for knowledge experience. As argued by Margolin, “through the power of communications media, and particularly advertising, images become a persuasive means of motivating people to act.“ (Margolin, 1989: 11). According to Margolin, objects were transformed into interpreters, providing communication with the user, as well as fostering relationships between individuals. As if by extending their secondary role (Eco, 1984), objects were also suitable for the act of thinking, transformed into mediators of an experiential, interpretive and continuous action with the users.

Since the 1960s, the nature of a project became arbitrary, due to all the contradictions and oscillations that come to characterize western reality. Design itself was a manifestation in reaction to a new way of thinking, reflecting the new mass society. Designers chose discontinuity over continuity. Design encompassed the discussion, change, and continuous renewal that characterized the 1960s. In a period of continuous renewal, design reassesses values and constituent elements. The projectual choice that considers the individual and reality as active actors involved in the common transformation process means moving forward in an open process that relates everything as  in a 360º surround palette (people, information, time, culture,…) interacting with reality. In fact, what characterizes the 1960s and 1970s is the onset of a debate between:

  • A scientific and rational process that challenges the definition of "design science" (Archer, 1981). According to Archer (1995), design methods are grounded on different fields, traditionally alienated: humanistic/ artistic studies and engineering/ technology, in a dialectical, cognitive process.
  • A dialectical and “cognitive process”. Ultimately, design methods are based on bridging fields and building rationales, denoting the implications of “designerly ways of knowing” (Cross, 2006).

This paper departs from the philosophical perspective that regards design education in a contemporary reality which is contradictory, discontinuous and mutating; an education system that dialogues with the students, connecting the Academy with the students and entrepreneurs. As if the education system were an open catalogue displayed to the individual, offering meaning to his existence.

Nowadays, the ‘cautious designer’ (Latour, 2008) who chooses a meaningful reflection about design education for the twenty-first century, projects manifestations of design education, developing connections with other professionals, academies, businesses, and people. If nowadays design teaching is based on a constant interrogation process, it is also the result of today’s reality. And design teaching is hardly a project: it may be planned as a meta-project, related to the genius loci, to local productive entities, and with an entrepreneurial insight to promote sustainability and competitiveness. A rationality that enhances applied research projects to the development of products focusing on the valorization of the territory. This supports the notion that the development of Design discipline depends on the connection between enterprises, education and research, in an field of action that is always active, and not just sometimes.  


3. Design for Artisanal and Micro Enterprises

Design’s proposal for artisanal and micro enterprises may reach a new stage if it encompasses a connection with the Academy and the business reality, acting according to design’s current constraints, transforming the adversities from liquid modernity (Bauman, 2005) into project advantages, and by developing a responsible Design, assuming sustainability as intrinsic to design.

3.1. Craftwork and Design: What Relationship?

Although both the activities of designer and craftsman concern producing objects, there are many differences. Tomas Maldonado distinguishes craftwork from design, considering the first is an “integral part of the laboring process". For this author, "idealization and execution”, “project and work” are different tasks, wide apart, and increasingly falling apart (Maldonado 1999: 16). For Peter Dormer (1995), work should be collaborative and articulated. For this author, much of the success achieved by our culture is due to the people’s collective work, expertise and work fragmentation coordination.

In historical terms, the relationship between design and craftwork has had variations, in different countries and in different ways, as with the Arts and Crafts movement, in England, the Wiener Werkstätte Association in Austria, or the Deutsche Werkbund movement in Germany. This relationship between design and craftwork resulted from using the potential of new technological appliances for industrial production, leading designers and businessman to face design as a mediator between industry and craftwork.

However, not all contexts experienced this debate during the Industrial Revolution period. As stated by Andrea Branzi (1999) European reflection about the role of the machine in production was absent in Italy, and the response to this theoretical conflict was never part of Italian modernity. This allowed Italy to create an equipment system based on craftwork, whose manifestation happened between 1946 and 1948 (De Fusco, 1985). In an exhibition organized for the Triennale di Milano, under the subject of popular furniture, the goal was to raise awareness from industrials and designers, towards the definition of a new identity for Italian products.

In the first half of the twentieth century, this identity definition was also sought for in Portugal, with authors such as the Swiss Fred Kradolfer (1903-1968) or the Portuguese architect Raul Lino (1879-1974), who studied abroad, absorbing English and German thinking, subsequently adapting it to the national context. However, “Largely due the indifference of industrials, painters and architects, a meaningful response to decorative arts renovation was delayed.” (Santos, 2003). Designer’s proposals were characterized by stylized ethnographic elements, elements from nature and country life, popular shapes and stills of the Portuguese daily life.

