Design education should be seen in realistic context

I am an avid follower of Design Week – especially its design pulse readings in among news and views. But I was dismayed to read two pieces that once again confirm my concern with the slow pace of change in design education.

Colum Lowe writes: ‘When I left college I didn’t have the skills to be a designer. I never met a careers advisor at school’ and Random Media’s Yooni Suh asks: ‘Why aren’t there any business courses for creatives and why aren’t design colleges redefining design as something more than aesthetics?’ And this is 2003. Are these the signs of a healthy heart?

Well, there are certainly more design courses now that have redefined design and that’s encouraging for us all, but these are still brave and random initiatives in a sea of complacency. How do we remove the rose-tinted glasses from design education?

‘It is absurdly impractical,’ Charles Handy writes in his book The Elephant and the Flea (Arrow, 2002), ‘to prepare oneself for the world as it was or as you would like it to be, when the reality is so different, and it is arguably immoral to educate others for a life that can’t be lived as it used to be.’

Recently, I had to throw out last year’s Design Weeks, but before doing so I scanned letters for student or graduate feedback. Out of about 50-60 copies from 2001-2002 there were as many as 38 letters with design education anxieties.

All involved in teaching are aware of the difficulties and constraints in this field, but as enlightened as the new design courses are, they are a drop in the ocean of what could, and should, be achieved.

Think of the progress we could make with a nationwide endeavour that seeks immediate palpable results.

There’s no excuse imagineable in 2003 for a student to leave design college without ‘the basic skills to be a designer’. Some design educators have tried and are trying to effect change. The proof is out there in graduate careers that should attract a higher profile. But we must do more to bring design education into a realistic context – and quickly.

Naomi Gornick

Founder director, MA Design, Strategy and Innovation, Brunel University Honorary Professor, University of Dundee

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