Design can be stifled by over-refined disciplines

For the second time this year we’ve asked opinion formers what advice they have for this year’s crop of design graduates. What they do immediately after college can, after all, shape the lives of “new” designers. But the annual focus on graduates throws up other questions about the nature of the training they have received and its relevance to would-be employers.

There is a strong argument that as design specialisms have become over-refined in practice, so have the courses that feed the industry. Packaging design, digital media and the like have all spawned highly targeted training, which arguably lacks the breadth of education that goes to make good design.

Take, for example, London’s Royal College of Art, and particularly its provisions for product design. Our reviewer, Clive Grinyer of Tag McClaren Audio, painted a favourable picture of both main courses – Ron Arad’s 3D course, which now, sensibly, incorporates furniture design, and the industrial design engineering MA run by John Drain (DW 30 June). The differences between the two were all too apparent at the college show, the former more about aesthetics, materials and processes, the latter more to do engineering-led ideas. Neither yielded many products which the graduate could hope to sell or on which to base a start-up business.

Visitors to the RCA show saw two halves of a whole – aesthetics, and engineering design. In the real world there’d be a closer bond between the two. The RCA is not alone in this approach, but celebrated ex-alumni speak with some regret about the formal divisions.

In the old days, for example, product and engineering design students might sit side by side, encouraging a natural crossover of ideas and expertise that continues to good effect throughout their careers. Maybe course directors everywhere should look to relaxing the boundaries between disciplines to allow such crossovers to flourish.

Also worth revisiting is that old chestnut, apprenticeships. British Design & Art Direction president Larry Barker has voiced concern that advertising graduates can expect to work on commercials within days of getting their first job. While the drive and energy is there, the craft is almost certainly lacking and the result is rarely as good as it could be. The same is true for design of all disciplines.

Postgraduate degrees in journalism may provide a useful model. They usually follow a first degree in any subject and involve two or three substantial placements as part of the year-long programme. Graduates get on-the-job training, and often find work with a title they have chosen. Everyone wins – except the recruitment agencies.

see also “DW200007070046”

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