This historicist revival was due to the taste of a new industrial bourgeoisie, but also to a political cultural program, intending to survey [1] the material and immaterial Portuguese culture, in order to reach a symbolic empowerment image for Portugal, to be used abroad and at a domestic level. The result identified a country characterized by different realities, with many images able to qualify and represent the country, instead of one single image as initially planned. The survey revealed old processes and ancestral techniques, promoting the interaction between identity and place.  Throughout this process, the design factor was an added value to the quantitative limitations impacting the profitability of traditional production methods, making those items/products expensive when compared to traditional craftwork.

The high selling price associated to the design market speculation make new artisanal design products a market niche, based on limited editions or custom production. In this cycle, where the output capacity is limited by the time and cost of the production process and the craftsmen agility, profit margins are often not significant as to impact the socio-economic development of producing regions. On the other hand, beginning a didactic movement involving students, testing and researching craftwork to develop viable project hypotheses (Cross, 2006), gives craftwork its deserved place amidst design methods. The exploration of artisanal products whose potential lies in the character of the natural raw materials, also allows combining hand making and manufacture, promoting new scenarios of semi-industrial production, favoring uniqueness and tailor-made solutions. Hence, one of the possible measures is a sort of teaching that allows young professionals traditional and updated knowledge, in terms of manufacturing processes, exploitation of natural raw materials, artisanal techniques, methodologies and theories, including business management.

Nowadays, there is an increasing interaction between the various areas of knowledge towards the development of new products. We believe that the future of craftwork is linked to sustainable design, in a joint effort between designers and craftsmen, keeping the artisanal techniques inspired by cultural roots and introducing future innovation. In the Italian case or in the Portuguese case, design is established as a stimulator for old methods and typical artisanal techniques, transforming them into new identities for a material cultural of a people. The two contexts are still characterized by the presence of ancient crafts, although some activities are at the brink of extinction. The evolution since the late 1990’s favors concepts and procedures for sustainable products and services, through Design for Sustainability (Brezet & Hemel, 1997). Subsequently, we recognize craftwork and its ancestral context as a natural collection of assumptions intrinsic to design for sustainability, towards a "rebirth" of micro-enterprises. Design for sustainability is a potential generator of exploratory methods for the academic community, research and development (Crul & Diehl, 2006). Despite the differences between design and craftwork, we consider the reunion of the two an asset for economic prosperity, particularly to revitalize micro-businesses within regions, and the production and development of semi-industrial products.

On the academic side, designers work with a “reflective practitioner” (Schön, 1983), guiding the artisan towards the ongoing assessment of sustainability values. The design school can promote innovation by coordinating this complex system, proposing pilot projects acting as catalyst for entrepreneurial innovation. According to Alessandro Mendini “(...) university will become the central institution of the next hundred years due to its role as new source of innovation and knowledge” (Mendini cit in Ferrari, 2005: 102). On the side of the productive fabric, the artisan conveys the designer his handicraft knowledge (Aparo et al., 2014).

Hence, this paper advocates training young designers who during their design course will develop their entrepreneurial skills to bring added value to the artisanal sector and Micro-Enterprises, through Design.

3.2. Design Teaching as Interpretation of Culture of Place and Factor Identity

In Portugal, as aforementioned, some references risk being lost. Portuguese artisans are becoming older and fewer. Also, younger generations are not interested in revitalizing craftworks. For design education, it is imperative that students/designers are encouraged to relate craftwork and design.

The goal is to look at the past as an support element that exists to guide the present, combining it with culture and time to be able to interpret present reality with an updated identity. As referred by Hans-Georg Gadamer “There is no doubt that the great horizon of the past, out of which our culture and our present live, influences everything we want, desire, or fear from the future. History is only present to enlighten our future” (Gadamer, 2006: 8).

Hence, the disappearance of cultures of making could mean the disappearance of Portuguese genius loci, and design must take on the responsibility to assure the continuity of this knowledge; “The symbiotic relationship between design and culture allows this projectual discipline to assume a responsibility to creating possibilities, new scenarios for the survival a potential heritage as the value of specific and local culture to create new products.” (Aparo, Soares, 2012). It is therefore essential to study how old methods and techniques of a place may today be appreciated and judged by today’s consumers.

