Monday, 28 July 2014
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Is there a future for design in the UK?

We’re all so busy, few of us give much thought to how important we are to Brand UK. The government says that innovation is one of the major factors that will help the economy grow – after all, it was the Brits who unravelled the genome, helped design the iPod and invented the World Wide Web. Yet, despite the rhetoric, what we are seeing is a potential downgrading in the quality of D&T teaching in secondary schools.

Simon Wright

Indeed, if my recent visits to several colleges are anything to go by, we are doing no better with higher education either. Open evenings felt more like county shows rather than showcases for the future of design. The majority of ideas on display were replays of existing ideas, such as iPod stands. There wasn’t a single student that offered up something that made us stop and think. 

It’s not the fault of students. As you would expect, the ones we spoke to were passionate and enthusiastic about their subject. The problem, made clear by a dearth of tutors in attendance, is a total lack of direction.Many tutors, perhaps because of the overwhelming admin they have to do, seem to have become indifferent to their protégés.

Talking to students it seems they are left pretty much to get on with it themselves. They receive very little mentoring and, worryingly, it seems that when they ask for advice, some tutors say they are not allowed to give it! And, with tutors apparently drifting in at 10 in the morning and disappearing at 5, what does this say to students about work ethics?

Good tutors are essential to the future of design. It’s not enough for students to learn the tools of the trade. They need to learn who they are, what they love and what they want to be.  These are all things which are difficult to discover without guidance and nurturing. Tutors need to engender innovation and encourage off-the-wall thinking – if you can’t do it when you’re a student, when can you?

However, colleges also need to provide students with real life situations with genuine links with businesses investing in the future of British design. Some colleges are doing this, but far too many are simply paying lip service. A grounding in the real world is paramount for providing students with commercial understanding as just being a good designer is not enough these days. Left to their own devices, all students would want to do is draw, but if they want the best chance of a career in design, they need to learn how to pitch ideas, price projects and prepare business plans etc.

Degree courses also need to be more focused. They often appear muddled and unstructured, not giving students a clear understanding at the outset of what they will achieve.  In addition, modules are often done in isolation with scant teaching on how skills and disciplines integrate which limits student thinking and potential.

Competition for jobs is huge but, if the interviews Greenwich Design has been conducting over the past months are anything to go by, many fresh designers are simply not savvy enough for agencies to risk investing money in. The design industry itself needs to take more interest in colleges and be given the opportunity to advise them on what tomorrow’s designers need, while colleges need to empower and inspire their tutors to do the same for their students. Otherwise, I fear many students will be wasting their student loans, while Brand UK will be wasting an opportunity for sustained competitive advantage.

Simon Wright is managing director of Greenwich Design.

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