Design industry fails to encourage new talent

You clearly hold the view that colleges are responsible for Britain’s glut of unemployed young designers (DW 7 May). You state that the problem exists because colleges are dishonest about students’ job prospects.

I agree that things are pretty fraught for students in the run-up to final-year shows. For those 62,000 students about to leave college and seek employment, this is a major junction in life. But I vehemently disagree that only the few prestigious award-winners can be guaranteed employment or that they are necessarily the most employable. Might I suggest character, attitude, business sense and a willingness to learn are equally important qualifications?

Student Design Yearbook, of which I am editor, was first published last year by a small publishing company whose origins lie in a provincial design agency of two partners. Neither of us had won any major awards at college, but we now have a thriving business and have employed several designers fresh from college. As a result, we became acutely aware of the difference between a good, and not so good, young designer and recognised the yawning gap in the market for a showcase of student design work every summer as a vehicle to help employers tap the market.

This year, the 240-page volume, representing work from students in many colleges around Britain, has the backing of culture minister Janet Anderson. In her foreword to the edition, she points out that creative talent is something we must nurture and cherish if Britain is to maintain its position as a world leader in the field of design, which is worth at least £12 billion to the UK. The Government’s Creative Industries Task force is seeking to ensure future graduates not only secure appropriate employment, but also gain the necessary business skills.

While some responsibility must lie with colleges, the industry also has a huge role to play in ensuring young designers can translate their time at college, where they have unleashed their creative talents, into the workplace. Manufacturing industry and design consultancies should be prepared to encourage students to visit them, attend open days, take up work experience and so on, as early as possible.

I agree that colleges should set more realistic briefs to dovetail with the needs of the business world. SDY 1999 contains many instances of work which, though admirable, would not readily translate into the commercial world. Perhaps the design business should be taking an active part in talking to colleges and addressing students long before their final year ends.

You paint such a gloomy picture. Another perspective might be that Britain has traditionally spawned much design talent and that colleges, far from lowering standards and telling lies, are the first stage in the development of the next creative generation.

The more students there are, the more competition for work there is and, in turn, the better standards of design prevail.

Ironically, SDY – which invites colleges to send their best students’ work for publication in a high-quality hardbacked edition, and which has among its judges this year representatives from The Guardian, IPC Magazines and Encyclopaedia Britannica – has had relatively low support from the industry.

We have the Government, colleges, schools, libraries, Careers Advisory Bureau and design book shops queuing up to support the book, but the design industry needs to show more interest in the broad talent of the future, and the design media has neglected to promote it.

Is there any significance in that?

Gary Clement

Student Design Yearbook

My point is that there are not enough jobs in design for all graduates to find work in the industry. Colleges should make sure students are aware of that from the outset, but are appraised of the broader value of a degree in design – Ed.

Latest articles