Craftwork can be understood as a 'culture of doing'. Craftsmen know how to do it because they received that legacy from previous generations. They don’t question what they do or why they do it that way (Jones, 1992). That is the role of the designer as interpreter of the culture of the place. However, according to Ugo La Pietra (1997), craftwork is still poorly understood by some designers, who consider production as the key feature in product development, neglecting the impact of artisanal production. John Chris Jones (1992) explains this, arguing that designers probably know more about production than reasonable users. Product production relates to the application of materials and technologies, and also to product concept, experience and values the product may add to people’s lives. As advocated by Lina Bo Bardi, it implies “looking carefully for the cultural foundations of a Country (whatever they are: poor, miserable, popular) if real, it doesn’t mean preserving forms and materials, it means assessing the original creative possibilities” (Bo Bardi, 1980).

Subsequently, these authors justify design action as a discipline transporting culture and interpretation. The designer must act as a mediator, an interpreter who allows being conquered by an intervention territory, trying to understand what the context requires, refusing to operate as the classical project maker who is mainly product-oriented. Today, designers are market-oriented, creating experience moments for individuals; “Today’s consumer is no longer often asking himself whether or not he wishes to possess this or that object he doesn’t have; the issue he dwells into is rather: 'What new experience do I wish to live?" (Rifkin, 2001).

It is no longer design for production cycles, but for experiences. In this process, the consumer seeks uniqueness, the right to individuality, which may be assured by the product through detail, as element that assures product quality. This is basically a product system that causes an abduction (Cross, 2006), triggering a labyrinthine association process. This semantic process gives meaning to consumer purchase, relating it with the product values and the values of the enterprise behind the product. "The product system is also a system of meanings: the consumer does not buy a product because it has quality, but because he shares a system of values that the company, through the product system, was able to communicate to him." (Zurlo, 2003).

Associating their image to quality values as the Genius Loci of a place, enterprises assure quality both in manual labor provided by craftwork, and by the meaning of the place it refers to. "When the designer acts in a given context culturally qualified, he proposes an insight that shouldn’t change identity, but interpret its essence, projecting it onto new contextual frameworks.” (Aparo & Soares, 2012).

The development of professionals in this field may be one of the most effective ways to preserve ancestral knowledge, some at risk of extinction. As possible result, in combination with design methods based on sustainability, means socio-economic development for the region. However, economic and production factors are not the only factors to consider in design education. It is vital to include social, cultural and humanized traditional craftwork as generators of results for the cultural nature of mankind. Design takes responsibility as cultural, social and production agent, contributing to sustainability.

To consider design according to traditional culture and artisanal techniques of a given region implicates a humanized dimension of the genetically inherited roots of collective memory. Any individual is sensitive to identifying visual, morphological or sensible characteristics that mirror him. The closer they are, physical, sensory and cognitively, the greater the probability of emotional connection and identification with the other subject/object. Thus, for design teaching, the seductive role of the attributes for acceptance or rejection of an artificial object should be explored, encouraging students to address culture and identity of peoples and regions as sources of inspiration. The dialogue between tradition and innovation, craftwork and design, craftsman and designer, should be widely discussed towards new differentiated products, attractive to different consumers.

4. Mdes in a quest For Programs that suit today’s reality

4.1. Characterization of Alto Minho Region, in Northern Portugal

Addressing MDes is a quest for programs that suit today’s reality, specifically northern Portugal (Fig.1), considering the increasing time dedicated to academic degrees in detriment of field work, in a labor context based on traditional employment relationships rather than enterprising.

Fig. 1 – Northen Portugal

Source: the authors.

Micro-enterprises are the overwhelming majority of Portuguese business sector, employing in 2011 42% of business sector workers. In the European Union (EU), only Italy surpasses this rate, with 46%, according to recent Eurostat statistics. Together, micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) account for 99.8% of the companies (95% micro enterprises and 4.9% SMEs), totaling about 831,000 of the 832,000 companies accounted for by the Portuguese Institute of Statistics (INE). Only 0.1% (about 832 companies) are large enterprises [2].

The number of artisanal micro-enterprises in 2014 was 2,062, as shown in Table 1, and northern Portugal has the second largest share, of about 22%.

Table 1 – Artisanal Productive Units by region, 2014.

Source: Portuguese Directorate-general of Agriculture and Rural Development.


Northern Portugal has a wide range of artisanal microenterprises, with recognized cultural and social significance, emphasizing the bond between design and trade competitiveness and success, not only for start-ups, but for those needing intervention and restructuring to survive.

