Planet of Boiled Frogs: Factors influencing the future environment of design education



Graphic Design & Visual Art


  • climate change, social stress

This paper compares selected analyses of the likely sustainability of society and the factors affecting it, including social, environmental, economic, and political. It examines the likely effects of these factors on South Africa, including possible interactions between them, cumulative effects and feedback loops. The literature increasingly suggests that these effects are likely to be extreme for the South African environment, society and economy, to say nothing of the rest of the world, within the working lives of current or near-future students, i.e. the next forty to fifty years.

Likely consequences for design education are then discussed, and possible responses in terms of adaptation or mitigation, from tertiary education as a whole, and from design education in particular. Education for resilience, sustainability, mental health under stress, adaptability, and innovation is necessary.

In focusing on graphic design, the contention is that graphic designers and educators may be required to communicate the issues, the inevitability or necessity of changes they cause, and how best to adapt to them, to South African audiences. Numerous responses have already been suggested, including sustainable design, design for sustainability, zero waste, among others, but it seems probable that these concepts will be ignored until both the mighty and the masses can change their minds: i.e. until they leap out of the warming water. Designers' roles thus expand beyond existing responses, and may be termed 'design for survival'.

The paper concludes by proposing that design for survival enter the curriculum urgently, and briefly examines two recent graphic design BTech projects at a South African university of technology as examples of student engagement with these issues. Students are increasingly motivated to engage in design for these purposes. The paper contends that awareness of and response to these factors, in the changing context of design and design education, is crucial to the future of our disciplines.

Keywords: climate change, design for survival, bidirectional coupling, content normalisation, climate change social stress, forest bathing


DEFSA conferences

DEFSA promotes relevant research with the focus on design + education through its biennial conferences, to promote professionalism, accountability and ethics in the education of young designers

Design Educators of South Africa...

With your support & active membership, the Design Education Forum of Southern Africa can positively influence the young designer's formative training and promote all facets of design across Africa