Innovative Approaches to Teaching Industrial Design


These ideas can be implemented from higher education to contribute to sustainability.

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Industrial Design academics have not yet properly addressed the creation of effective, innovative learning approaches to achieving efficient sustainable development teaching. A series of surveys that I recently administered to students, graduates and faculty from this degree program revealed the need to integrate this topic more effectively into the curricula.

My proposal is to create innovative teaching-learning strategies focused on sustainable development, which will promote local and global perspectives and ensure that graduates are better prepared to address issues inherent to the globalized world.

My doctoral research seeks to propose diverse perspectives of innovative pedagogy in order to develop the necessary competencies in Industrial Design students for informed, responsible decision-making.

We need innovative teaching methods that strongly integrate the issue of sustainable development with instruments for measuring the effectiveness of learning, especially in the area of industrial design.

The first stage involved interviewing academic and non-academic experts in this field, with 16 interviews held in Mexico and another seven in the UK (the country where I am currently studying my Ph.D. by distance learning). I also conducted a “Community of Practice” session to present my research to a group of academics from Birmingham City University, students from Mexico (who were studying a summer program in that country) and a doctoral student from that university.

The second stage included a questionnaire with a broader, nationwide scope on the current approaches to learning and teaching sustainable development in Industrial Design degrees in Mexico. It was administered to 28 academics from 8 private and 6 public universities in the country.

These first two phases produced valuable data, which so far have made it possible to suggest the ways in which higher education could contribute to promoting sustainable development:

  1. Integrating the country’s sustainable development more solidly in the curriculum.

  2. Using multidisciplinary approaches and complexity. The latter term is defined as “a frame of reference that facilitates understanding the phenomena in which determinism dialogues with probability and science includes mankind as a relevant constant to avoid simplicity in the generation of knowledge” (Íñiguez, 2016).

  3. Having instruments to measure the effectiveness of teaching and learning in relation to sustainable development.

  4. Fomenting alignment and collaboration between the diverse players involved, including universities, academics, industry, civil society and the government.

  5. Promoting citizen engagement and participation. Universities play a strategic role not only in transmitting knowledge, but also in acting as an arena in which the diverse players involved can reach landmark agreements.

  6. Considering the local context without losing sight of the reference to the global context.

  7. Through a circular economy, a philosophy inspired by nature which seeks to move from a linear economy (produce, use, discard) toward a model in which there is no waste, as occurs with living beings.

This research seeks to foment a more powerful experience and promote the exploration of diverse global perspectives and problems, making use of mobile technology and flexible materials for educational purposes.  

We can generate products that are technologically feasible, that meet specific needs, and that are economically and environmentally sustainable.

UNESCO emphasizes that education for sustainable development (ESD) should foment learning methods that are more participative, inspire students and facilitate action for a sustainable future (UNESCO, 2005). As an example, Tecnológico de Monterrey faculty use a very interesting innovative approach in which students endeavor to innovate technology-based products. In this educational experience, students implement business models under the guidance of design, business and engineering experts. Each stage of the process begins with a seminar where entrepreneurs, leaders in technological innovation and specialists share their experience with the students. This interaction is expected to generate products that are technologically feasible and economically and environmentally sustainable to resolve specific needs.

Roberto Íñiguez, Dean of the School of Architecture, Art and Design of Tecnológico de Monterrey, explains that managing complexity in design projects implies acknowledging the designer’s inability to be the only entity that executes the project, and paving the way for projects to involve diverse players and disciplines, larger work groups and collaborative innovation (Íñiguez, 2016, p. 54). He also argues that "challenges like sustainability make innovation start to integrate this broad, systemic vision which permits the incorporation  of many more variables and not just that of the production of goods". In product lifecycle management, the new design variables have been transferred to the field of complex systems, which require interdisciplinary visions (Íñiguez, 2016, p. 54).

My current research is still ongoing. I am confident that the findings from the following stages will provide new knowledge on the role of innovation in enhancing education for sustainable development in the B.A. in Industrial Design program, in order to generate broader debates on the combination of innovative and traditional techniques in multidisciplinary settings.

About the author
Martha Elena Núñez López holds a Master’s in Industrial Design and a Master’s in Construction Engineering and Management. She is currently the Director of the Architecture Department at Tec de Monterrey, Southern Region, and is a three-time finalist in the Reimagine Education Awards organized by QS Ranking (2105-2017).