The city of Viana do Castelo is located in the Minho region, northern Portugal, involving two districts: Viana do Castelo and Braga, with 24 municipalities. Compared to the national economy, the economic growth in the Minho region is lower and unemployment levels are higher [3]. The region’s economic tissue is composed of small businesses with less than 10 employees, mainly in the secondary sector. Furthermore, in some municipalities, as Melgaço and Monção, the secondary sector is as important as the primary sector. Agriculture and small industries are complemented by distinct artisanal activities. According to Francisco Sampaio [4], in the interior [5] districts of Viana do Castelo, the predominant artisanal activities are carpentry, cooperage, ironmongery, luminaire making, weaving, basketry, pottery, and pyrotechnics. By the seaside [6], the artifacts stand out for their sign-function, mainly from ironmongery, ironworks, ceramics, ornamental pottery, stone statuary, carpentry, regional embroidery, weaving, laces, nets, cordage, tapestries and basketry. In the district of Braga [7], including the city of Fafe, craftworks are characterized by embroidery, musical instruments, ceramics, metalwork, tanneries, wrought iron, horn, linen goods, ceramics, filigree and straw.

This diversity and cultural complexity may contribute to the self-sustainability of the region. In fact, the sustainable development of the region depends on the sustainability of companies that preserve their products and region. “Liquid modernity” (Bauman, 2005) challenges formulations able to defy the global market monopoly, legitimizing the individual's right to acquire new values and new experiences. Ampelio Bucci argues that “(...) it seems strategic to favor products with self-identity and allowing the individual to express his individuality more clearly." (Bucci, 2003).

The connection between the cultures of making and design culture through academic and research projects may be the key to sustainability and subsequently to the competitively of the region. When the project is developed based on reading local factors that define the reality the designer intends to interpret, the connection between the intrinsic values of a place, forms and materials, can provide a more comprehensive perception of the product. For Tim Brown, design can improve people’s lives, acting with values and involving emotions: “We can use our empathy and understanding of people to design experiences that create opportunities for active engagement and participation” (Brown, 2009). In this case, design is directly involved in the context, creating with the local community agents, creating products able to trigger emotions from those who use them, and those who make them.

4.2. The Master in Design as Synonym for Sustainability

The structure of the Integrated Master in Design program (MeDeIn) is hosted in the Platform of the Viana do Castelo Business Association (AEVC) joining partners for research and production, networking with the local business sector.

The AEVC mission is to “support business associates; to promote and foster programs to support business and economic activity; to foster the links between the business sector, the education sector and public authorities; to promote the internationalization of the associated companies; to act as a facilitator of business information.” [8]

The Biennial of Cerveira Foundation promotes contemporary art at a national and international level. The statutory goals are to “Maintain the origins of the International Art Biennial of Cerveira, as well as its organization; Carry on with an adequate management and maintenance of the assets of the Art and Foundation Biennials; Promote contemporary art, through its annual programs and by cooperating with similar institutions in national and international networks; Establish protocols with institutions, of teaching and others, which promote artistic and cultural training; Develop the local and regional tourism, by attracting different visitors and encouraging artists and intellectuals to stay at the region; Maintain and promote the estates and the assets that the Founders may bestow to the Biennial; Collaborate in the development of a sustainable and strategic plan aiming at the creation of a cultural assets network among regional councils.” [9] The cooperation with the Biennial of Cerveira Foundation (FBC) is also vital. This organization allows MDes students’ projects to become research & development achievements.

This MDes prepares young designers for action in that environment, with particular attention to local needs and resources: economic; social; local/regional; materials; energy; technology, and environmental impacts. According to Tomas Maldonado: “to design the form means to coordinate, integrate and articulate all those factors that one way or another participate in the constitutional process of the form of a product. More precisely, it refers to factors regarding use, enjoyment and individual or social product consumption (functional, symbolic, cultural factors) and those related to production (technical-economic, technical-constructive, technical–systemic, technical-productive, technical-distributive).” (Maldonado, 1999).

Therefore, the goal of the educational program Integrated Master in Design program (MeDeIn) is to contribute to the creation of gradually self-sufficient design and production systems, ensuring the economic prosperity of the region and developing students’ entrepreneurial skills, creating new jobs. In this sense, the course invites students to develop projects in a business context. These partnerships are intended to revive regional production methods. In this scenario, the role of design can be crucial to define new product typologies, connecting design students projectual knowledge with artisanal know-how. As argued by Medardo Chiapponi, “strong innovation in a sector can often be determined by the transfer of ideas and solutions from another field where those same ideas and solutions are no longer innovative, and were even fully integrated long ago.” (Chiapponi, 1999). This means that the academic world can be the catalyst for this transfusion to be received by sector that is worn out and behind his time, requiring new stimuli and connotations.

In academic terms, a process-oriented design action is useful, since “today, Design research is a quest about specific reading instruments such as those from innovation methods studies promoted by companies in collaboration with designers and the creative world." (Verganti, 2001).

