Are universities failing young designers? asks creative director

Wyn Jones, creative director at Design Reality, wants an official stamp of approval for product and industrial design courses to be introduced in the form of an accreditation badge, to improve prospects for graduates and give the industry the talent “it desperately needs” after Brexit.

Courtesy of Ugde

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.

Hide Comments (6)Show Comments (6)
  • Neil Christopher November 6, 2018 at 8:32 am

    Yes, they are, there is no process for real world in place, the It aspect is covered way to much and the practical is ignored.

    We take in interns (paid) and it’s very rare that they have the knowledge to do the basics of the job, but have get IT skills but no idea on now to communicate that to the factories or into product

  • Nancy November 6, 2018 at 11:30 am

    I left university about 5 years ago now with a Graphic Design degree. I remember feeling absolutely cheated at how un-ready I felt I’d been left for the professional design world.

    Our tutors were largely uninterested – I had two tutors in the 3 years who really seemed to care about our development as creatives – the rest were dismissive and unhelpful. It took me a year to find a full-time design position, and I have been working full-time as a Graphic Designer ever since, but strongly feel that I have taught myself the majority of what I know!

  • Luke K November 7, 2018 at 10:39 am

    Fantastic idea! I can imagine this proposal leaving some universities feeling incredibly anxious. I’m a graphic designer and think a similar accreditation for that discipline would also be incredibly helpful.

    The principle of ‘value for money’ in design related education also needs to be a thing of the past – There should be a fundamental, blanket level of quality across all universities.

    I studied when it cost £3k a year and (most of the time) that felt like paying £2k more than was deserved. Some students are now paying £9k a year, but have their access to and the quality of their facilities increased by a factor of £6k accordingly? Slightly off topic.

    There’s far too much disparity from one uni to the next in the UK, and for a student just starting out on their career path, choosing the ‘right one’ is an impossible task, as all you have to go on is a prospectus of promises and the work of previous alumni.

    Strongly recommend and support accreditation!!!

  • Frank Peters FCSD November 7, 2018 at 12:25 pm

    Some 50 courses in the programme to date across BA(Hons), BSc(Hons), PG, Masters, MDes, FdA, etc now CSD Accredited, CSD Recognised and/or CSD Validated. All awarded against rigrous and robust framework preparing students ‘From Learning to Earning’ (TM) The programme was developed as a response to the serious issues raised in the article and comments.

    The programme is international as the profession of design is international with courses in six countries.

    Lecturers are accredited as sCSDm and aCSDf with student membership on all courses.

    If you want to get involved you are welcome to join

  • Peter November 8, 2018 at 2:16 pm

    Preparation of students for the reality of the design industry has always been an issue. When I left university, I was lucky that my first CD was very patient with my lack of knowledge about very basic things. Having since managed junior creatives myself since, it seems to be the same story across the board – a lack of knowledge and awareness of the basics, such as setting type, visual composition or knowing how to interrogate a brief.

  • Libby Meyrick November 13, 2018 at 11:37 am

    Accreditation of product design courses is alive and kicking! The IED is a professional body for those working in the product design world, and the only one with a Chartership specifically for individual designers. We have been working with product design educators since 1981, accrediting the first course at the then South Bank Polytechnic – currently we accredit over 160 degree courses at 48 learning centers around the world, including Loughborough, Brunel, De Montfort, Nottingham Trent, Coventry and Bournemouth. Our dedicated teams of volunteers (who are themselves all members of the IED and registered design professionals, from both industry and academia), assess the content and delivery of design courses, assess the facilities available, the competency of the staff, the ’employability’ of the students and all the other elements which make a ‘good’ design course. Those which don’t make the grade are refused accreditation.

    We also approve individual lecturers, providing Chartered and Registered professional standards for those teaching, researching and practicing product design. Registration is competency-based, peer-assessed and encompasses a wide range of factors, also requiring the individuals to regularly complete CPD and maintain expertise. All of the points raised in Mr Jones’ letter are already being covered by the IED, and an increasing number of academic centers around the world are using the IED’s services to ensure that their courses and their graduates are fit for purpose. Full details can be found at:

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