Chapter Three: Design Studio

The role of the professor

In a design studio, knowledge is produced, not disseminated. That’s a subtle but critical and foundational point about design education: In a design studio, the professor does not have the knowledge, and their role is not to give the knowledge to the students. Instead, the student develops the knowledge through various forms of inquiry, action, reflection, and conversation—all intended to help them look at a problem in a new way.

My own education was rooted in a studio culture. But when I became a teacher, I forgot some of the ways studio worked. I felt like I had to have all the answers. I felt a pressure to appear as an authoritative source; I was nervous that the students wouldn’t take me seriously if I wasn’t seen as all-knowing. But instead, I found that students were more receptive if I took a role more akin to a guide. I needed to recast my expectations of myself—that, instead of being an expert, I needed to view myself as a facilitator, partner, and mentor. This is someone who has had a certain quantity of creative experience and who can anticipate, during the knowledge-generation process, where various patterns, methods, approaches, or techniques will be most effective.

Perhaps the most important part of a studio environment is the relationship between me and my students. It’s a unique relationship grounded in the traditional apprenticeship model of learning. Simply, a student learns alongside. They ask questions, try things, and when they make poor decisions, they are corrected in the moment.

Let’s look at how a studio class is structured to help build that master/apprentice relationship.