In business terms, the presence of design can be understood as the key factor to reflect about what is established, encouraging companies to leave their comfort territory, to take new challenges and risk entrepreneurial change in today’s business reality. Applying a modus operandi that refuses certainties and allows external factors such as culture, weather, and economy intervene in the process, is the definition of meta-design technique. According to Alessandro Mendini, “the meta-project is a projectual behavior of indirect formalization, where projecting develops along more phases, and where the real and fundamental problem is firstly the reproducibility program, and afterwards design.” (Mendini cit in Ferrari, 2005: 98).

5. Students as entrepreneurs

These joint actions aim to stimulate design students as entrepreneurs, fostering the development of their own business in connection with local businesses.  These goals transform MeDeIn into professional on-the-job learning by doing, in a phenomenological approach. Shared knowledge stems from bonding design and trade, civilizing academic education while reinventing local contexts. Knowledge transfer from context to academia and vice versa is a platform for new languages in market development. Linking design and trade allows defining product identities, inscribing a range of social values from the culture and essence of the place, in a ‘glocal’ performance culture.

A future with an identity is possible through products tailored to our times, expressing truth from paths based on knowledge and art from the past. The national companies depend on recovering crafts, to originate different products with foundations as solid and differentiated as our culture (Brandão, 2003). Projects developed through this methodology are characterized by knowledge transmission, new techniques, and adaptation to contemporary culture requirements, transforming local products to introduce them to the global market as ‘nomads’. As stated by Deleuze, “a completely other distribution which must be called nomadic, a nomad nomos, without property, enclosure or measure. Here, there is no longer a division of that which is distributed but rather a division among those who distribute themselves in an open space – a space which is unlimited, or at least without precise limits.” (Deleuze, 1994:36).

This paper highlights the value of the combination of design and business as a shared learning mechanism. Thus, Design-business collaboration can reinvent a local context. The transfer of knowledge from the context to academia and vice-versa becomes a source to export new languages for new markets development. The inputs created by a MPhil’s degree program in design with this philosophy in mind, permits other activities and other companies to reinvent themselves, to create opportunities for systemic connections and to establish new markets for designers.

5.1. Case Study: Project Raiooo

To support that students can be entrepreneurs promoting connection projects, we presents the project RaiOOO, developed in 2014 and involving 18 students from the Master in Integrated Design of the Polytechnic Institute of Viana do Castelo. The Project RaiOOO was coordinated by the teachers Ermanno Aparo and Manuel Ribeiro as an opportunity to experience and demonstrate the Academy’s ability to relate with the productive context. For the students it was an opportunity to relate with the business and labor universe. For companies it was a challenge to open up to new scenarios and reinvent themselves in an ever-changing scenery.

The RaiOOO is a three-wheel bicycle with electric motorization, a sustainable solution that reflects the cycling world and present society. The bike allows greater stability, while assisted pedaling provides its use by a wider public, from different age groups, fostering a new environment for groups of people usually excluded as the elderly, children and the handicapped. Wicla ensures a comfortable ride, facilitating "the discovery of cities, monuments, traditional trade and Portuguese secluded havens” [10]

RaiOOO was developed during six months with a mixed crossover methodology, including literature research, study visits, experiments and connection to enterprises, fostering connections with industry and crafts. This creative process involved Portuguese companies such as Corticeira Amorim, Irmãos Jacôme, Rodi, QBrothers, owned by a former design student from the IPVC, the craftsman Joaquim Silva from Ponte de Lima, the Spanish company Ruedas Eletricas and the Brazilian company Dreambike. The project also had the institutional support of the professional cyclist Rui Sousa.

The base frame of the bike is formed by two birch plywood panels with mahogany finishing in sandwich panels bolted to the driving box aluminum tube and the pedal seat aluminum tube. Plywood was chosen due to the atmospheric conditions and to bacteria growth in the framework, which consists of three pieces of cork performing the close junction of the two panels, protecting the inside. Cork is also used in the saddle. The tricycle is completed with leather and wood basket and two leather suitcases, materials that are quite unusual in the cycling world, but omnipresent in Portuguese culture. The basket is ideal for carrying loads, personal items, and domestic animals during the ride. The two suitcases complete the front set of the tricycle, including a tool kit fitted on the largest suitcase.

The project was considered by the magazine Domus one of the 10 best bicycle projects in 2014 [11] and one of the 15 best design projects in 2014 [12]. Internationally, the project was acknowledged by BBC Autos [13], Designboom [14] and Urbancycling [15].

