Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.7A2, 130-136
Published Online July 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Higher Education for Complex Real-World Problems and
Innovation: A Tribute to Heufler’s Industrial Design Approach
Gerald Steiner1,2,3, Johannes Scherr2
1Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA), Harvar d University,
Cambridge, USA
2School of Industria l Design, University of Applied Sciences, Graz, Austria
3Institute of Systems Sciences, Innovation and Sustainability Research (ISIS), University of Graz, Graz, Austria
Received May 31st, 2013; revised June 30th, 2013; accepted July 7th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Gerald Steiner, Johannes Scherr. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the origina l w o rk is properly cited.
This article appraises an internationally top ranked higher education program in industrial design, whose
stated mission is to enhance students’ ability to deal with complex real-world problems and thereby de-
velop (sustainable) innovation. At the outset, we discuss in general terms—in our view—the indispensa-
ble essentials of a higher education program that specifically aims to equip students with the competences
needed to successfully deal with such complex real-world problems. In the second part, we specifically
examine Heufler’s School of Industrial Design in Graz (Austria), its development and characteristics. A
summary of general implications for higher education and lessons learnt from this top industrial design
program concludes the article. Our analysis suggests that the school’s success is based on a few key cor-
nerstones: 1) The program has a clear mission, which has been communicated early on, internally and ex-
ternally; 2) Strong leadership, which enables continuity and high-quality output (e.g., attracts high-quali t y
input reflected in the profile of applicants to the program); 3) Real-world projects with co-leadership from
industry; 4) Provision of a supportive learning environment which extends beyond lecture times and
which is conducive for collaborative creativity; and 5) Faculty are professional experts who focus on
problem- and project based learning approaches which aim at the joint development of personal, profes-
sional domain, systemic, creativity, and sociocultural (collaborative) competence of the students. The au-
thors of this article have been involved with Heufler’s School of Industrial Design since its establishment
in 1995; they speak on behalf of Gerhard Heufler, the founder and head of this program, who unexpect-
edly passed away in April 2013. His remarkable leadership has enabled an extraordinary program in
higher education with the explicit aim to provide students with competences needed to successfully deal
with complex real-world problems.
Keywords: Gerhard Heufler; Industrial Design; Complex Real-World Problems; Collaborative Creativity;
Sustainable Innovation; Higher Education
The world needs to mobilize human capital, knowledge
capital, and creativity as their main assets in order to cope with
its “unprecedented challenges” (OECD, 2012: p. 13). Yet these
assets cannot be taken for granted: they require growth and
training via appropriate primary, secondary, and tertiary educa-
tion (i.e., higher education). Today’s educational systems are
embedded within a highly dynamic world and require constant
adaptation in order to adequately respond to the need for train-
ing and supply of competences needed in such a complex envi-
ronment. Great strides towards student mobility have been
made in recent years in Europe via attempts for standardization
within international education policy, most notably the Bologna
process, which enables comparisons between country specific
educational standards, raises basic qualities of education, and
consequently, increases international mobility of students;
however, such standardization processes also have their short-
comings and certainly do not automatically provide for excel-
lence within education. Rather, there is a need to leave certain
flexibility to the individual educational systems, allowing them
to creatively establish outstanding programs, which are suited
for their particular purpose and mission in a highly complex
world. For example, the Bologna process provides a framework,
which distinguishes between Bachelor’s degree programs and
Master’s degree programs; such a framework supports clarity
and comparability of educational systems within Europe (Euro-
pean Commission, 2012). However, the specific content and
objectives of a particular educational program, such as in in-
dustrial design, might require a different structure, perhaps
something simple as a more extensive program which reaches
beyond a Bachelor program, and requires an integrated Master
program in fulfillment of its educational goals (to attune all
modules of the whole program to each other, from the first term
of the bachelor’s degree program to the last term of the mas-
ter’s degree program). Depending on these objectives, three
years of undergraduate training towards a Bachelor’s degree (as
is currently the standard in Europe) might not do justice to an
education with interdisciplinary, real-world, and innovation-
based orientation.
