Mind the gap – industry perceptions about postgraduate studies in the discipline of design

  • H. M. van Zyl Independent Institute of Education: IIE Vega School, Pretoria
Keywords: communication design, industry perceptions, postgraduate studies


There has been slow uptake and growth in the local postgraduate student numbers in design, especially at the doctoral level. The question must be asked why, especially when looking at the growth of design as a discipline and a widening domain resulting from technological and social development. This study aims to explore industry perceptions about postgraduate studies in design to see if that could be a reason for the slow growth. The study starts with the background of the development of the design discipline, design education, and design research. An analysis of postgraduate graduate numbers over the last decade and current providers provides a context and general landscape. The analysis is followed by a report where the perceptions and attitudes of industry practitioners about postgraduate studies in communication/graphic design were qualitatively explored. The fieldwork comprised in-depth interviews that were conducted with communication designers at various points along their career paths. Three elements were explored: identification of the type of advanced knowledge needs in industry; how design professionals see postgraduate studies, their career paths, and vision for the future; and if postgraduate studies feature in their vision for the future. Some of the participants had previously attempted postgraduate studies and were not successful; their experiences added to the rich data. The research contributes to a better understanding of the reasons for the low postgraduate numbers, and the gap between industry and academia at postgraduate levels is confirmed. The study insights provide the possibilities of increasing postgraduate capacity in design by reducing the gap when designing suitable curricula.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

H. M. van Zyl, Independent Institute of Education: IIE Vega School, Pretoria

Independent Institute of Education: IIE Vega School


Botes, H. and S. Giloi. 2017. “Foreword.” In Proceedings of the 7th DEFSA Conference #Decolonise, 27‒29 September. Pretoria. https://www.defsa.org.za/2017-defsa-conference.

Boughey, C. and S. McKenna. 2021. Understanding Higher Education: Alternative Perspectives. Cape Town: African Minds.

CHE. 2022. “Doctoral Degrees National Report.” Council on Higher Education. https://www.che.ac.za/publications/programme-reviews/release-doctoral-degrees-national-report-march-2022A.

CHE. 2014. “Framework for Qualification Standards in Higher Education.” Council on Higher Education, Government of South Africa. https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/201410/38116gon819.pdf.

Corazzo, J. H., R. G. Honnor, and A. S. Rigley. 2019. “The Challenges for Graphic Design in Establishing an Academic Research Culture: Lessons from the Research Excellence Framework 2014.” The Design Journal 23(1): 7–29. https://doi.org/10.1080/14606925.2019.1682446.

D.Doc. 2022. “Mapping of the European Doctorate in Design.” https://d-doc.eu/.

De Lange, R. and R. Ndlovu. 2019. “Assessment of Postgraduate Studies: Are We Missing the Mark?” In Proceedings of the 8th International DEFSA Conference, 9‒11 September. Cape Town. https://defsa.org.za/system/tdf/downloads/DEFSA2019ProceedingsLowRes.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=313&force=.

Department of Education. 2008. “CESM Classification of Educational Subject Matter.” Department of Higher Education and Training. https://www.dhet.gov.za/Management and Information Systems/CESM August 2008.pdf.

DHET. n.d. “HEMIS Data Reports: Graduate Tables.” Department of Higher Education and Training. https://www.dhet.gov.za/sitepages/higher-education-management-information-system.aspx?rootfolder=%2fhemis%2fgraduates&folderctid=0x0120001a2c7183ba3e3b44bfa35ecda2510d0b&view=%7bd5edeb6c-4bfc-4717-8c3a-86010348adea%7d.

Faller, F., S. Burton, A. Kaniki, A. Leitch, and I. Ntshoe. 2023. “Achieving Doctorateness: Is South African Higher Education Succeeding with Graduate Attributes?” South African Journal of Higher Education 37(2): 93–108.

Frascara, J. 2022. “Revisiting ‘Graphic Design: Fine Art or Social Science?’ — The Question of Quality in Communication Design.” Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation 8(2): 270–288. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sheji.2022.05.002.

Goff, W. M. and S. Getenet. 2017. “Design Based Research in Doctoral Studies: Adding a New Dimension to Doctoral Research.” International Journal of Doctoral Studies 12: 107–121. https://doi.org/10.28945/3761.

Griffin, D. 2016. “Doctoral Education in (Graphic) Design.” Dialectic 1(1): 135–154. https://doi.org/10.3998/dialectic.14932326.0001.109.

Lange, J. and J. Eeden. 2016. “Designing the South African Nation from Nature to Culture.” In Designing Worlds: National Design Histories in an Age of Globalisation, edited by Kjetil Fallan and Grace Lees-Maffei, 60–75. New York: Berghahn Books. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv8bt1mv.7.

Mbatha, S. 2017. “Research Sleeping Dogs in Fashion Design Departments of South African Universities: A Decolonisation Obstacle?” In Proceedings of the 14th National DEFSA Conference, 27‒29 September, 159–168. Pretoria. https://www.defsa.org.za/sites/default/files/downloads/DEFSA2017Proceedings15-12-2017_0.pdf.

Meyer, M. W. and D. Norman. 2022. “Changing Design Education for the 21st Century.” She Ji : The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation 6(1): 13–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sheji.2019.12.002.

Munro, A. 2017. “Doing Research to Decolonise Research: To Start at the Very Beginning.” In Proceedings of the 14th National DEFSA Conference, 27‒29 September, 190–201. Pretoria. https://www.defsa.org.za/sites/default/files/downloads/DEFSA2017Proceedings15-12-2017_0.pdf.

NDP. 2012. “National Development Plan 2030: Our Future – Make It Work Available.” National Development Plan of the Government of South Africa. https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/201409/ndp-2030-our-future-make-it-workr.pdf.

Poggenpohl, S. H. 2015. “Communities of Practice in Design Research.” She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation 1(1): 44–57. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sheji.2015.07.002.

Redström, J. 2020. “Certain Uncertainties and the Design of Design Education.” She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation 6(1): 84–100. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sheji.2020.02.001.

Sarrico, C. S. 2022. “The Expansion of Doctoral Education and the Changing Nature and Purpose of the Doctorate.” Higher Education 84: 1299–1315. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-022-00946-1.

Singh, S., N. Lotz, and E. B.-N. Sanders. 2018. “Envisioning Futures of Design Education.” Dialectic 2 (1): 19–46. https://doi.org/10.3998/dialectic.14932326.0002.103.

Van Koller, J. F. 2010. “The Higher Education Qualifications Framework: A Review of Its Implications for Curricula.” South African Journal of Higher Education 24(1): 157–174.

Van Zyl, H. M. and L. Carstens. 2023. “Communication Design Industry – in Search of Unicorns or New Pathways?” In Proceedings of the 17th National DEFSA Conference, 21‒22 September, 71–82. Pretoria-hybrid.

Voûte, E., P. J. Stappers, E. Giaccardi, S. Mooij, and A. Boeijen. 2020. “Innovating a Large Design Education Program at a University of Technology.” She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation 6(1): 55–66. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sheji.2019.12.001.

Zielhuis, M., F. S. Visser, D. Andriessen, and P. J. Stappers. 2022. “Making Design Research Relevant for Design Practice.” Design Studies 78(Jan): 101063. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.destud.2021.101063.

How to Cite
van Zyl, H. M. 2024. “Mind the Gap – Industry Perceptions about Postgraduate Studies in the Discipline of Design”. South African Journal of Higher Education 38 (1), 227-42. https://doi.org/10.20853/38-1-6280.