The RaiOOO project has become a spin-off of the institution with three students, André Claro, Bárbara Costa and Daniel Oliveira, who are preparing to develop in the short term their master’s theses in the field of accessories. In the long term, the aim is to create an enterprise. For the time being, the three students went to the Berliner Fahrrad Schau. As referred by Savatore-John Liotta in the magazine Domus, where the RaiOOO project was heralded, it is “an example of research applied to production and a metaphor for the current industrial transition, Raiooo is the product-sum of several different macro-and micro-production realities.” (Liotta, 2014) [16]

A mutating metaphor in a cognitive and dialectical process, an open path to a contradictory space, time and settings. A broad process whose end product quality will depend on the strength of the relationship between parts (people, materials, business, information) that constitutes the product system of the RaiOOO bike.

Fig. 2 – From left to right: Workshop at School. Tricycle Wicla with the intervention of the artist Miguel Januário at Biennale of Cerveira, Portugal, 2015.

Source: Joana Abreu Ferreira and João Teixeira.

5.2. Case Study: Project Viana 3d

The project Viana3D was developed since 2012, coordinated by teacher Manuel Rivas as an opportunity to experiment and demonstrate the ability of the Academy to relate with city of Viana do Castelo in Northern Portugal. Today, Viana do Castelo is a modern city, built like most cities on a historical foundation, sometimes invisible or lost, such as the medieval fortifications, or lost buildings. Centuries of transformations shaped the current city, and our goal is to preserve, keep and reveal those changes.

The Project Viana 3D is an intervention project analyzing the urban structure of Viana do Castelo. It employs three-dimensional technologies, GIS tools, design and urbanism in order to promote the city and the Polytechnic Institute of Viana do Castelo. The project originated architectonic elements in 3D virtual reality (integration in the virtual world of virtual elements) and 3D augmented reality (integration in the real world of virtual elements). Viana 3D developed a three-dimensional modulation of some heritage buildings in the Avenida dos Combatentes da Grande Guerra, an avenue that "translates a revivalist element, in order to ease the traffic flow and access to the city center. With façades that were and are still today benchmarks of Art Nouveau and Modernistic buildings, housing several institutional buildings and diversified services.” [17]

The Project Viana 3D is based in three pillars, buildings with historical architectonic value (e.g. Avenida dos Combatentes in Viana do Castelo), relevant buildings, unfortunately lost and/or adulterated, and finally the “City that might have been and was not”, that is, relevant projects never built. This is Associated with the public space unifying the city, and presents different settings such as the Garden District (Bairro Jardim), a pedestrian walkway. Public spaces by definition bring people together. However, they are spectrums, driving people away. According to Zygmund Bauman, “the powers that liquefy travelled from the “system” to “society”, from “politics” to “political life”, or descended from the “macro” level to the “micro” level of social life. (...) And thus public space is increasingly void of public issues. It no longer performs its ancient role of meeting place to dialogue about private problems and public issues.” (Bauman, 2005).

Cities perform as promotional tools to attract tourists and investors. Hence, they are pushed to look out for ways to differentiate from competition. This study may become a means to communicate part of the history of the city of Viana do Castelo, converted to hibernation or oblivion, using media such as 3D digital technology to promote the city.

To support this, we identified an analogy between two city components (public facilities and districts) both emerging in 3D digital technology; “the use of technological innovations as computer-aided technical drawing tools, especially three-dimensional modeling tools, allows a realistic reproduction of urban spaces. These tools allow creating virtual scenarios accessible to anyone, being an asset with ample touristic and promotional applications as well as an element of support for design, architecture and urbanism research and analysis.”[18] The touristic issue is vital for city’s sustainability and development. Cities are living organisms that evolve throughout their existence, in shape, images and characteristics that remain registered in our memory through writings, paintings, photographs and our gaze, although there is a unknown city, the one that could have been and was not [19].

Therefore, one of the goals of this project was to invite visitors to see a city that does not exist, that only through mobile devices with QR Code will be seen, from a script, a different city. Aware of the new technologies, a Master student in Integrated Design at the IPVC, Adriano Ribeiro, is developing an app for mobile devices (ios and android) named “Viana 3D”.

As stated by Zygmunt Bauman about society, “it is reduced to reunifying what the combination of formal individualization, divorce between power and politics have shred into pieces. In other words, redesign and repopulate the now almost empty agora – the meeting place, for debate and negotiation between the individual and the common good, private and public. If the old purpose of critical theory - human emancipation - has any meaning today, it is to reconnect the two sides of the abyss between the reality of the de jure individual and the de facto individual perspectives. And the individuals who relearned forgotten skills and appropriated lost tools of citizenship are the only constructors able to build this particular bridge” (Bauman 2005: 51).