We believe that the Industrial Design School of Graz (http://
artment_medien_design/~cyi/ide/?lan=en) can be regarded as
an excellent role model for future higher education for several
reasons. One of them is the unprecedented success of its alumni
in “the real world” of industry, non-profit organizations, and as
entrepreneurs, which provides testimony and practical evidence
that the competences they acquired during their training are
useful in succeeding within modern society. Due to this success,
the program is currently ranked within the top 60 best design
schools in Europe, Asia, and North America (citation: Business
Week) and has been classified as a “high standing educational
institution” by the Bureau of European Designers Associations
(BEDA). Moreover, graduates succeed in design studios such
as IDEO, Designworks, Kiska, Frog, or in corporate design or
development departments, for instance at Apple, Audi, BMW,
Mercedes, Lamborghini, KTM, Kärcher, Lego, Nokia, or Phil-
ips. As entrepreneurs, they have successfully founded their own
companies, serve in management functions based on their sys-
temic and strategic orientation, or—after having gained appro-
priate work experiences, have become teachers themselves.
Although this particular educational program is embedded
with the theme of Industrial Design, we argue that it has more
general implications for higher education. For example, the
problem-based approach of this study program is not only di-
rected towards training in industrial design; it also trains the
general competences needed to understand complex real-world
problems and affiliated stakeholders in their broader environ-
ment. After completion of the program, students are able to
analyze potential development paths of the underlying systems,
to generate creative solutions, which ultimately may lead to
successful innovations, to evaluate their effects on the system
and the broader environment, and more generally speaking, to
actively shape the future based on a clear value system such as
related to sustainable development. We argue that these com-
petences are not only characteristics of successful industrial
designers, but that anyone concerned with solving complex
real-world problems innovatively (Steiner, 2013a) would benefit
from acquiring these competences. Consequently, the program
in Graz could act as role model for any education and training
program focused on providing competences for complex
real-world problems. In the following, we will first lay out why
competences for solving real-world problems matter, and then
describe Heufler’s School of Industrial Design, including its
mission, specific style of leadership, organization and curricula,
and very specific learning environments. We conclude with a
chapter describing the specific measures within the industrial
design study program which support the development of per-
sonal, professional domain, systemic, creativity, and sociocul-
tural (collaborative) competence.
Why Competences for Solving Complex
Real-World Problems Matter
Complex problems accompany mankind since its existence
and shape our professional and private lives. However, global-
ization and increasing interrelatedness are the main reasons
why complex problems have multiplied in numbers.
In order to cope with complex real-world problems, standard
solutions are usually insufficient; instead, they require innova-
tions along a scale from incremental to radical. Within such
complex challenges, innovation will usually not occur as a sin-
gle form of either product, process, structural, social, or politi-
cal innovation, but will rather encompass various innovations
along those dimensions. Therefore, innovations as potential
solutions to complex real-world problems themselves possess
complex characteristics.
Theoretical Basis
In this article the “2P2SC Framework of Competences for
Complex Real-World Problems” (Steiner, 2013a) serves as the-
oretical foundation for investigating the educational character-
istics of the School of Industrial Design Graz.
As outlined in this competence framework (see Figure 1),
problem solving competence consists of several individual, not
interchangeable competences: personal competence, professio-
nal domain competence, systemic competence, creativity com-
petence, sociocultural (collaborative) competence (see the de-
tailed descriptions in the case related analysis).
