A creative director is calling for an official accreditation badge to be adopted by product and industrial design university courses, to battle the “extremely worrying [difference] in quality” that exists, so that students can be given “half-a-chance of employment”.
Wyn Jones is creative director at Design Reality, a product and industrial design consultancy that has made products across industries including healthcare, sports and home electronics.
Recent projects include the Swellaway Pro, a smart compression, heating and cooling device used for injury and exercise recovery, and 3D-printed, synthetic teeth used by trainee dentists to practice procedures.
“Simple accreditation badge” for courses and lecturers
Jones has directed a letter calling for regulation in product design to the British Industrial Design Association (BIDA), the official membership body for the industry.
He is asking for a “simple accreditation badge” to be given to courses that hit a specific set of criteria, and therefore “give students half-a-chance of employment in a very competitive market”, he says. Jones has not yet said what he thinks these criteria should include.
He is also calling for individual lecturers in the field to be accredited, “to ensure the best quality teaching”. He specifies that they should have a “balance of teaching and research”, with experience working on “multi-disciplinary product design projects” to allow them to make the cut.
Criteria should be decided by expert panel
The accreditation should be given by the BIDA, but a full set of criteria should be decided by a panel made up of both designers and academics from the top 10 universities teaching product and industrial design in the UK, he says.
The aim is to improve the overall national standard of graduates in the field, standardise grade levels and teaching across universities, and also create stronger courses across the whole of the country, rather than accumulate all the good courses in London or other cities.
Jones hopes this will also encourage those who cannot afford university because of rising tuition fees to be able to study locally and live at home and will also spread design skills across the whole country.
Design skills necessary post-Brexit
“High-quality design graduates will be the only way to re-ignite the country after Brexit,” says Jones. “Manufacturers will need to compete on a global scale and design will now become the most important differentiator.
“It’s time for the industry to accredit a minimum standard for all undergraduate industrial and product design courses so that students get the educational value they deserve (and pay for), and the industry has the quality of graduates it desperately needs.”
His call comes after a recent graduate employability survey from the BIDA showed that 11 universities across the UK were producing quality design graduates, but a further 45 universities offering courses were not.
Product design graduates “coming up short”
According to the research, the top five universities for graduate employability in product and industrial design in 2017 were Loughborough, Brunel, De Montfort, Northumbria, and University of the Arts London (UAL), in particular Saint Martins. Nottingham Trent, Coventry, Ravensbourne, Sheffield Hallam, Bournemouth and Glasgow School of Art also came out high.
“[The fact that] 10 universities are producing quality students and the other 45 are not is extremely worrying,” says Jones. “The disparity in the quality is exposed when we see the abilities of graduates with a first-class degree from some universities, equal to those of a third-class degree at others.
“This is not right for students entering these courses with no transparency on its quality, and for employers who are looking for skilled graduates and [finding that] candidates are coming up short.”
Postgraduate courses should teach extra skills
Jones is lobbying the BIDA to introduce a certification for undergraduate courses in particular but adds that masters and postgraduate courses should also up their standard, and should incorporate “additional skills required by the design industry”, including electronics, software design, mechanical engineering, project management and business training.
The letter has now been submitted to the BIDA. Read it in full here.