Viana 3D intends to convey the city’s culture in digital support. According to Manuel Rivas, “with image modeling in augmented reality we can analyze and understand some elements that define the identity of the city, study the various components that make up the metropolis, and offer foundations for future interventions in the urban tissue or simply be used as a digital history file, with touristic and recreational applications.” [20]

Fig. 3 – Old chocolate factory, now a museum and a hotel at Viana do Castelo, Portugal

Source: Adriano Ribeiro and Micael Miranda.

5.3. Case Study: Footwear Design and the Company Hugo Maneul Shoes

The master’s thesis work developed by the student Pedro Ribeiro is another case that proves how Master's students Design can be enterprising.

Pedro Ribeiro, designer and student of the Master in Integrated Design (MeDeIn), developed his research project culturally connoted with footwear design. The challenge is to reflect on methodology in pedagogical practice, connoting the project with Portuguese culture.

During his master's thesis work developed, supervised by teachers Ermanno Aparo and Helena Santos-Rodrigues the student intended to use the genius loci, since the designer must be responsible for material culture he is building, predicting consequences in terms of sustainability but mainly at cultural and social levels. A product qualified by the genius loci contributes to the perpetuation of the culture of a place, its customs, rituals, techniques, technologies, and materials: its identity. The designer has the responsibility to ensure that the identity of the place is preserved, namely through new scenarios that don’t compete with the traditional ones.

Firstly, the student researched the history of footwear and footwear industry in Portugal. Secondly, the student supports his research by using case studies that prove his research is already a project. The student analyzed the chanca [21], (clog) from Ponte de Lima, using a mixed breed fieldwork methodology to demonstrate that constraints can be opportunities for research and strategic development.

In the projectual stage, the student addressed the project as a system and not as an object, in particular concerning the outsole. This component is further divided in four sub-projects: 1) the outsole and the shape, 2) modeling, 3) materials, 4) production; proving the validity of Christopher Alexander’s pattern-language (1977).

The methodology is process-oriented, in particular, 'craft-evolution' and 'design-by-rawing', based on John Christopher Jones (1992). The theory includes the history of footwear production in Portugal, highlighting typological, productive and formal references. This phase is proven with case studies. The exercise underlines experimental design aspects, namely providing an application scenario for the research project: building a culturally connoted product system and dignifying the artisan shoemaker trade, linking their knowledge to design.

The student’s experience in the shoemaking sector allowed him subsequent employment as freelance designer in the Portuguese company Hugo Manuel Shoes [22], in Felgueiras, in the north of Portugal.

For the company, the link with the designer was important because he developed visual communication projects such as advertising and graphic arts, qualifying the company’s image. Also, the designer developed exhibitions, models for samples and production, and created new designs for the brand. This action allowed the company's design a renewed identity.

For the Academy, the development of an enterprising master's thesis with immediate field application allowed the student to establish his place in this industry.

Fig. 4 – From left to right: sketches and molds of prototypes.

Source: Pedro Ribeiro. 

6. Conclusions

With this paper the authors aimed to validate design education for the twenty-first century, using as case study the Master in Integrated Design from the Polytechnic Institute of Viana do Castelo. On the one hand, it concerns developing new methodologies oriented to design education, to craftwork and micro-enterprises, considering the complexity and contradictions that characterize nowadays reality. On the other hand, it concerns the choice to teach design students as entrepreneurs future business owners, preparing them for the uncertainties and fluctuations that qualify the market. Much more than teaching new designers oriented towards new markets, the main value of the Master in Integrated Design lies in the ability to prompt connections, sometimes improbable, among the gents, geographically belonging to the same genius loci but with global reach.

In this open process, we verified that the ability to transform design education at a master’s level relied on knowledge and reflection about the history of design methods as legacy and reference, but not as a limitation. Design teaching for the twenty-first century should be a creative and interdisciplinary process to prepare students to build their own narratives. Educational projects relate to applied research, expanding the students’ ability to connect and relate building a cohesive professional identity able to affect attitudes towards their work, in a holistic process encompassing political, economic, technological and social considerations.

In this paper we explored the link between craft and design, as in Portugal micro enterprises constitute the overwhelming majority of Portuguese business sector, especially in northern Portugal, concentrating the second largest percentage. This region has a broad range of artisanal micro-enterprises with recognized cultural and social significance, emphasizing the link between design and trade for competitiveness and success, not only for start-ups, but for those who require intervention and restructuring to survive and grow. In this perspective, the authors advocate that design for artisanal and micro enterprises can reach a new status if connected to the Academy and the business reality, acting according to the constraints of current design. In our perspective, the future of craftwork depends on design for sustainability, in a joint venture between designers and artisans, keeping traditional techniques inspired by the cultural roots and introducing state of the art innovation.