The rationale for choosing the C2P2S competence frame-
work is based on the following argument: The project- and
problem-based approach of the School of Industrial Design
Graz aims at the generation of innovation embedded within
complex real-world systems. This requires specific compe-
tences, which are grounded in professional excellence, personal
fitness, creativity, systems thinking, and collaborative problem
solving capabilities (in an interdisciplinary manner, i.e. across
various disciplines, and in a transdiscplinary manner, i.e. to-
gether with stakeholders of various levels of society). For a
detailed evaluation of existing competence frameworks and
their fitness to accommodate the challenges imposed by com-
plex real-world problems, see Wiek et al., (2011) and Steiner
Heufler’s School of Industrial Design
Gerhard Heufler co-founded the School of Industrial Design
Graz in 1995 and headed the program until April 2013. Born in
1944, Gerhard Heufler studied architecture at the University of
Technology in Graz, then began his international career as a
product designer with Siemens in Munich in 1970. Since 1975
he worked as a freelance industrial designer in Graz, and be-
tween 1979-1995 taught design analysis and ergonomics at the
Figure 1.
Problem Solving Competence: The C2P2S Framework of Problem
Solving Competence ( Source: Steiner, 2013a).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 131
Mozarteum University in Salzburg and the Graz University of
Technology. Gerhard Heufler received numerous national and
international awards for his work, which spanned from the
world’s smallest mine detector to an unmanned helicopter, both
of which are at permanent display in the Museum of Modern
Art in New York. In 2005, he was awarded the USA Industrial
Design Excellence Design Award Gold. Being a professional
designer and educator provided the basis for his three widely-
used text books in industrial design and industrial design edu-
cation, Design Basics: From Ideas to Products, Design Products
(Heufler, 2012), Design Impulse (Heufler, 2010), and Design
Impulse No. 2: Bikes Cars Colours More Smart Ideas (Heufler,
2011). One of his chief principles, which comprehensively
shaped his work as “designer of an educational system”, was
that design has to go beyond making a product simply more
appealing. Rather, he looked at design as a problem solving
process, which (besides aesthetics) should be aimed at provid-
ing functionality and value to society. In addition to his nu-
merous professional and educational accomplishments, Gerhard
Heufler was a key force and advocate for Graz to be selected
the “UNESCO City of Design” in 2011.
Other design schools might be categorized according to their
focus on either aesthetic or functional dimensions. Heufler
decided to break this paradigm by symbiotically connecting
both, requiring students to develop both their aesthetic and
functional cap abilities.
A good mission is reflected in the system’s members and
their actions. In other words, a mission defines the system’s
fundamental purpose and values. Ideally, it provides a realistic
foundation and orientation for current and future actions to be
taken within this system (i.e. an organization, such as a School
of Industrial Design). Furthermore, the mission should guide a
system’s vision. Although adaptations may be necessary due to
changes of the system and its environment over time, a mission
should provide stability and orientation along the system’s de-
The core of the School of Industrial Design Graz’ mission
extends well beyond the school’s curriculum, and also provides
a more general mission for industrial design as a discipline: As
Heufler stresses, industrial design is more than an artist’s ego
trip or a simple marketing tool to enhance sales figures; in his
view, the degree to which the changing needs of society can
wisely be incorporated into our cultural, economic, and eco-
logical environment largely depends on sensitivity, intelligence,
creativity, and phantasy; consequently, industrial design must
be viewed as a holistic problem solving process which aspires
to develop technically functional, aesthetic products and meets
the needs of the customers and industry by increasing life qual-
ity of society (Heufler, 2012: pp. 7, 17).
The School’s unique profile centers around its motivation: 1)
to develop a joint aesthetic and technically functional orienta-
tion; 2) to educate and train industrial designers who are capa-
ble to understand and speak the language of various stake-
holders and problem solvers (including designers, engineers,
marketing or ergonomics experts); 3) to provide graduates with
the competences needed to deal with complex real-world prob-
lems, and consequently; 4) to educate and train these graduates
so that they are fit for immediate integration into real-world
Peter Drucker’s understanding of good leadership could have
been a perfect description of Gerhard Heufler. “For Leadership
is not magnetic personality—that can just as well be a glib
tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’—that
is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher
sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher stan-
dard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations
(Drucker, 1999: pp. 370-371).” Or, as Cohen (2010) synthe-
sizes some of the core ideas of Drucker on effective leadership:
1) strategic planning is the first priority of a leader, 2) ethics
and personal integrity are crucial, 3) a good leader needs to take
care of his/her people (with military as an example), 4) the
capability to motivate others is essential (e.g., one conclusion of
Drucker was to treat employees as if they were volunteers), and
4) it is more appropriate to persuade instead of bossing your
“partners” around (as an extension of 3)).
