SIGD School Head Wei Wang Shares Goals for the Future
Professor Wei Wang began work as head of Auburn’s School of Industrial and Graphic Design (SIGD) on August 1.
He taught graphic design at Auburn from 1999 until 2021 and then spent two years as the Director of the Ullman School of Design at the University of Cincinnati before returning to Auburn as head of SIGD. He holds bachelor’s degrees in industrial design and graphic design and an M.F.A. in Graphic Design, and he recently earned a Ph.D. in Consumer and Design Sciences from Auburn. Wang’s priorities as head of SIGD include creating a shared vision with faculty, preparing students to be design leaders and looking ahead to the rapidly changing technological landscape.
While Professor Wang has been teaching and practicing visual communication design for over 23 years, he does not profess to know everything about SIGD. He feels the role of a school head should be to facilitate transparent communication with faculty to create a shared vision and then to provide them with support and motivation to achieve those common goals. Some faculty members have been teaching in SIGD for decades while others are just starting out in their teaching careers, and Wang is eager to hear from all of them. “You can say I know a lot about SIGD, but I don’t assume I have all the answers,” he stated. “People can look at the same thing with different perspectives. As a designer, I need to solve problems and turn ideas into action, but I will not rush into decisions without considering everyone’s perspectives.” Wang feels it’s important to recruit and retain the best faculty and staff members by supporting them in their personal goals and ensuring they have a mentor in the school. “If people are doing what they’re good at and enjoy it, then it’s no longer work,” he explained. “It’s my job to understand each individual’s unique needs, strengths and inspiration and how I can best support them.”
“My vision is to prepare the next generation of design leaders, not just design practitioners, who can make a positive impact on society,” Wang stated. He feels it’s important that SIGD students have the skill sets to be practical designers as well as dynamic leaders. “The most important quality of any designer is empathy,” Wang explained. “We are not designing for ourselves but for other people. It’s important that our graduates are good citizens, showing responsibility for our society, the world and the environment.” He wants faculty to continue to focus on hard skills in the design field as well as soft skills like communication, presentation and collaboration. Wang is particularly interested in looking at data surrounding job placement and career preparation. He plans to study not only the school’s job placement rates but also the types of jobs graduates are obtaining and how many move into leadership roles. He also wants to analyze what motivates alumni to stay involved with the school in activities like visiting for critiques, offering internships and sponsoring studio projects.
The rapid growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) means that the roles of designers will likely change, especially as AI continues to become more powerful. “We know the world is changing and we are facing so many challenges, but we have to embrace this change,” Wang said. “As educators we need to be the ones who are prepared for that change, because our students trust us by choosing to study design here at Auburn over any other school.” Wang says that in the future AI may be a tool that can generate design alternatives. The role of designers might then be to analyze those options and decide how to best meet the needs of end-users. “The technology will present challenges but also opportunities,” Wang said. “Designers create not only products but also services, experiences and systems. Rather than just train students to be practitioners, we as design educators have to make sure they’re independent thinkers, because the responsibility of future designers will be even greater than it is today.”