By: Dr. Lilac Osanjo
Posted: Sep 4th, 2019

For a while, it has been clear that there is a gap between the design education provided and the quality of designers needed in the market. There are ten to fifteen thousand designers in Kenya trained at leading tertiary institutions like the University of Nairobi and others but sadly very few of these designers can clearly explain the full scope of their work and even fewer get it right.  

There is a need for design educators to fully and clearly articulate design concepts in ways that inspire students to intense creativity, innovation and excellence. This clarity will ensure the design students are well trained and will be readily absorbed into the labour market. The design educator’s workshop was an opportunity to chart a path for design education that is anchored on the principles of African design around four key tenets:

  1. Quality: Every educator needs to have solid professional training as a background as well as industry experience. The combination of the two is important because it makes an educator effective because they understand how the industry works and what employers are looking for as well as have the technical knowledge to share.
  2. Professional practice: As part of the quality control process, educators need to showcase or exhibit their work regularly to ensure constant self-development and inspire the students. Design schools have regular exhibits to showcase students work and these could be opportunities for the educators to showcase their own work alongside the students. It is also important for educators to participate in professional exhibitions as they provide real market feedback that can be applied to class teaching and improve personal skills. In reality, ‘A growing educator is a more effective educator.’
  3. Passion: A passionate educator makes a great teacher. If the educator is passionate, no obstacle will be too great to overcome including shortages of supplies, difficult students even challenging curricula. Passion about design will challenge the educator to study and understand market trends to help direct the path of the next generation of designers. Passion will also keep the educator learning and therefore improving every day and that benefits them, the school and the student.
  4. Sustainability: Design is a resource-intense field of study and operation and if sustainability isn’t part of the training process, in the long run, there won’t be enough resources to go around and that would be a bad legacy for the industry. It is important to be conscious of resources like paper, ink, dyes, fabric etc. when training. It isn’t unusual to find a lot of paper is used without valuable output or it is used to explain a bad concept. The essential educator needs to find ways to use resources carefully and teach the same sense of responsibility to the student designer so it can be replicated. This will also expand the ability of designers to become practising sustainable designers.

An effective design educator is a leader, career-driven, aware of their talents, always improving their skills, builds influence in their sector, is passionate, seeks and understands the value of diversity, has a genuine interest properly training and informing students, very innovative, able to inspire others, open-minded, knowledgeable, willing to be a mentor, understands and is building their personal brand, patient, and resilient.

Being an educator isn’t for the faint-hearted but the end result of creating a team of young people who will change the world for the better makes all the work and sacrifice worth it.


Dr. Lilac Osanjo is well known in the design fraternity as a career designer, educator and leading design visionary. She sets the bar high and continually raises it by using design to communicate possibilities through papers, articles, and exhibitions on design for health, agriculture, renewable energy systems and sustainable livelihoods in Africa. She is the Director of School of The Arts and Design, University of Nairobi and founding member of the Design Kenya Society, the Network of Afrika Designers (NAD) and Afrika Design Forum.