One of David Kester’s last acts before swapping his British Design & Art Direction chief executive hat for that of the Design Council was to raise the issue of on-the-job creative training.
Continuing Professional Development, as the jargon has it, is already recognised by ad agencies. Their trade body, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, backs a ‘points system’ to encourage its adoption. Under Kester, D&AD aimed to get CPD ‘out there and understood’.
‘It was fairly plain from the beginning that the problem was more severe in advertising because it has a much less structured approach to training,’ he says. ‘The situation is marginally better in design [with the notional career ladder from junior designer to creative director], but the initiative is much needed here as well.’
Blaming design’s ‘cottage-industry mentality’, Kester believes ‘training and professional development isn’t taken seriously’ as it should be.
‘That’s not to say there aren’t pockets of good behaviour. But, generally speaking, designers can’t map their careers and don’t have the tools and structures that can help them move on like a doctor or a lawyer,’ he says.
Without any accreditation or benchmarking, CPD looks unlikely to make much headway with designers at present. But D&AD members lobbied Kester to take an interest, so people are clearly aware of the problem. Why hasn’t it happened until now though? And why has it been approached in piecemeal fashion hitherto?
‘Fundamentally, design is still a young industry [and] what’s emerging is a natural process of maturity,’ Kester says.
Training has tended to be seen in the ‘narrow comfort zone’ of business skills applied from other sectors. ‘Design has never really wrestled with those issues specific to its own industry – a professional one with its own needs,’ he says.
Designers need ‘workable structures’ that retain and grow the profession’s talent base, he explains. Perhaps, in time, CPD may offer the right medicine. But do designers recognise Kester’s diagnosis?
‘I think David is spot-on,’ says Williams Murray Hamm partner Richard Williams. ‘We talk of a design industry, but it’s still a group of disparate, self-protective, ferociously competitive little businesses – all acting very independently.’
This has led, Williams says, to ‘precious little harmony’ on issues ranging from free-pitching to creative standards. And career planning is similarly ad hoc.
‘When we recruit people we take on a responsibility for them. [But] properly managed personal development programmes – in contrast to salary discussions – are as rare as rocking horse shit.’
With his own brand of straight talking, however, Poke creative director Simon Waterfall questions the logic of CPD.
‘The idea that you need a “career path that measures tangible progress” doesn’t smack of designers who are going to light fires and break every mould before them. If you are the type of person who’s driven by an end goal of six figures, two cars and a semi in Beaconsfield, then you’re in the wrong business. We have to genuinely love what we do. If it is not motivated by an inner passion, then it is obvious in everything you touch.’
Designers who regard the phrase ‘creative disciplines’ as an oxymoron may be cheering him to the rafters. Waterfall also makes a shrewd point about the relationship between education and employability no longer being ‘train, to work’ but ‘work, to train’. All the same, surely a balance must be struck between creative freedom and career enhancement?
Initiatives like Attik’s postgraduate design course at Huddersfield University respond to a growing gap between college and the world of work. Many designers believe graduates are simply unprepared for what they will encounter in a ‘real life’ studio.
‘What we need in a design graduate is a mix of thinker and doer,’ says Dew Gibbons joint creative director Shaun Dew. ‘Designers now are having to pick up on the “doer” bit in their first job. Further training in computer software, typography and layout, and general craft skills would all be useful.’
Nevertheless, she is suspicious of imposing standards. ‘It’s true that designers don’t have the tools to move their careers on like doctors and lawyers. But given that doctors and lawyers have been refining their professions for at least a millennium and “graphic design” wasn’t even coined until 1958, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much for not having developed definable career paths.’
Dew’s ‘worst nightmare’ is an ‘ISO 9000 [of] creative accreditation’. And since designers now work in a digital environment with cutting-edge technology, specific training standards might evoke stable doors and horse bolting.
Incoming D&AD chief executive Michael Hockney sat down at his desk last Monday. Will he be as keen as Kester on CPD?
D&AD is certainly extending its Workout programme for young designers, but any serious move toward accreditation would have to come from the likes of the Design Business Association or Chartered Society of Designers. Meanwhile, perhaps nature, or rather nurture, should be allowed to takes its course?
‘Only a benevolent, old-fashioned creative director [is likely to] encourage one of their best designers to move on for their own good, [knowing] that a competitor will benefit.’ Williams concludes, ‘I wish there were more [of those] in these straitened times.’