Design education must provide wider range of skills

Most design students are not receiving the training necessary to succeed in the industry, and there is a need for complementary skills to be introduced, according to a new report.

The report, commissioned by the Audi Design Foundation and conducted by Tanaka Business School at Imperial College London, also looks at the perennial issue of over-supply – more than 11 000 graduates fight for just 6500 job opportunities in the industry each year.

To investigate further, the foundation hosted a debate on the future of design, which concluded that design education must change.

The debate, chaired by Jeremy Myerson, Professor of Design Studies at the Royal College of Art and director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre, explored how skills that underpin design practice in Britain can be improved, and how design education can meet the needs of the rapidly changing world of commerce and culture.

Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, rector of the Royal College of Art, says the report makes some interesting points. ‘Designers in the UK are very good at the in-depth knowledge and productive side of design, but they need to learn the other side, such as economics and verbal articulacy. Students need to find a voice and get their confidence, but I wouldn’t want it to dilute what they do or distract from the design side.

‘Regarding the second point – that designers are being over-produced – I don’t agree, I believe design is very good professional training for the world of design and good preparation for life. A lot of graduates have not gone into design, the training can be used more widely. The tail wags the dog, as it were, and it wouldn’t be said that there weren’t enough jobs to satisfy students from other courses, such as History or English, so why say it about design?’ he says.

Several possible options for addressing the issues have been reached in the report: equipping students with a broader skill set to maximise their chances of working in design; managing students’ expectations so they understand that design is a broad concept and that the skills they possess can play an important role in business outside the conventional notion of ‘designer’.

Additionally, it says that companies and organisations should be educated to value the contribution people with design skills can make to innovation and creativity.

The report suggests a set of complementary skills that designers should possess: brokering skills, the ability to manage client relations and supply chains, and hands-on knowledge of production.

Myerson says, ‘There is a lot of confusion around design skills and the report makes a very important distinction about complementary design skills, such as brokering, and understanding supply chains. You can take that forward though, and promote an understanding of sustainability – the Green side was not touched on – and of social and demographic change.’

• The report is called Making the Most of Design Excellence: Equipping UK Designers to Succeed in the Global Economy
• The UK design industry is the biggest in Europe, with 140 000 people employed, compared to France which only has 25 000
• More than 55 000 students study design in the UK, meaning that more than 11 000 graduates fight for 6500 job opportunities in the industry each year
• A set of complementary skills is needed to equip design students for them to survive in the sector

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  • Jonathan Baldwin November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Oh dear, here we go again with this myth that the only reason people study, or should study, design is to be designers. As Frayling points out (and why does no one listen to him?) there is no ‘oversupply’ because design is a subject worth studying in its own right.

    There is, however, an oversupply of courses that market themselves as ones that train designers, and that’s the real problem – when industry gets involved in design education it focuses on low-level ‘skills’, and rejects high level thinking and problem-solving. Design education does need to change, but the irony is the more industry gets involved (I’m looking at you, Creative & Cultural Skills) the worse the problem becomes. Look at C&CS’s documents and you’ll see they call for design education to be made – wait for it – less intellectual, less academic.

    That’s rubbish. Design is an intellectual activity. What we’re not doing is running true degrees – virtually every design degree in the UK is a three-year vocational qualification. The sort of skills this report seems to call for can’t be offered by such courses and, counterintuitive though it may seem, the only way to give graduates the sort of skills demanded is to reduce industrial contact and to allow design studies to be more objective, aimed at changing the industry and society rather than fitting in with it.

    That’s never going to happen, though, so long as organisations like C&CS try to interfere in curriculum development. What they can’t see, in their criticisms, is that the design industry is largely responsible for the problems they identify in design education.

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