The influence of the fourth industrial revolution: A multi-discipline approach for design education



Design Education Strategy


  • collaboration, design education, design industry, fourth industrial revolution (4IR), graduate output requirements, in-house teams, multi-disciplinary education

Klaus Schwab defines the word "revolution" to convey the "abrupt" and "radical" change, which brought about the first, second, third and fourth industrial revolutions. Schwab explains that the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) will transform the way humans communicate, socially connect, function day to day and operate their jobs. The 4IR is not only about technology; its fundamental difference is due to these technologies combining: as a result, the physical, digital and biological spheres overlap.

Leading design firms, like that of Neri Oxman, have combined the physical, digital and biological spheres by using computational design, additive manufacturing, material engineering, and synthetic biology. The design philosophy and scientific approach embedded in Oxman's work explore interrelationships among different spheres made possible by specialised in-house teams. These in-house teams form part of the design team to drive creative and innovative solutions. Through this multi-discipline approach, the fusion of the physical, digital and biological spheres is made possible.

This paper identifies Oxman's approach as a suitable example that meets the requirements of 4IR as described by Schwab. Through the exploration of the collaborative strategies employed by Oxman's in-house teams, this paper proposes a multi-discipline approach appropriate to design education. This paper will address theoretically how Oxman's multi-discipline team achieves the fusion of the spheres and how this could be incorporated into design education in developing a multi-discipline approach in the curriculum, taking into consideration graduate output associated with the 4IR paradigm.

The 4IR and rapidly changing employment skills requirement provide the context of this paper, which is investigated for a richer understanding and how this can impact the future of design education. The 4IR encourages exploring the fusion of the technology spheres, which imparts a collaboration of various disciplines, leading to a continuous multi-discipline domain. While the design industry finds its place within the 4IR, the design education sector's challenge is to produce graduates with creative ideas and relevant skills to function in and contribute to this emerging complex world. Through the exploration of 4IR practices, it is identified that a multi-discipline approach is a differentiating factor for creativity and innovation. Therefore this paper aims to understand how the multi-discipline approach can inform design education to enhance 4IR graduate output expectations in Afrika.


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