Before the silly season kicks in – and the World Cup finally ends – it’s worth a moment’s serious thought about the future of the design profession.
Big stuff for a July day, you might think, as you prepare to pack your bags to head off on holiday. But holidays give time to think and this topic merits the engagement of all in the industry.
I’m not talking about the possibility of a double-dip recession here – something architects and others involved in property projects are fearing. We have surely seen our way out of the worst of it and, while we regret the casualties the economic downturn caused, there have been some very positive outcomes. This is to be expected of the creative community. I am talking about the plight faced by colleges whose job it is to nurture the talent that will constitute design’s next generation.
First, there are the cuts. Most institutions have already suffered these in the dying months of Gordon Brown’s Labour Government and are bracing themselves for more. London’s Royal College of Art, for example, could face a further 25 per cent in cuts in the next Budget round, having already trimmed back by 10 per cent in the 2008/9 academic year, and it is unlikely to be alone in this.
This will inevitably have a big effect on colleges, tutors and students in the institutions concerned, and though it shouldn’t stem the creativity innate in the best young designers, it will limit the resources – and possibly courses – available to them.
It is all very well arguing that a drop in student numbers in design wouldn’t be a bad thing, given that there aren’t the jobs for the number of graduates we have. But at risk of banging on once more about that old chestnut ‘transferrable skills’, it is the case that a design education fits folk for more than life in a studio. Work on the client side, in journalism or within corporate bodies can be open to them – and there are few concerns that wouldn’t benefit from a bit of creative thinking from a new generation of recruits.
Then there is the resistance by some in adademia to embrace change. It may be obvious to a commercial concern like a design consultancy that if funding diminishes from one client or source – in this case Government – then you quickly find another to supplement your income. Sadly, most academics rarely think that way, or, if they do, aren’t nimble enough to cash in, literally, on opportunities or create them. Their strengths lie elsewhere.
This is where the design community comes in. It’s not about voting loads of your own funds to your alma mater. It’s more about getting involved and helping colleges to find new ways to make cash. Why not charge alumni to be part of an exclusive club, open your doors to lectures for the paying public or auction off work by students and staff?
These ideas may be small beer, but they might help to make a start. If nothing else, they raise awareness of the situation and get everyone together. What is there to lose – apart from the quality of creative talent emerging from colleges over the next few years? Now that would have a big impact on the future of the design profession.