To understand how to teach design (but not only) to the new generations, it is first of all important to understand how they think. And what potential as well as problems lurk in the mindset of a digital generation

They have 24-hour access to all kinds of content, can cross-reference information from different sources and consult infographics, metrics and data. Today's students are, on paper, the potentially most educated and positively critical generation in history. Is that so? And, speaking of those who study design, how do tomorrow's designers inform themselves?

Thanks to the collaboration of two second year students of the Product Design course of Naba, Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti Luca Arrostuto and Allegra Caneva, Interni Design Journal has created a small survey to answer this question.

The results are interesting because they dispel the myth of the overwhelming power of videos over texts (60% definitely prefer the latter to get information) and that of the web over paper (62% prefer it when it comes to reading on “a subject that fascinates really”).

But also the role of the various research tools. Most of the interviewees (23%), in fact, use Instagram instead of Google as a page to access information and for searches. Blogs and design magazines follow closely, with 21%, while the search engine remains a measly 10%. On the other hand, only one in 50 people said they were informed on YouTube.

Starting from social networks to get information (among those that interest most: how things are designed and trends on colors, materials and finishes in interiors) obviously means relying on a Feed chosen by someone (the algorithms, which are based on our previous choices ). Teaching design to a generation like this is very difficult,” says Stefano Caggiano, Program Leader of the Product Design course at the Istituto Marangoni in Milano. “Their great quality, which is at the same time a condemnation, is a rhapsodic, reticular way of thinking: it is made of flashing links on topics that quickly touch before moving on to something else. They therefore apparently know many more things, about many more subjects, than the students of the past. But being immersed in an extraordinary amount of information from an early age, they had to start turning their heads before they had a neck: so they struggle to go beyond the first level of knowledge”.

The in-depth study, today, is therefore a snapshot guided by digital communication tools, not a work that is built one piece at a time. “The guys know it and suffer from it but getting out of the vortex of speed is not easy. Time and effort were in fact crucial factors in the life of the past student: to better understand something he had to go to the library, look for sources, spend hours on books before finding what he was looking for. It would now be obsolete and even probably impossible to choose this route rather than searching online for an answer. But, arriving immediately, it is also absorbed in a different way”.

“When I was studying design”, says Odo Fioravanti who has taught for 15 years in private design schools and public universities, “to see a turning you had to organize a visit to a craftsman, spend time with him. Today just find the right tutorial and you will learn a lot more in a much more condensed time. The problem is that in the first case, the experience was unique and evaluated as such: it remained etched in the memory forever. In the second, we become one of the millions of users of the page that published the tutorial and the perceived value is very low”.

24-hour access is, according to Fioravanti, the real heart of the matter.When you know that content is available, you don't always organize yourself to find it: most of the time, students look for it at the last minute: knowledge is a resource they take for granted”.

In these considerations there is obviously not a shadow of judgment. “Rather, an observation of the need to rethink teaching. Today's students are never really there – and it's not just a question of DAD. Always used to moving from one topic to another seamlessly, they pay their attention to things for a very short time, managing multiple subjects and activities at the same time. It is useless to criticize them: we must instead understand and act, transforming the way we talk to them. Immediacy, freshness and above all honesty (even in judgments, whether negative or positive) are the keys to having their attention and respect”.

“I see, for example, that design excites above all when it is combined with topical issues, linked to life and real problems”, Caggiano continues.Like the environment, the circular economy, new technologies and their impact on everyday life. On the other hand, when you go to old school methods you lose them immediately”.

All these problems, together with the reality of the DAD, are causing the teachers of all the Higher Education Artistic, Music and Dance schools (AFAM) to discuss.I am participating in CIANS (Coordination of Non-State Afam Institutions) precisely on how to exploit smart schooling in a less academic perspective, to transform it from Distance Learning (DAD) to Integrated Digital Education (DDI)”.

It is not just a change of acronym: “it indicates, on the contrary, a change of perspective”, concludes Caggiano. The tomorrow to be built today is a new way of teaching, which respects and is in tune with the way our children learn”.