Design education – is it fit for purpose?

Martin Roach, group creative director of branding consultancy Epitype, looks at a recent House of Lords seminar on design education.

Martin Roach
Martin Roach

I attended an Associate Parliamentary design and Innovation group seminar on design education last week at the House of Lords. The title was ‘A new vision for design Education – Is design learning at school fit for purpose?’ Before attending I had already formulated my own vision of design education in the UK – I wanted to know if the panelists shared, what I thought of as, a radical perspective. The answer was a resounding yes.

Emily Campbell from the Creative Education Academies Trust spoke of some of the issues within design education at the moment including the fact that it is divorced from Art and Design which I must admit has always baffled me – how could they compliment each other rather than compete. Emily touched upon some key aspects within the teaching of Design and Technology – she compared the brief ‘Design and build a contemporary bird box’ with ‘how do you dispense food’ arguing that ostensibly the two questions are the same – one allowing freedom for true design to take place, the other a prescriptive narrative designed to lead towards a marking criteria. This sentiment was reinforced by Prof. Kay Stables from Goldsmiths, University of London who offered us the quote from Gever Tully – ‘Teach less so we can learn more.’

Guy Claxton from the Centre for Real World Learning echoed Emily’s thoughts but also gave the rallying cry that I was looking for. Guy said that design in education had the potential to go beyond being a subject and to be a way of structuring learning.

It got better: Sarah Huntington from the Huddersfield studio school gave a practical insight into how an educational establishment can put design at its core through an integrated curriculum and outperform state schools by some margin. The ideology of the studio school is simply to blend academia with the workplace. In some ways Sir John Sorrell’s academies which he spoke so passionately about have a similar aim but this is through Saturday schools – the academy engages with young designers through offering them a chance to learn it in the right environment on a Saturday.

I felt that although the visions were powerful, one important ingredient had been left out. The parent. For design to be appreciated and understood I believe we need to win the hearts and minds of the parents. Design is seen as a substitute for the less able minded student and we must systematically overturn this stigma by adopting a holistic approach to how design is taught and engaged with by all involved.

There are lots of exciting things happening within the design sector and education right now. John Sorrell reminds us that designers must get off the fence and start to engage with design and education, from my experience many educational  institutions are very open to this. It is an exciting time to be a designer in the UK because I think future generations of designers may just well be equipped to manage the challenges we are setting them. This can only happen if we as the design community actively seek to realise a design led education that is fit for purpose – to do this we must engage, challenge and stimulate policy, teachers, parents and pupils.

Martin Roach is group creative director of branding consultancy Epitype, www.epitype.co.uk/. Find him on Twitter @martinroach

Latest articles