Broader outlook can mean better designers

We should applaud the BBC for showing in its first Making It programme that, regardless of specialist training, a good designer can cross the boundaries of discipline or project type (see review, page 40).

Viewers will see Coventry automotive design students Dean Carbis and Toby Birkenhead working on sports shoes at Reebok in the US, thanks to a Royal Society of Arts bursary. The switch from wheels to foot transport appears fairly straightforward and the two men’s views on branding show a market awareness you don’t always find in design graduates. The greatest challenge for them appears to be coping with the Boston lifestyle and lack of rain during their three-month stay.

It’s inevitable that the BBC should play up the glamour of the situation, which is far removed from the reality of most designers’ lives. Like Channel 4’s celebrated Designs on your… series, which featured product design heavyweights Richard Seymour and Dick Powell redesigning the bra, among other things, it’s playing to the gallery – against a fashionable backdrop of football and Indie car racing.

It isn’t new for designers to jump the fence. Ideo founder and computer interface design pioneer Bill Moggridge worked on shoes for Clark’s in the US some years ago, while Pentagram partner Daniel Weil, though trained as an architect, has taken on branding and design management issues as well as product design.

Last month Thomas Heatherwick described work ranging from structural engineering to sculpture that experiments with materials and form to an audience at Pentagram – not bad going for a young furniture designer who won a coveted D&AD Gold last year for retail display at London department store Harvey Nichols.

Sadly, talents like Heatherwick, Weil and Moggridge are rare – and more often have 3D design training than other disciplines. Their eclecticism gives a breadth to their thinking, and if more young designers saw them as role models, the industry would benefit in the end – and everyone would get more fun out of the process.

The Design Council this week added RSA director Penny Egan to its council, signalling a renewed push into education. The RSA is great at fostering graduate design, as the Reebok programme shows. What better way for it to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its Student Awards than to collaborate with the Design Council and others on initiatives to break down boundaries between disciplines. That way more designers might boast a real education, rather than just vocational training. Just a thought.

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