Engagement is the way forward for universities

There ought to be an ‘ideal’ relationship between universities and commercial design consultancies.

There ought to be an ‘ideal’ relationship between universities and commercial design consultancies (News and Debate, DW 11 September).

Consultancies hold a mass of user-centred strategic knowledge that could be engaged in commercial partnership by universities and used as a bridge to industry. A recent example of this is PDD’s link-up with a Loughborough University student which resulted in a major commercial deal with Reebok.

Government pressure on universities to engage commercially with industry appears to have been misinterpreted as acting in a competitive manner towards the private sector. The Government is quite clear on this – public funds may not be used to compete, undermine or damage the private sector.

This situation is resolvable if both parties can agree on how to engage. The Government needs to get involved, because product design groups say such competition means they can’t offer placements to students where universities are in direct competition, because of confidentiality and conflict of interest.

Additionally, if universities fail to engage with commercial designers, they may fail if a critical skill set is absent from their innovation offer. Universities such as Northumbria have shown they do not have user-centred experience and are using live industry projects to gain that knowledge – it’s little wonder design groups are then picking up and repairing the damage.

This can be avoided if universities use funding to combine their science and technology knowledge with that of strategic design groups’ user-centred customer knowledge, ergonomics, engineering and design skills.

Additionally, every design group’s client base gives access to some of the world’s largest brand-owners. With more appropriate engagement, such relationships ought to be mutually beneficial for all parties – universities, design groups, industry and the Government.

Maxine J Horn, Chief executive, British Design Innovation, by e-mail

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