Back to school

Many consultancies are reluctant to send their staff on training courses, but there is much to be said for establishing a learning culture at work. Fiona Sibley looks at some options for continuous professional development

Training has traditionally been a dirty word in design. Few consultancies can spare the time or money to send employees on courses, nor do they want to be portrayed as needing creative input. ‘There’s always been an assumption that creatives are judged purely on their work, and you can’t make a difference to whether someone has creative genius,’ says Laura Woodroffe, deputy director of education and professional development at D&AD.

Scepticism looms large, but opinions are shifting, and there’s an increasingly enlightened view that ‘continuing professional development’ is a key ingredient for successful business development. A handful of industry-specific programmes, offered by the Design Business Association, D&AD and the Chartered Society of Designers, are helping to sweeten the pill.

‘There are no Powerpoint presentations,’ says Mandy Wheeler, who ‘coaches’ several sessions for the D&AD Workout, including the Creative Detox, a hands-on, exercise-based session which teaches designers and ad creatives to avoid succumbing to creative block. ‘People who attend are already very successful, and the perception we have to overcome is of “Is this going to be boring?”‘ says Wheeler. ‘We’re very aware that these are sparky brains that fire off in different directions, so we can’t just offer a linear programme. It’s very experiential.’

It’s not an easy commercial decision to make, but those businesses that do invest are finding that by broadening the skills of their staff, they can take on larger workloads and pitch for more projects. ‘Even the smallest consultancy knows that a junior designer will be ‹ lacking presentation skills if they’ve just graduated,’ says Deborah Dawton, chief executive of the DBA. ‘Developing their ability to present gives [juniors] more responsibility to face clients, which will alleviate pressure on the senior staff.’ And the benefits don’t stop there. ‘If people feel they are contributing to the business, they will stay loyal. Design has a really high expenditure on recruitment and the best way of cutting that overhead is to develop and look after staff.’

‘It wasn’t until I’d had another day of grief with a client who didn’t understand what we were doing and didn’t want to pay us much money that I decided to give it a go,’ says John Corcoran, director of Wire Design, who enrolled for DBA training. ‘I reckon that I took about two new memorable and practical things from just about every course.’

The problem facing design businesses, of course, is that there’s less money in the kitty for training than in industries like advertising and architecture. ‘Smaller groups don’t have time, and a day out of the office equates to a loss of revenue,’ admits Woodroffe. ‘There’s a perception among businesses that don’t invest in training that they can achieve as much as those who do,’ Dawton continues. ‘There aren’t figures to prove it either way, but more people are beginning to look at CPD as a business strategy.’

Leeds-based branding and design consultancy Elmwood is one such example. ‘We have a learning culture, as we believe our most valuable asset is what is in our heads. We’re prepared to invest in emotional intelligence and creativity to make the business more successful,’ says head of learning Jayne Barrett. This includes a bespoke programme drawn up by D&AD, and outputs are measured by performance in design effectiveness awards, creative awards and achieving a listing in the Sunday Times’s Best 100 Companies To Work For survey. ‘We don’t like to think of it as training – more as personal and organisational development.’

Design Business Association

The Design Business Association wraps its training up as four useful packages – two stages of professional practice, aimed at juniors and seniors; a course on presentation skills; and a section for clients on the value of design. Split into half-day modules, the programme can be booked in bite-size chunks or as a whole course of eight half-days, and consultancies take both approaches. ‘Businesses can divide the courses up between staff and share the knowledge, rather than sending one person on the entire course,’ says chief executive Deborah Dawton.

‘We have had people on courses who thought there was nothing more to be learnt, but there always is,’ she says. ‘Our training runs from simple spelling – which is crucial just for writing e-mails – right up to securing the outcomes of meetings.’ Tutors include Jeremy Myerson, Henry Lydiate and former group design director for BAA, Raymond Turner.

For new recruits choosing prospective employers the offer of professional development is a big draw, hence the DBA tries to persuade its members to be more explicit. And, it says, employees should push for more training – a good business case for why you should attend a course is difficult for any employer to turn down.

D&AD Workout

D&AD devised the Workout programme in 2001 for ad agencies, when there was little in the way of professional development for creatives, and since opening it up to design practices a year later, there’s now a 40 per cent take-up from design, alongside ad agencies, new media groups and in-house departments.

The emphasis is on blue-sky thinking and inspiration. ‘It’s designed to provide creative fuel,’ says D&AD’s Laura Woodroffe. ‘It’s more like going to the gym and doing a workout than traditional training.’ All the courses are taught by practitioners who have been in the industry. There are a number of specific craft-based sessions – Alan Kitching runs a session on typography and letterpress, Geoff Halpin shares his experience of packaging design, and Brian Jenson helps practitioners to adjust their creative processes for the digital world. Other courses offer generic skills like how to execute your idea and sell it. Egg’s in-house creative team and The Partners are among the recipients of D&AD’s creative refuelling. If the extensive Workout programme doesn’t quite fit the bill, D&AD offers a bespoke service.

Chartered Society of Designers and the Design Association

Since launching the Design Association to train and accredit design businesses, the Chartered Society of Designers has stepped up an educational gear with the launch of an academy that offers a Diploma in Design Business Management. Twelve modules, which can taken over 12 or 24 months, add up to a diploma if an exam is passed. Otherwise the modules can be attended separately, covering subjects such as finance, IP and marketing.

The CSD’s existing training programme, launched in 2002, continues to offer members and non-members training on how to acquire new business. A points system runs so that members can track their professional development, and CSD members are encouraged to accrue 100 CPD points per year. This adds up to a Professional Practice Certificate, which is displayed on their profile, seen by clients.

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