Design education – what needs to be done?

Paul Drake, director of the D&AD Foundation, provides his thoughts on what needs to be done to improve design education. This article formed the D&AD response to the recent GCSE consultation.


Source: Jeffrey Zeldman

The importance of underpinning principles

It is difficult to see from the GCSE Curriculum proposals how much the changes will tackle the current lack of depth and work in the design process. Young people need to know the basics. Design technology will come and go but underpinning design principles live on. Of course, developing artform specific skills is essential, but there is no need to jump straight on to Macs before the building blocks are in place.


Creative learning for GCSE students should be fun, engaging and experimental. It is encouraging to see that idea generation and risk-taking are included in learning outcomes. But historically these are aims that can be quickly eroded when placed within the context of examination and the pressure of pass and fail, and targets. Industry and educators frequently remind us that too often young people have lost the sense of fun and experimentation in their work. We need to ensure this is not the case and young people have the space to test out new thinking and are encouraged to be brave in their ideas. Students need to learn that failure is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s imperative that students aren’t fearful of feedback. This means more portfolio work and less exams.

Industry relevance

We need to link education to the workplace and the trends that are driving the industry to ensure that learning remains relevant. Too much of our education system operates in a vacuum. Highlighted by the fact that of the consultancies and industry we spoke to, only 19 per cent knew about this consultation let alone planned to respond/had been contacted.

A further example is the lack of reference to digital design. Digital should not be taught in isolation to design and technology. A comfort and familiarity with technical skills like programming and coding that facilitate prototyping should be instilled. So much design exists in a digital medium now, and too few young designers are encouraged to learn new skills to embrace these areas. Ideas will always be king, but being able to express ideas is equally important.

More emphasis on work experience is essential, giving people a flavour of the world of work through placements, helping them to understand and engage with the industry. Central government can only do so much but if they focus on developing the right framework teachers should be empowered to make it happen with imagination and industry support.

Furthermore, we should look to demonstrate how design has shaped and fuelled success in the world’s biggest brands and businesses (as well as the wider world) in order to make that connection between design and its importance in every day life.

The value of art and design

This year we have seen a government rightly celebrating the growth of the UK’s creative industries, however unless the subject receives the status it deserves art and design teachers will not receive the motivation, support, finance and plaudits they deserve. As one of our members stated it is often viewed as the ‘hobby’ subject. Revising GCSE and AS level content will be for nothing if the subject is not given appropriate weight and emphasis – in front of teachers, parents and students.

Government needs to connect the learning of design with career opportunities and broader commercial success. The 14-16 age is the age where students are thinking about which careers they want to pursue, and currently young people (and many teachers) simply do not know the doors that design skills can open.

Paul Drake is director of the D&AD Foundation.

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  • Fiona-Maria Duncalf November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It is so true that art and design is viewed as a hobby subject. When I initially studied art and design and even now at 42 when I am studying a degree part time in garden design I am asked when am I going to get a real job.
    It is so frustrating and irritating being viewed as a lesser person because of your chosen career path. Like it somehow defines your intelligence. I have found I have been seen as talented but not very bright as the subject is viewed as an easy option or something one does when you retire from your real job. I have battled for most of my working life trying to change the perception that going to art college is a soft option and art and design students more than any other genre have a whale of a time not doing much, drinking and sponging of the rest of society.
    Personally I think the public need to be educated that art and design is not a hobby pursuit, that you can indeed make a career and earn money if you work hard just like any other business and change the ridiculous perception that it’s an easy choice and only something retired individuals do.

  • RitaSue Siegel November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    What if generalist and specialist physicians sat on the sidelines while students were not being prepared well enough to join their ranks? What would hospitals do? Internships are as important in design education as they are in medicine. Working designers in all disciplines must make this happen by reaching out and not taking seriously any efforts to lock them out of the learning process.

  • Joe Earley November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I run a Design department in an Independant school. I also run a small design and make business selling my work on the internet. I have always driven my teaching philosophy first and foremost towards teaching children how to become designers and continuing with my own practise has helped me to do this. I see everything else as secondary to this with grades being lower down on the priority list. By default the children I teach get excellent grades as they follow the design process, experiment, evaluate, take risks and come up with innovative ideas so therefore meet the criteria very well. I have had to make tough choices along the way, I moved out of the state sector as it was too restrictive for me to teach design in the way I wanted to and focus in on design. I chose to move away from a Design and Technology qualification to an Art and Design qualification called Three Dimensional Design which has a lot more flexibility and no written exams just projects. It also only has 4 assessment criteria so you can basically do anything as long as you meet them. I have students entering the Design Museums Design Ventura project in yr10 to get an understanding of competition, enterprise and costing a design. It hasn’t been easy and I have been met with challenges from other teachers, heads, pupils and parents that have questioned why is it not like other schools are doing and why are you not teaching engineering. University courses can also be a challenge as some will accept a Design and Technology qualification and not an Art and Design qualification. It has also made me less transferable as a teacher in the market as when I moved schools a couple of years ago I had to move to a school where they were open to me changing everything. It is not the easy path and has been incredibly frustrating at times but I believe it is the right path for the pupils I teach so I will continue. Over the Summer one of my 6th form students interviewed Jay Osgerby and seeing their design process and their way of working has been enough validation that the way our students are working is as close as we can get to what is happening out in industry.
    Finally I have met a few other heads of Design teaching 3D design and doing some excellent and experimental work. So I am sure there are many other design teachers doing great things!

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