Can design be taught? What makes a good design? These were some of the ideas that emerged during a press lunch held recently at SoFA Design Institute’s new campus. The occasion was not just to show off its sleek Ivy Almario-designed interiors but also to introduce its new executive director for Academics, architect Tobias Guggenheimer.
With a background as educator at Pratt University and Parsons School of Design, Guggenheimer is now strengthening both the fashion and interior design curriculum. The architect of American-Swiss background started by sharing an ancient quote from Roman designer Marcus Vitruvius (familiar to students of design) on the values that a successful design must possess: “Firmness. Usefulness. Beauty.” And although these seemed to address the subject on a philosophical level, we were soon led back down to earth, underscored by SoFA’s very own head honcho, bag designer Amina Alunan, who related that most Filipinos, when faced with the design process, still think on the level of, “How much does it cost to make this?”
As a teacher Aranaz relates how her Milan education (she and co-head honcho Loralie Baron were roommates at Istituto Marangoni) played a huge role in expanding design thinking and how she comes up with a new collection. Instead of starting with the materials and how she would use it, she learned to be at ease with starting with an idea, and let it evolve from there.
Window dressing: Designs from students and alumni can be seen along SoFA’s façade on Sen. Gil Puyat Ave.
“Design is the process of making something out of nothing,” said Guggenheimer. “People wonder if to be a good artist, do you need to be utterly creative and original each time? Creativity is the ability to bring together ideas in a unique way, even if the ideas are something we are all familiar with.”
SoFA’s vision is to encourage students to think bigger, more conceptually, with more research and creativity, instead of something merely based on a student’s personal reality, like, as Aranaz relates based on her teaching experience, something to the effect of how students would answer: “I made this design in pink because it’s my favorite color.”
The design school is thus taking on the challenge of elevating the way creativity is taught here. Guggenheimer’s vision is to inject a global standard to the local design educational landscape. As head of the SoFA Academic department for both fashion and interior design, he will steer its curriculum, teaching methodologies, and faculty development. The school believes design thinking is what is needed to “break barriers and allow innovative ideas to bloom and transform.” It signals a deeper commitment to offering courses in design inquiry.
“Why is design important?” the new dean emphasized. “Design is a cultural value. Students create this global, physical environment. Everything that has value, has meaning. Design represents ideas, community, the economy.”
Furniture sculpture: Clear Kartell ghost chairs used for a wall installation
SoFA is also equally dedicated to finding tangible applications for design skills. To support its emphasis on design thinking, they encourage learning based on three pillars: technical skills, general education, and business acumen.
“Filipinos have a tendency to accept the status quo,” said Guggenheimer, an enthusiast of Philippine literature and married to a Filipina (and half the team for his own architectural firm is based in Manila). “Maybe what they had learned abroad is to challenge orthodoxes.”
So you no longer need to leave these shores to stimulate that creative mind.
Design Thinking at the Forefront