Editor’s blog

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.

The People’s Choice prize winner at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design’s recent 24-hour Inclusive Design Challenge, by 10 Collective
The People’s Choice prize winner at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design’s recent 24-hour Inclusive Design Challenge, by 10 Collective

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.

Sam Baron with Fabrica students in Milan
Sam Baron with Fabrica students in Milan

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.

Loft by Shelly Shelly Lifestyle 3, at the ICFF show in New York
Loft by Shelly Shelly Lifestyle 3, at the ICFF show in New York

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.

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  • Pascal Raabe November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Involving the private sector in design education is an interesting – albeit not new – proposition. In my opinion though, funding is not the biggest problem design courses are facing today. Design schools are struggling to offer a curriculum that is relevant to the needs of a 21st century creative economy. Change is slow in educational institutions (just envision the changes in technology and society that we take for granted today and which didn’t even exist 3 years ago). Design courses are hopelessly trying to catch up with the speed at which the industry evolves but what they really need to instil is entrepreneurial spirit and an understanding and appreciation of human cognition, behaviour and communication. Instead, they largely focus on a “ideas” and (undefined) creativity. You’re right in predicting that “the most talented designers might opt out of formal education”, but that’s not necessarily a loss for the industry. Those talented designers will most likely be very successful without a university degree, if not more as they will focus on their practice and career and won’t be held back by outdated curricula. Sure, the private sector could pump money into courses or collaborate with universities which will give them all the more reason to point out how unprepared today’s graduates are for the industry. Alternatively they might opt to try new ways of getting the ‘new blood’ up to speed, avoiding the university route altogether (http://www.markboulton.co.uk/journal/comments/want-to-be-our-apprentice). The irony is that while apprenticeships are even more tied to the history of industrialisation than to a modern day knowledge economy, they’re certainly more relevant to the industry than semi-vocational, semi-academic university courses churning out hundreds of ill prepared graduates every year competing for underpaid internships rather than junior positions. Formal design education is a mess and it’s not just a money problem.

    On these issues we have created an open, collaborative document as an experiment in crowd-sourcing ideas about what can be done. We invite contributions to the discussion: http://bit.ly/opendesignschool

  • Mark November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The Design Commission sounds very grand indeed – but doesn’t sound like it has any real power to actually change anything. Can anyone fill me in?

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