Design degrees open many doors – not just in the field

It was only a matter of time before the number of graduates hoping to enter design each year was raised in the context of the economic downturn. It is not a new concern that colleges are issuing design degrees at a rate of knots, but the situation becomes even more acute in straightened times when jobs are disappearing across the industry.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Ian Cochrane’s take on it has prompted a strong response (see Letters, page 11). Many readers support the view that graduates might be better to look outside design for work, with the inevitable dissenters outraged by the prospect.

There has long been a disconnect between the needs of the industry and the number of students. Put it down to the greed of some educationalists if you like, each student – particularly those from overseas – accruing income. The counter-argument is that the volume of design graduates hitting the job market each year gives employers a valuable choice of talent.

What is easily forgotten, not least by some college tutors, is that not all graduates can hope to succeed as designers, but that a design degree can be a potent entrée into a number of equally satisfying careers. There are famous examples of people who have trained in one discipline and moved to another or stepped into different roles in design – Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic, for example, studied architecture and Design Business Association chief executive Deborah Dawton product design. Client companies are, meanwhile, littered with ‘designers’ who have stepped outside.

We heard much about ‘transferable skills’ in the last downturn and the term applies equally well now. It enriches UK business to employ insightful, design-trained people, whatever the job, just as it enriches design to have incomers from other areas.

Cochrane, by the way, studied physics, but it didn’t stop him holding top jobs at both Fitch and Landor in the past, and being acknowledged as a key design player today.

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