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New book aims to help design educators navigate demands of today’s classroom

By Jackie Mallon


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Author and design professor Steven Faerm. Photo courtesy of author.

Perhaps the first of its kind, the latest book from educator and author Steven Faerm, whose previous titles were designed to aid student learning, is aimed at helping that other individual in design classrooms: the educator. His books, ‘Fashion Design Course: Principles, Practices and Techniques’ and ‘Creating a Successful Fashion Collection: Everything You Need To Develop a Great Line and Portfolio’ are widely used in fashion programs nationwide. Published by Routledge, ‘Introduction to Design Education: Theory, Research and Practical Applications for Educators’, is Faerm’s response to an unaddressed and pressing need.

The challenges of the contemporary education environment were placed in sharp relief by the sheer quantity of educators participating in the Great Resignation. A combination of dramatically changing industries, ever-evolving curricula, new student population with significantly different learning styles and goals, and a lack of support from their institutions left educators feeling disillusioned and exhausted. This comprehensive guide is expressly for those charged with leading the next generation of design innovators while also advancing their pedagogy successfully and meaningfully.

Faerm is Associate Professor of Fashion at NYC’s Parsons School of Design and has lectured at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Columbia University, Polimoda in Florence and Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology (BIFT). A core issue he identifies in early chapters is that educators in the fields of design are regularly hired because they have years of real world experience on their resumes, but while this experience is priceless it doesn’t make them a natural fit for the classroom. They are expected to learn how to communicate what they know on the job, picking up effective teaching methods as they go along. Faerm confesses that when he entered his first classroom in the 90s fresh from a design career working for Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs, he was left unceremoniously to “figure it out.”

We place educators on a crumbling pedestal. To teach is still considered a noble vocation while the ability to complete a degree at a reputable school has become part of the American Dream, a milestone in a young person’s life. But with soaring tuition fees it can soon turn into a millstone. Considering the massive contribution that design industries make to the US economy, (and Faerm goes into the figures in detail), and considering the complex psychological, ecological and social issues that now must be dealt with in the classroom, it’s bewildering that those charged with stewarding the next generation of creative thinkers and problem solvers through these formative years have been left so adrift.

Introduction to Design Education: Theory, Research and Practical Applications for Educators, published by Routledge. Photo courtesy of author.

Steven Faerm offers fashion instructors much needed support in new book

’Introduction to Design Education: Theory, Research and Practical Applications for Educators’ offers clarity and perspective when the responsibilities of the job become overwhelming. Faerm looks at the history of design education and how centuries of apprenticeships and craft guilds morphed into the cult-like phenomenon of the design school experience that exploded in the 1990s. He charts how the radical changes of the past thirty years have led us to where we are now and looks ahead to what the industry and its educators need to do to thrive in a sustainability-focused world with shifting processes and paradigms. There is important discussion on how we evaluate and consume design, and how society regards the creators of objects we love. Faerm also assesses the direction of design education through interviews with fellow academics here in the US, but also examines culturally diverse approaches with educators in the UK, China, Australia, Argentina and Italy.

Faerm astutely posits that teaching is performative and those who teach understand the need to present an air of authority as they stand before a room of eager, or not-so-eager, students. He outlines how educators instinctively project their voice, inhabit the space and employ body language, turning the front of a classroom into a stage and students into an audience that must be engaged.

It is gratifying to read passages prioritizing educator wellbeing. Schools increasingly attentive to the mental health of students during the pandemic found themselves having to answer to distressed faculty about the lack of support for their mental health. Gen Z students in today’s classrooms are intolerant of undesirable working conditions for themselves or others. It’s actually the desire to make a positive impact that unites them and educators. But the uncomfortable truth is that the only certainty is uncertainty. Educators are preparing students for problems that don’t exist yet, indeed jobs that have yet to be created. In this context there is no one scarier than the person who insists on doing things how they have always been done. ‘Introduction to Design Education: Theory, Research and Practical Applications for Educators’ manages to offer much-needed support while simultaneously compelling educators to question the efficacy and relevance of their pedagogy.