It was an important moment for design last Wednesday, though it may have slipped by unnoticed in the outside world. At Westminster, MP Barry Sheerman stood up bright and early in a packed committee room to announce his Early Day Motion for the House which was the result of more than a year’s hard graft looking at skills within the creative industries.
Graft is the operative word. The very fact that the design industry consultation had finally reached its climax probably felt like reason enough for celebration. Consulting on skills is not for the faint-hearted, as Jonathan Sands and David Worthington, chairman and deputy chairman respectively of the Design Skills Advisory Panel, will testify – not to mention their predecessor, Paul Priestman, who stood down as chairman at the end of last year.
Sheerman called on the House to formally acknowledge the contribution made by the creative sector and to recognise that ‘our world-leading creativity and design skills…are underutilised by UK industry’.
Many would happily let such a moment pass, for talk of skills rarely whips the crowds into a frenzy. But Sheerman’s ‘use us’ message, on behalf of design, was enough to rouse the interest of a number of MPs, including John Redwood, Tony Wright, Alison Seabeck and Ashok Kumar. What was presented was a set of recommendations for schools, colleges and the design profession, agreed on by a broad consensus from within the industry – never an easy thing to achieve.
In pride of place was the recommendation to establish a UK design academy, described in the development plan as ‘part think tank, part centre of excellence’. The academy would be aimed at improving industry competitiveness, according to the panel’s presentation. As well as being a place for practising designers to develop their own skills by ‘partnering [them with] leading innovators and thinkers’, it would also look to use the academy – in accordance with current Government policy – as a place for strengthening the competitiveness of the design industry.
The aim of the panel’s plan for the design profession is to better explain what design can do for business, and thus create demand for design among new and existing design buyers. By setting up a professional practice framework to more easily classify and identify different types of designers and consultancies, the panel hopes to level the playing field for practising designers – and possibly raise the game.
A single pan-industry professional design accreditation scheme – something many within design have been championing for years – clearly wasn’t deemed palatable by all the design bodies, and is conspicuous by its omission from the panel’s agenda.
One other key plank of the plan is to create a design mark for use in schools to recognise excellence in design teaching. The ‘leading design body’ that would run it, however, has not yet been suggested.
Many would agree that Sheerman’s Early Day Motion is well overdue. Others might grumble that words don’t change anything. The onus on the skills panel is now to see that its development plan is realised and that consensus is maintained across the industry on this and other important issues, at this very critical time for design.
UK DESIGN INDUSTRY SKILLS DEVELOPMENT PLAN*
The design profession
• Set up a UK design academy
• Create a cross-industry professional practice framework
• Better promote training (continuing professional development) for employed designers
Colleges and universities
• Improve connections with industry and better inform teaching curricula
• Create a network of visiting design professors
• Promote new programmes across disciplines such as engineering, technology, marketing and management
• Improve careers information for students on-line and promote roles other than designing
• Designers to visit design classes in secondary schools
• Creation of a design mark to recognise teaching excellence
• A teacher development scheme
• Schools to be named centres of design excellence
* The Shape of Things to Come was published by the Design Council, Creative & Cultural Skills and the Parliamentary Design Group at the House of Commons on 25 April