Keep on keeping on

A creative input to education and a determination to avoid compromise will ensure, David Stuart argues, that design continues to enjoy its new-found popularity. David Stuart is creative director at The Partners.

<Design is enjoying a renaissance in the UK, as evidenced by the government’s on-going flirtation with our industry. Tea at Number Ten was certainly not on the agenda when I graduated from college.

The buoyant mood is weighted by positive economic predictions. According to a recent forecast by British Strategies, the creative professions will be the fastest growing source of new jobs between now and 2006 and will outpace computer programming and the law.

It’s very satisfying, but let’s not get too smug. We may be able to offer career prospects, but we have a duty to achieve and maintain the highest possible quality output if our new found respectability and growth is to be maintained.

In our experience at The Partners, promoting creativity demands constant effort, involvement and investment. We don’t believe we have yet solved the dilemma of maximising creative effort. But, by adopting an alternative approach, we have achieved positive results and built a reputation for creativity. How? You have to be willing to put creativity at the top of your agenda, if you are to realise that ambition. Of course, we are all in business to be profitable, but a balance has to be struck. There isn’t much room for compromise if creative goals are to be met.

Yet I frequently hear designers whingeing about design education, often without knowledge of the facts and, sadly, without offering solutions or commitment to education. I recently read that lawyers donate one day per year in pro bono publico work back to the community. I don’t know how many hours we give to colleges, but then we are now freer from the time constraints faced by smaller design companies.

British Design and Art Direction’s college twinning scheme takes a lot of the bureaucracy and time out of establishing relationships between consultancies and colleges. For those not familiar with the scheme, consultancies are assigned a particular college and a manageable programme is devised to promote cooperation and learning. This is beneficial to consultancies, which are allowed a hand in shaping educating designers, and, of course, to the colleges.

Work experience is a vital lifeline for students and consultancies. Even if a group is limited to giving a student a one-week paid placement, it will still benefit from their raw enthusiasm and the knowledge that it is coaching talent during the most formative stage. It’s also a great way to find junior designers.

Education doesn’t end at graduation. We are not just employers, we are advanced educators! It is up to us to develop the skills students have learned at college. Designers, at this stage, have learned the processes and have started to master the tools. They have to be guided through the transition from craftspeople to solution providers. It’s a process which needs space and time, but it is critical to the upkeep of standards.

Design education should also embrace clients. They need to be excited by results and our methods. We know we have the right fit when our clients listen and display an open mind. An involving relationship benefits our staff by presenting an opportunity to immerse themselves more fully in our clients’ business. We give in-situ training to clients, tailor individual one-to-one creative workshops and regularly host in-house presentations covering a diversity of subjects.

I appreciate the need to be of a certain size and fee-level to emulate some of the methods we engage in to raise the creative stakes, but we were small once too. From the start our vision was to establish a strong creative reputation. Creativity is not unobtainable and not always god-given. If you aspire to being creative and are committed to it, then it is achievable. Compromising on creativity may have made us financially wealthier, but we believe our subscription to creative excellence has made a contribution to the British design overall – the highest possible reward.

At the moment the British design industry is highlighted positively. Let’s not forget that our graduation from the wings to centre stage was achieved by virtue of our hard-won reputation. It’s in our own best interest to consolidate, not to sully that reputation. Growth at the expense of creativity is not sustainable; let’s stick to our principles.

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