We still need to bridge the college-consultancy gap

It’s that time of year when thousands of design graduates hit the streets, degrees in hand and optimism in their eyes. Fired up with enthusiasm for the job and a sense that they are immensely employable, they have invariably been led to believe by their tutors that they will succeed in their mission and get work in design.

Those of us who’ve been around a while know that isn’t necessarily the case, especially now when workloads are down across the industry and recruitment generally at a low. It isn’t just a question of talent, but of numerous other variables.

This week Design Council director of design and innovation Clive Grinyer urges young hopefuls to put their skills to use on the client side, where more inside knowledge would help improve the quality of the design brief and the end product.

Certainly, with the recruitment agency brief out for some half dozen key design management roles in retail design at present, Grinyer’s suggestion is well timed. Designers working on the client side can create ‘design’ jobs where they may not exist, and they can help change the general view held by clients that design groups are merely suppliers and have no role in shaping their business or partnering their wealth-creation efforts.

Sometimes graduates aren’t deemed to be employable due to the nature of their courses. In a letter this week, Attik co-founder James Sommerville says most lack business skills – and explains how his consultancy is trying to remedy that with Huddersfield University. Sommerville’s view is shared by many, though some find other shortcomings in new graduates. Enterprise IG executive creative director Jon Turner, for example, says that, when head of design at The Body shop, he looked for evidence of personality and flair, so often knocked out of students’ portfolios by a results-driven education system. Other potential employers meanwhile want more specialisation.

The overall message is that the design industry is dissatisfied with college outputs for a variety of reasons, but most of them are subjective. So how are college heads – and students – to know exactly what’s required to win work? The likes of British Design & Art Direction and the Design Council have strong links with colleges and have tried, through Design Unity, to bring together education experts to swap notes on their interests. But such efforts don’t seem to have brought colleges and consultancies into step.

We’d welcome any ideas on how we can bridge that gap – or on what best equips a design student for work in the industry. It would be good to let them know before disillusionment sets in.

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