Studying 3D design

 8 February 2011

Trevor Duncan is head of Three Dimensional Design at Northumbria University. He has his own consultancy and professional practice and his clients have included the V&A, British Airways, Alessi and Wedgewood.

Trevor Duncan’s students often go on to enjoy success in the design industry.
Trevor Duncan’s students often go on to enjoy success in the design industry.

Award-winning designers

Since joining the University in 1997, the subject of 3D Design has gained ever-increasing success. Duncan’s students regularly scoop prestigious awards and go on to have substantial and fulfilling careers in the design industry.

“Have an enquiring open mind with a real love of problem solving. An ability to see the bigger picture and wield tacit design skills with care, integrity and passion.”

Recent graduate Robin Grasby walked off with two coveted awards at the New Designers showcase – The New Designers 100% Design Award, and the New Designers Habitat Award.

Other alumni include design duo 'Deadgood', who have been highlighted by Elle Decoration and the Telegraph Magazine; Max Lamb who works for Tom Dixon; James Harrison who is at Habitat; and John Reeves who has designed furniture for Heals.

Trevor Duncan believes that fundamentally, the role of designer embraces “issues of who we are, how we progress and what we really value”, as well as, of course, form, function and aesthetic appeal.

Teaching 3D design

Duncan took on his post at Northumbria University almost by accident. “I saw the ad and applied speculatively, then didn’t hear anything for months. I’d actually forgotten what I’d put in my application by the time I had an interview - but it worked out. The job came up at the time when my studio partner had decided to move to Australia for personal reasons.

“The best aspects are far and away the creative parts. I’m lucky that I work in a continually evolving, creative environment with a talented and dedicated team. The University and the Design School specifically affords us a great deal of strategic autonomy that supports our aspirations. The students are great – from all sorts of background and locations.

“The course evolved from what was considered a traditional craft/making course into one which has retained the best parts of making practice whilst really instilling a studio culture. We build awareness amongst the students of commercial viability and issue based design that results in interesting ideas - that are ultimately ready for market.

“The real highlights are the success that our graduates have achieved after their degree studies – these include some moving into high profile consultancies such as Max Lamb at Tom Dixon, James Harrison at Habitat and others developing their own design businesses such as Deadgood or John Reeves. All maintain close and supportive links with the course and are willing to feedback into the present student experience.”

Getting into design

To be a success in product design, the fundamental quality Duncan lists is intelligence, along with “an enquiring open mind with a real love of problem solving, an ability to see the bigger picture and wield tacit design skills with care, integrity and passion.”

"The role of designer embraces issues of who we are, how we progress and what we really value."

Those who want to get into design should “expect to work hard and be as expansive as possible. Look outside the specific field of product design for influence – read a lot fact and fiction.

“Work experience or industrial placement plays a vital part in students developing awareness of both the constraints and opportunities provided by industry. We often enhance this by bringing in industrial partners for collaborative projects.”

What to do after studying design

“At Northumbria University, the School of Design run a Designer in Residence programme. Graduates are able to spend two years after their degrees developing a design business or products within the University. They are given mentoring support and use of workshops along with the opportunity to show their work internationally – in Stockholm, Milan and New York.

“For graduates, start-up funds are available from The Princes Trust, The British Council and The Design Council.

“[Former students] Dan Ziglam and Elliott Brook, who started Deadgood, have grown and adapted their design business and are flexible regards applying their design skill. Originally they set up designing contract furniture, but have subsequently developed Deadgood into a brand that encompasses product development, retail and events as well as the more traditional aspect of design consultancy.”

The future of product design

Technological development has meant that design consultancies have been forced, or encouraged, to diversify the nature of work they routinely undertake. They are becoming more adaptable both intellectually and commercially.

Technology and the speed of information retrieval via the web has, in many instances, stopped real enquiry and resulted in students expecting instant easy answers. Often this means they are not enjoying the journey as much as they should.

Whilst it is obviously a tough economic climate, the majority of my friends and colleagues in private consultancy seem to have weathered the storm. They report they feel better equipped now than, say 10 years ago, to cope with the downturn. Students graduating this summer were still finding good employment opportunities, but a more competitive field.

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