Courses should produce transferable design skills

As a recent graduate, a designer and now a part-time tutor, I feel compelled to respond to the forceful remarks made by the directors of Blueprint Product Design (DW 16 May).

The arguments presented appeared to rest on two premises, neither of which I believe are entirely sound. The first was that design education must serve the likes of BPD with graduates honed to its specifications. The second was that students who are unable to land a design job are bound to feel cheated by a system that allegedly promotes fictitious opportunities.

Both premises fail to recognise the value of design education as an aid to life, not just work.

Design courses should not be singled out for having apparently poor employment prospects. The worth of a subject should not be reduced solely to its ability to provide employment. Once taught, an appreciation and understanding of design has the potential to enrich many aspects of life, not just line the pockets. Those involved in selling design to clients must surely be aware of this and if not, would do well to remind themselves.

We must not lose sight of the fact that education helps people decide what they don’t want to do, as well as what they do. That some design graduates choose not to pursue careers as designers should not necessarily be taken as a damning indictment of their courses.

Nor should only those on the books of a consultancy be counted as being ‘in design’. I have met plenty of graduates ‘flipping hamburgers’ to subsidise their own independent design activity by choice, not because they couldn’t find a ‘design job’. It is surely for students and those paying for their education, not businessmen, to decide if the knowledge of design provided by a course is worth the cost of studying.

The challenge for colleges is not to axe courses and raise entrance or grading standards, but to manage the shift from an approach based only on educating future designers to one of educating students about the value of design skills to business and society alike.

Facilities must still be provided for the talented to flourish in their practice, but the transferable skills that have long been taught must be more clearly discernable and hence saleable by students.

Tim Parsons

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