Dear design academia: Stop asking educators and researchers for their portfolios
Like many other designers, I decided to become an educator. It took a while, though. I started like pretty much every other designer of my generation: Finalizing a bachelor in a design-related discipline, some small gigs, eventually a larger company, freelancing, etc. Also, like everyone else, I had to design a solid portfolio and update it pretty much every time I applied for a new job or pitched my work to a potential client. I redesigned, adapted and tweaked my portfolio to each specific situation. I became very familiar with the design portfolio as a genre and I understood, as I do today, its relevance and importance for design professionals.
At some point in my career, I started to notice that I cared a lot more about research that about production. I came to terms with the fact that I enjoyed finding alternative solutions to common problems and sharing them with others. I started to question my own training as a designer and pondering what was I willing to do to make things better. Becoming a design educator was the best I could think of and I definitely do not regret the decision. However, the decision was not easy. I was haunted by the old (and mischaracterized) “those who can’t do, teach”, and I found myself trying to determine if my doing was enough to compensate for my teaching as if becoming an educator was a guilty pleasure. But I was serious enough to pursue a Ph.D. in Education after a Master of Information Design.
A Ph.D. takes around 5–6 years to complete and most of them are very demanding full-time programs (some more than others). Finding a job as an academic in North America is hard — no matter the discipline — and, in general, it is far from a dream job. As an academic, you supposed to produce research in the form of peer-reviewed articles, but academic publishing is a quite complicated process. You must really want to be an academic to subject yourself to go through all this, particularly if you could be doing something else… like, I don’t know… designing?
So, here’s my question to design academia: If we are not expected to design to prove our value as academics (and we don’t have the time, anyway), why asking for a portfolio in addition to an academic CV? Why not asking for the portfolio of our students instead? After all, like Paco Calles would say, a design educator is a “designer of designers”. Why are we expected to provide evidence of success in an activity, when we are trying hard to become really good at making others succeed? What do you really want? Do you prefer a good designer or a good educator?… Are you trying to find out if we have done enough to justify our teaching and researching?
Could it be that you also think that “those who can’t do, teach”?