A core aspect of Heufler’s leadership philosophy was that
co-leadership within applied real-world projects is essential.
This implies that projects of the School of Industrial Design are
done in collaboration with a specific company, which is work-
ing on a real-world challenge and is open to fresh approaches
and concepts. These fresh approaches and new concepts neces-
sarily have to be tied to the company, its philosophy, values,
mission, vision, and strategy. In partnership with the academic
leadership provided by the School of Industrial Design, experts
from the company may act as additional external facilitators
(sometimes as external lecturers) and co-leaders (e.g., Scholz &
Tietje, 2002), to further strengthen this collaboration.
It is of significance for programs of higher education that a
variety of different leadership styles can lead to success. For
example, it would be impossible to simply copy a particular
successful leadership style i.e., certain attributes of the leader,
given that successful leadership largely also depends on the
specifics of the respective educational program, its stakeholders,
objectives, projects, and how well it is embedded into its envi-
ronment (i.e., along environmental dimensions such as political,
legal, & institutional; sociocultural; economic & financial; tech-
nological; infrastructural & architectural; ecological (Steiner,
2013a, 2013b)). However, role models such as Gerhard Heufler
or Drucker’s lessons can provide a good basis for further re-
finement or adaptations of one’s own leadership style.
Organization and Curricula
A full-time educational program in product and transporta-
tion design at the School of Industrial Design Graz is structured
into a five-year Master’s degree program with an integrated
three-year Bachelor’s program (originating from a four-year
diploma program before the Bologna process). Upon graduation
from this integrated program, students are awarded a Bachelor
of Arts (BA) and Master of Arts (MA) in Arts and Design.
Courses are taught in German and/or English. Following its
principle, namely to provide best possible supervision and
guidance to its students, the school strictly limits admission to a
maximum of 16 students per class. Consequently, approxi-
mately 80 students (including international exchange students)
are simultaneously trained by roughly 27 professors and addi-
tional supervisors from cooperating companies.
As outlined in Figure 2, even though the curriculum com-
prises both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree block, it is the
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 133
Figure 2.
Curriculum integrated master’s degree program (Source:
Industrial School’s explicit objective that students participate in
the entire 5-year integrated program. This will guarantee that
graduates are equipped with the comprehensive set of compe-
tences needed to self-assuredly deal with complex real-world
problems in industrial design or affiliated fields.
Importantly, the school’s curriculum is based on a problem
and project based educational approach. Each term, students
work on a different core project. Course work is, to the largest
extent possible, integrated into term-specific core projects. This
allows students to focus on one comprehensive real-world
problem, with co-leadership from the industry, while simulta-
neously applying the knowledge they gain in parallel course
sessions. By contrast, the Harvard case-study approach is
mainly centered on paper-based cases, whereas the School of
Industrial Design’s real-world cases require students to apply a
transdisciplinary approach in which they have to deal with real-
world stakeholders (either as customers, companies, or other
groups of society) (Scholz & Tietje, 2002; Steiner & Laws,
2007; Scholz, 2011).
Throughout the entire curriculum, individual projects ac-
count for more credits than any other given course. Related to
targeted competence(s), the projects require to develop all five
competences of the underlying “2P2SC Framework of Compe-
tences for Complex Real-World Problems.”
Learning Environment
The learning environment—and in particular, the physical
and social work environment (e.g., Isaksen, Dorval, & Treffinger,
2000; Steiner, 2011: p p. 146-154)—critically influences students
in their acquisition of competences, either within individual or
collaborative learning processes. A learning environment which
enables students to acquire the competences needed to success-
fully deal with complex real-world problems—such as the ap-
plied project work at the School of Industrial Design Graz,
which is done in close cooperation with industry—combines
several sets of environments:
The studio is the center-piece of learning—here, project
work takes place, but it is also the space where most pro-
ject-related and other social activities (e.g., shared dinner or
engaging in a game during late working hours) take place
and where students spend most of their time. Hence, the
studio represents a social arena, which provides the trusting
and safe environment needed to deepen collaboration
among students on an emotional and social level. As the
“mother ship” throughout all 10 terms of the program (with
the exception of company internships, which take place in
the sixth term of the Bachelor program and the third term of
the Master program), it is crucial that the studio allows to
create a supportive and comfortable working space which
fits both individual needs but also those of working groups.
The only restriction for students in creating their own work
areas is that each class must have their own working zone
within a single top floor studio. Within these class-specific
working zones, students are encouraged to creatively and
individualistically establish working spaces, which fit their
specific needs and requirements. In order to stimulate com-
munication between students of different classes, no static
walls divide the various work zones: instead, half-trans-
parent mobile room dividers are used, which simultane-
ously serve as working walls for e.g., storyboarding, re-
search results, sketching, and idea collections. To keep the
creative spirit flowing, visual presence of every working
step is emphasized in the studio.
The internal manufacturing laboratory gives students the
opportunity to build physical models (e.g., clay-, wood-,
composite models) of their concepts. Here, under the super-
vision of professional model makers and technicians, stu-
dents are trained to work with different machinery. The
models, which students create as part of a rapid-prototyping
process, assist them in obtaining feedback from potential
users already at very early stages of the innovation process
or students use them for self-experiments.
Class rooms and computer labs provide additional space for
specific course work, including computer-aided design (CAD)
for developing virtual models.
Besides these school-related working environments, further
real-world environments are part of the learning environ-
ment. This includes locations of the cooperating industry,
their internal design and production facilities but also real-
world scenarios for future application (e.g., a rehabilitation
center or a hospital for new sport equipment for physically
handicapped people). External locations, which are espe-
cially stimulating for new perspectives and creative prob-
lem solving processes (e.g., outdoor spaces in nature), com-
plete the set of learning environments.
Competence Development
The quality of an educational program depends on the pro-
gram and its faculty. Heufler’s philosophy was that a good
teacher is a teacher who is a professional expert in their field,
and not simply a professional teacher. The objective behind this
educational philosophy is that, by tying in professional experts,
students could also benefit from the practical experience of
these professional experts. In addition, the quality of an educa-
tional program depends on the quality of prospective students
the program is able to attract. Contrary to most other Austrian
programs in higher education, which are mandated to provide
open access for students who fulfill the general higher educa-
tion entrance qualification, the School of Industrial Design
Graz limits the number of admitted students to a total of 16 per
year for the entire Integrated Master’s Degree Program (which
includes the Bachelor program as well). A highly selective
admission process is based on a multi-step procedure which
extends far beyond the regular higher education entrance quali-
fication and which also requires a comprehensive application
package with all relevant documents, a written assessment test
(for the Bachelor program), an aptitude test (for the Master
program), and a portfolio which contains samples of previous
works related to industrial design. For Heufler, a student’s
portfolio was of utmost importance since it exposes personality,
motivation, goal orientation, skills, creativity, and artistic talent
of the student. The quality of applications has continuously
risen since the beginning of the program in 1995, paralleled by
increasing popularity of the program (i.e. even though the qual-
ity of applications has improved continuously over the years,
still only about 10 % of applications are accepted). The pro-
gram’s increasing popularity stems primarily from word-of-
mouth recommendations within the fields of industry and in-
dustrial design and the international awards the program and its
faculty received. Over the years, a form of branding of the
School of Industrial Design Graz took place, with a strong
reputation for educating a highly talented pool of graduates
who, at the end of the program, have problem solving compe-
tences that encompass functional and aesthetic dimensions,
enabling them to solve complex real-world problems by gener-
ating innovations which are aimed to provide value to society
beyond economic purpose. Hence, graduates from the School of
Industrial Design are highly sought-after fresh entities of the
job market
Criteria which inform the highly selective admission process
are not only based on professional domain competence in the
field of industrial design, but also include personal, sociocul-
tural, creativity, and systemic competences. By applying such
stringent selection criteria, drop-out rates are extremely low.
Although design thinking has become of special interest in
literature and practice (e.g., Brown, 2009; Lupton, 2011), it
only describes a single component of competences provided
within this educational program. Industrial design is not an end
in itself, but as source of innovation it is aimed at providing
comprehensive solutions for complex real-world problems
which serve economic purposes and contribute to sustainable
development and, more broadly, advancement of society (e.g.,
Heufler, 2012: pp. 5-7).
In the following we outline specific measures within the in-
dustrial design study program which support the development
of personal, professional domain, systemic, creativity, and so-
ciocultural (collaborative) competence (Steiner, 2013a).
Personal Competence
Personal competence means to be aware of oneself and, more
specifically, to manage oneself for example within the problem
solving process. It includes the capability for self-reflection as
part of personality de velopment, to comprehend mental models
that underlie one’s own thinking, to think in a goal- and future-
oriented manner, to be self-motivated, to act self-dependent,
and to be able to apply supportive methods. Further, personal
competence is a precondition for collaborating with others,
especially when these collaborators have different professional
and sociocultural background (e.g., as different stakeholders are
involved within the collab orative problem solving process).
Within the study program of the School of Industrial Design
Graz, personal competence is specifically addressed in courses
such as “Psychology of perception” and various communication
related courses. Furthermore, personal competence is trained
during participation in projects, internships, and work place-
Professional Domain Competence
A project- and problem-based learning approach depends,
among others, on domain-specific knowledge, methods, and
skills. For example, when working on mobility innovations,
domain-specific competence related to transport systems is
required; or, when working on product innovations by using
rapid-prototyping or modeling, industrial design specific know-
ledge, methods, and skills are required. In contrast to all other
four competence dimensions, this competence focuses on spe-
cific disciplines or domains.
It is professional domain competence, which is ultimately the
competence dimension most specific to industrial design.
However, from an industrial design perspective, other classifi-
cations are also possible; they might include, e.g., design, vis-
ual, and engineering competences. Nonetheless, these dimen-
sions can also be summarized as professional domain compe-
tence. The industrial design study program addresses profes-
sional domain competence in various individual courses, in
addition to continuously working on projects: Design basics,
design, freehand drawing, graphic design, digital design, trans-
portation design, CAD (computer-aided design), interface de-
sign & usability, color & trim, shaping, visual communication,
modeling, photography, engineering basics, and mechatronics
are some of these individual courses (see Figure 2). Another
philosophy of our school is that little things can have a big im-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
pact. For example, Heufler suggested that providing each stu-
dent with a sketch-book at the beginning of their studies would
stimulate their visual curiosity and professiona lism .
Systemic Competence
Systems competence empowers an individual to understand
core characteristics and general patterns of a complex system
(i.e., its borders, the interrelatedness of its elements, its interac-
tion with its environment, and its dynamic behavior over time,
based on the peculiarities of the underlying mental models that
are being employed). This incorporates also the capability to
choose and apply appropriate methods for modeling a current
complex system and its potential future paths of development.
Systemic competence is more than systems thinking and ad-
ditionally comprises the necessary skills to accomplish either
more qualitative or quantitative forms of system modeling.
Training system competence tremendously depends on learning
by doing. For this purpose, case-based learning and, particu-
larly, real-world projects (such as the project on “design and
innovation” in the fourth term) give students the opportunity to
self-responsibly deepen their system understanding by broad-
ening their knowledge basis through secondary and primary
research, developing first graphical system models (such as
causal-loop diagrams), and future scenarios for the relevant
environments (e.g., sociocultural, economic and financial, eco-
logical, and technological) and the system of focus (e.g., the
product or service).
Creativity Competence
Within the underlying competence framework (Steiner,
2013a), creativity is not considered an ability or personality
trait, but rather a competence that can be developed and trained
through the application of creativity techniques and other prob-
lem solving methods within the applied projects (Brown, 2009;
Steiner, 2011). Such techniques include individual and group-
specific methods for creative problem solving and team analy-
sis, amongst others. Creativity is a competence needed to gen-
erate original outcomes (e.g., solutions for a specific problem or
process related improvements) that go beyond routine problem
solving and already known solutions as basis for successful
innovations (Epstein et al., 2008; Steiner, 2011: p. 17).
The acquisition of creativity competence, similar to systemic
competence, is strongly related to project-based learning which
occurs during every term of the study program (especially as
part of the project “methodology and ergonomics” in the third
term and the project “design and innovation” in the fourth
Sociocultural (Collaborative) Competence
Collaborations provide an opportunity to develop a more
comprehensive set of competences to solve complex real-world
problems as an entity (these problems tend to have ill-defined
properties and cannot easily be solved by routine, straight-line
problem solving for which one explicit solution is available and
for which a system pattern relies on a well-defined algorithm).
Such collaborations include not only the involvement of addi-
tional experts from various disciplines, but also stakeholders
form different parts of society. Therefore, sociocultural compe-
tence is a prerequisite.
To improve sociocultural (collaborative) competence, inter-
disciplinary projects are crucial in both the Bachelor’s and the
Master’s program. Measures to support the development of this
competence include shared leadership, group composition, and
architectural measures (e.g., open floor plans). Collaboration is
not restricted to occur within each specific class only, but—as a
distinctive feature of the school—is also aimed to occur across
all five classes. This is supported by architectural means such
as the previously described studio, which accommodates stu-
dents of all five classes accomplished by providing a supportive
architectural framework in one shared space. This enables an
immersion of knowledge across students of all stages of train-
ing and development. The internship in the third term of the
Bachelor program and the work placement in the sixth term of
the Master program complement the comprehensive learning
experiences of this educational program.
In the outset of this article, we claim that the educational
model applied by the School of Industrial Design Graz may
provide fruitful lessons for programs of higher education which
are not related to design or industrial design. This educational
model does not only provide training in—what is known as—
design thinking and which is mostly limited to visual capabili-
ties; it also aims to develop a comprehensive set of compe-
tences which, as problem solving competence, consist of per-
sonal competence, professional domain competence, systemic
competence, creativity competence, sociocultural (collaborative)
competence as a requirement for being able to solve complex
real-world problems. Within this portfolio of competences, no
individual dimension can be substituted by the other; rather,
they need to be considered as complementary in order to suc-
cessfully deal with complex real-world systems. Consequently,
as exemplified by various applied projects of the School of
Industrial Design Graz, neither creativity, nor disciplinary pro-
foundness alone are sufficient means to successfully develop
innovation which may also account for sustainable develop-
ment—systemic, personal, and sociocultural competences are
equally essential as well.
All authors of this article have—either as teachers or as stu-
dents—been involved with the School of Industrial Design in
Graz since it’s establishment in 1995.
This article is dedicated to Professor Gerhard Heufler as the
founder of the School of Industrial Design at the University of
Applied Sciences in Graz. Gerhard Heufler, a great innovator,
teacher, and designer, unexpectedly passed away on April 29,
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