Cultivating voice through personal manifesto-making – a strategy for developing accountability, ethics and integrity in tertiary design curricula



Design Education Strategy


  • curriculum, ethics, accountability, design leadership, individualism



There has never been a better time for tertiary curricula to provide a learning framework for the development of personal as well as professional ethics and accountability. Research shows that tertiary education today should address the development and transformation of the self (Mezirow

2000), as a whole person with an individual voice (Covey 2004), towards producing self-determining graduates  and civic-minded  critical  thinkers  (Cadle  2011).  However,  teaching ethics  and accountability in tertiary curricula presents challenges in a postmodern context. In the South African context, it would be unwise to prescribe an absolute set of ethics for individuals, rather curricula should engage the spirit of constitutional freedoms that demand a democratic and accountable practice.

World leaders such as Nelson Mandela have bestowed the highest responsibility of all on education. It is well understood that a certain type of education will generate a certain type of generation. Education must respond pro-actively to the challenge of supercomplexity (Barnett 2000). Self-aware, self-determining, responsible, creative (Jackson 2006) and critical citizens (Barnett 2000) is what a university education should foster, not only for the world of work, but also the world of being. To this end, if curricula engage students’ life-world by validating their individual autonomy, values and beliefs, the development of authentic leaders (Avolio, Walumbwa and Weber 2009) will ensue. In line with employing learning strategies that promote a more intrinsic (Davies & Reid, 2000), self-driven approach (Pink 2011), this paper outlines the merits of introducing the practice of personal manifestoing into design curricula, with the aim of facilitating opportunities for self-reflection (Schon 1983), aiming (Nelson and Stolterman 2012), personal development (Jackson 2006) and personal integrity required for authentic leadership.

I propose that cultivating and training the student’s voice is key to meeting these outcomes. To this end, I will outline the concept of an individual voice as presented by Covey in his 8th  habit. Furthermore,  I  propose  that  developing  the  voice  can  find  expression  in writing  or  designing  a personal manifesto. The parallels will be explored, showing how they can work synergistically in an education environment.

It is worth understanding and explaining the function and evolution of manifestos (Danchev 2011) to appreciate the wisdom and effectiveness of appropriating the method and the culture towards personal development at a tertiary level. There is little research done on the theory of manifestoing, despite it being conspicuously present in the worlds of politics, leadership, corporate identity and commerce. The fact that is has become a staple ingredient for business and corporate entities calls for its counterpart in tertiary education. This however has not yet filtered down into tertiary design education in South Africa. In light of this lacuna, manifestoing is presented as a self-reflexive practice that meets outcomes for life-long learning, ethics and accountability (SAQA 2000). Parallels between branding and manifestos make it especially suitable for design students, as both require the formulation of a vision, character, values and personality.

DEFSA conferences

DEFSA promotes relevant research with the focus on design + education through its biennial conferences, to promote professionalism, accountability and ethics in the education of young designers. Our next conference is a hybrid event. See above for details.

Critical skills endorsement

Professional Members in good standing can receive a certificate of membership, but DEFSA cannot provide confirmation or endorsement of skills whatsoever. DEFSA only confirm membership of DEFSA which is a NPO for Design Education in South Africa (