A wealth of knowledge lies uptapped in universities

It was great to see Design Unity firing on all cylinders last week, with its first ‘public’ gathering at the Design Council looking at ways to boost design education and learning at all levels and bring them closer in line with practitioners’ needs.

It has taken almost five years since the venture was born out of the Halifax Initiative to get this far – and it proved worth the wait. Under the exemplary chairmanship of Design Council design and innovation director Clive Grinyer, Design Unity pulled together not only key representatives from all six of the main industry bodies for the event – including the Chartered Society of Designers, which is not currently a Design Unity member – but also key figures from all levels of education and from design practice.

The outcome of a focused debate and workshop sessions promises to set an agenda for Design Unity and its constituents over the coming year – watch this space for further reports. But one issue raised stands out as something the industry at large should take to its heart and act on – the issue of research.

We are not talking in this instance about the focus groups brought in, often controversially, to trial new products and pack designs largely in fmcg sectors. That has its own supporters and detractors. This is about the deeper design research carried out by universities across the UK as an essential part of their remit to secure Government funding.

Subjects vary, research papers may be overly long and complex and the academic language might need translation to be accessible to commercial consultancies and clients, but there is a wealth of knowledge there for the asking, across the board of design disciplines. Yet who, other than fellow academics, taps into the resource?

A database of research papers was mooted at the Design Unity event. All it needs now is for some enterprising soul to undertake it and, usefully, to sift through text to provide a set of summaries. What a money-spinner that might become with the right marketing.

Research is a useful tool to creativity, if it is used correctly. A recent Sunday Times article (25 November) urged companies – and so designers – to trawl the patent register to find out not only what their competitors are doing, but where creative opportunities lie.

Activists have been pushing research this year, urging design groups to initiate their own programmes and seek out funding from the likes of Government-backed Nesta or the Arts & Humanities Research Board. Why not also tap into what already exists in colleges and patent sources to become part of a truly knowledge-based society?

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