Through the teaching project Integrated Design Master's Degree (MeDeIn) the authors contribute to characterize an innovative design, where design practice holds has a model a proposal for a dynamic rationale from the initial question (situation, problem) until the final solution. The designers’ educational system should be guided by a process of permanent questioning. It should be thought of as a meta-project related to the genius loci, local productive entities and entrepreneurial insight, promoting sustainability and competitiveness. A new rationality to potentiate research projects to develop products focused on adding value to the territory.

The development of Design discipline depends on the connection between enterprises, education and research, in an action developed permanently and not just occasionally. Training young designers to develop their entrepreneurial skills can bring added value to the Craftwork sector and to Micro-Enterprises. The educational program Integrated Design Master's Degree (MeDeIn) also aims to contribute to the creation of design and production systems gradually self-sufficient, assuring the economic prosperity of the region and the development of students’ entrepreneurship, creating new jobs.

The development of professionals in this field is one of the most effective ways to preserve ancient knowledge, combined with design processes based on sustainable methodologies, meaning greater socio-economic development in the region. The dialogue between tradition and innovation and the link between the cultures of making and design culture, through academic projects and research is the key for sustainability and thus for the region’s competitiveness. Design students challenged to develop projects in a business context automatically recuperate production processes from the region with design as central for the definition of new product typologies.

For design teaching, the Integrated Design Master's Degree (MeDeIn) of Instituto Politécnico de Viana do Castelo (Portugal), project became a key example of how academic research can provide field actions able to consolidate the links between the territory and the values representing it. The search for continuity between the form of a product and the values it represents can be seen as the result of design thinking. A project must start by interpreting the place and its values, transporting them to a new market environment. In the future, the methodology and dynamics applied in this project can be the stepping stone for developing projects, or as in the present case, so that local production may find in this process an incentive to create new productive scenarios.

Design becomes the possibility to create links between places, material/ immaterial heritage and the people from this territory. Through design, these values can be transferred to products, using a productive process as support to narrate the history of a place. The 'well done' becomes the conveyor of the identity of a place, assuming the status of unique unforgettable object to those who visit or inhabit it. A product conveying culture also becomes a catalyst for experience and meaning, reaching scenarios and users who hypothetically don’t know the referent, but imagine its meaning in semiotics as part of design competency framework.


[1] This anthropological and ethnographic activity was carried out by a multidisciplinary team - with anthropologists, designers and photographers, including Ernesto Veiga de Oliveira, Fernando Galhano and Benjamim Pereira.
[2] Source: Newspaper Publico
[3] (accessed in January 28, 2013).
[4] <> (accessed in January 29, 2013).
[5] The municipalities of the interior of Alto Minho are Ponte da Barca, Ponte de Lima, Paredes de Coura, Arcos de Valdevez, Monção and Melgaço.
[6] The municipalities by the sea are Viana do Castelo, Caminha, Vila Nova de Cerveira and Valença.
[7] The municipalities in Braga areo Amares, Barcelos, Braga, Cabeceiras de Basto, Celorico de Basto, Esposende, Fafe, Guimarães, Póvoa de Lanhoso, Terras de Bouro, Vieira do Minho, Vila Verde, Vila Nova de Famalicão, and Vizela.
[8] In: <> (accessed in May 2, 2013).
[1] [9]In:<> (accessed in May 2, 2013).
[10] <> (accessed in April 30, 2015).
[11]> (accessed in May 29, 2015).
[12] <> (accessed in May 29, 2015).
 [13] <> (accessed in May 29, 2015).
[14] <> (accessed in May 29, 2015).
[15] <> (accessed in May 29, 2015).
[16] <> (accessed in April 15, 2015).
[17]<> (accessed in March 24, 2015)
[18] <> (accessed in March 24, 2015)
[19] WWCCA’2014- VII World Congress on Communication and Arts. Book of Abstratcs, p. 36.
[20] < (accessed in MArch 24, 2015)
[21] The Chanca is a typical regional Portuguese shoe model still in production with the same moulds, although the materials have changed.
[22] (accessed in MArch 24, 2015).


This paper was presented at Regional Helix 2016, and published exclusively at Convergences.


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Reference According to APA Style, 5th edition:
Soares, L. Aparo, E. Rivas, M. Curralo, A. ; (2017) Design Education Bridging Academy and Local Context. Convergências - Revista de Investigação e Ensino das Artes , VOL X (19) Retrieved from journal URL: