Last week I had the honour of chairing a seminar involving celebrated film producer turned education activist Lord Puttnam. Organised by British Design & Art Direction, it was part of the three-day XChange programme, intended to inform and inspire college tutors in the creative industries. It was therefore provocative to involve Puttnam, who has no academic training in his chosen areas – advertising, then film and now education – having left school relatively young by mutual agreement with his teachers.
Puttnam was one of three speakers brought in to kick off each day, the others being Yo! Sushi founder Simon Woodroffe and Wayne Hemingway, who, with wife Gerardine, has moved on from the Red or Dead fashion label they set up to take on aspects of design from housing to flooring. All had similar tales of an education system that couldn’t quite contain them, yet all continue to achieve great things.
Ironically, Puttnam has a string of honorary degrees, earned for his passion and prowess in the field. He has also held various academic titles, a position he takes extremely seriously being the chancellorship of the University of Sunderland.
We know design creates too many graduates for the jobs the industry can sustain. But Puttnam, Woodroffe and Hemingway are proof that talent will out, regardless of education. It’s about getting the right breaks, working hard and creating your own luck. It’s also about passion, determination and openness to ideas.
One of the points Puttnam raised is the importance of writing in the creative mix. Asked about the parlous state of the film industry, he said one route to recovery for Britain is producing better scripts. Too many get through after only a few drafts, while great films generally stem from constant reworking of the words, he said. The script for his epic work The Killing Fields, for example, took three years to complete.
He also cut through any nostalgia for the great era of Pinewood Studios, when the British film industry was arguably in its heyday, explaining simply that at that time the UK had some of the best film craftsfolk in the world – scene-painters and the like. But the industry became too greedy to invest in the future of that skillbase and its advantage was lost.
The same arguments can be levelled at design as it grows in business strength. The mission of organisations like D&AD is to maintain creative standards through example, training and events like XChange. But more investment in creativity, a more rounded approach to design and more respect for creatives within consultancies as well as good suppliers can only help to boost the fortunes of the industry as a whole.