UK alliance of designers and educators needed

Contributions to your recent Education Supplement (DW 12 July) bemoaned educators for “mediocrity” and the “shambolic mish-mash” of modularity and claimed that there were “better lectures” in the Seventies. While Mike Hope and Daniel Weil provided their welcome critical vision, the soapbox pieces by Mike Horseman and Alice Twemlow were ill-informed. To take issue with Ms Twemlow, there are many examples of how contextual studies and research methods have been integrated with studio practice.

Your editorial call to “reflect on the success of the system” (DW 19 July) suggested that some sort of balance was to be struck. The success of the Royal College of Art is a start. But New Designers recently at the Business Design Centre showed that success in education can be achieved.

To answer Mike Horseman’s question of “where are all the innovative students?”, I returned from New Designers with enormous pride in design education and its graduates. There was work there which bubbled with ideas and sparkled with inventiveness created by students unafraid to bend, break or redefine the rules.

Design education is under threat. Quality, creativity and craft cannot be sustained under the current system. Maintaining standards relies on staff working beyond contracted hours, while students juggle academic commitment with part-time employment to make ends meet.

Next year is critical in design education, as cuts – in some cases exceeding 30 per cent – eat into resources and staffing. Our survival depends on collective self-belief and on building a new vision of socially relevant design.

Three years ago in the US the World Studio Foundation was set up, bringing together design professionals and educators to develop a more socially proactive design agenda. It raises sponsorship from the design industry to fund bursaries for art and design study and organises mentorship and outreach programmes.

The time is right for a similar initiative here – a partnership between the design industry and educators. This could raise the profile of design education and help fund study in design for students from poorer communities and initiate social projects.

I welcome responses to this proposal. Let’s create a new vision of design and how we teach it.

Mike Press

Professor of Design Research

School of Cultural Studies

Sheffield S11 8UZ

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