Graduate shows like London’s New Designers and D&AD’s New Blood will have a particular poignancy this year, embodying work by the last generation of design students to hit the streets before the Government axe hit education.
The impact of the cuts won’t be fully evident for a while, given the three-year lead in to most degree ceremonies, but it’s unlikely to be quite the same again.
The upshot though is that if design’s future is to be assured we need to make every effort to support the best students. Some, notably the parliamentary Design Commission with its inquiry into design education, are taking the opportunity of the enforced shake up to evolve a better model for colleges and courses, but the reality is that Government cuts to colleges, coupled with a massive hike in tuition fees, mean that some of the most talented designers might opt out of formal education.
Enter the private sector – not necessarily as educational providers, but as partners to colleges and, in some instances, the students. It’s not new for enlightened companies and organisations to throw in their lot with colleges, not least to fund mutually beneficial research initiatives. Car manufacturer Audi has, for example, had links with colleges including Kingston University and the Royal College of Art, among others, while, at the other end of the scale, care-home specialist Sanctuary Care sponsored the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design’s recent 24-hour Inclusive Design Challenge, building on a long-standing relationship.
The Milan furniture fair provided ample opportunity this year for students from across the globe to show off their work in a real-life context. There was, as ever, the Salone Satellite at the main Milan fairground, devoted to colleges and emerging designers, RCA course leader Tord Boontje led a posse of his students to show off the Design Products Collection and the fruits of a venture with textiles specialist Kvadrat. Meanwhile, French designer Sam Baron and alumni from Benetton’s Fabrica research ‘school’ showed at Milan’s Sisley store as well as at a Benetton outlet.
Now the famed US school Arts Center College of Design is poised to share the results of five years’ collaboration with furniture company Bernhardt Design with visitors to the ICFF show in New York. That relationship has led to several products being brought to market.
There is much to be gained by both parties in these kinds of deals – and their diversity is proof that there is no one way of collaborating. The squeeze on funds is likely to make colleges compete more for private patronage. Let’s hope that the private sector is up to the challenge and that students respond with even greater zeal than previously. It could be great.