Educating designers and designing education

,  19 May 2014

Three quarters of design companies have a graduate-only workforce, yet 58 per cent are unhappy with the skills those graduates bring in. Should we be surprised when so few design companies – just 14 per cent – say they are ‘very engaged’ with education?

Young people need an education that prepares them for the reality of working in design. (Image: Briony Campbell)
Young people need an education that prepares them for the reality of working in design. (Image: Briony Campbell)

This conundrum, revealed by the recent Pathways to Design research report, is why we at the Design Council are partnering with Creative & Cultural Skills on our education work and supporting the Creative Nation campaign.

At the Design Council, our mission is to champion great design to improve lives. Our proposition is simple: design adds value.

It adds that value in multiple ways: aesthetically and functionally of course, also socially, but perhaps most importantly in the current climate where growth is so important, economically and financially too.

Design is leading creative growth

The creative industries generate £70,000 for the UK economy every minute. We created 144,000 jobs in 2013 and increased exports by 16 per cent to £17 billion.

The creative sector is the second fastest-growing area of the economy, seeing 15.6 per cent growth since 2008 compared to only 5.4 per cent in the wider economy. And within that, design is the fastest-growing industry.

For every pound invested in design, you can expect an increase of £4 in profit and £26 in social return on investment.

Our work at the Design Council shows that, for every pound invested in design, you can expect a £4 increase in profit and a staggering £26 in social return on investment.

And the message about the value of design is penetrating much more widely: our recent Leading Business by Design research report shows how big business is waking up to the contribution of design.

Changing perceptions of design

Despite so many positive developments, the creative industries’ contribution is not always recognised, rewarded or taken as seriously as it should be.

I believe that part of the reason is that we are not as professional as we should be.

To use David Parrish’s phrase: we are seen as T-shirts, not suits. 

Changing that perception, and some of the reality that informs it, has to start in the education system.

Training young people for the workplace

We need to train young people for business. Ninety per cent will leave those huge businesses, employing thousands of staff, that our universities are and go to work in SMEs with 10 staff or fewer.

Together, we can better prepare students for the creative workplace of the future.

So they will need, alongside their creative talent, to be business people.

We can’t take this for granted. Together with the industry, we can better prepare students for the creative workplace of the future. But we have to do it together: educators, employers and industry organisations like ours.

Keeping up with a changing design world

We need to do this because the design world has changed beyond recognition and is continuing to change almost on a daily basis.

I find it difficult to keep up. And so do the many designers and businesses that I speak to on my travels. So it’s obviously difficult for education institutions and training providers too.

Especially if, going back to the research, 86 per cent of employers are not really engaged and won’t help educators to help students become the future employees that they need.

Mind the design gap

There’s another issue at play here: the London problem. I’m sure many of you will have seen Evan Davis’s excellent ‘Mind the Gap’ programmes early in 2014.

He skilfully illustrated the great divide, with London soaring ahead and the rest of the UK suffering the lack of economies of scales that London’s dominance allows.

The design industry is guilty of this, and so is Design Council. So what can we do to distribute the industry better around the country?

Universities and colleges may be in the best position to be at the centre of a cluster.

One key way is by supporting clusters, where co-located businesses, education institutions and other agencies grow their own creative eco-systems. 

This fits in with the Government’s localism agenda and funding streams like Local Enterprise Partnerships. But, more importantly, it works. 

The brilliant Brighton Fuse project showed us that: their study found that creative businesses which were based near to each other and were ‘super-fused’ with digital and IT capabilities grew three times faster than unfused businesses. 

Putting education at the centre 

In a sector that is characterised by small and micro businesses, universities and colleges may be in the best position to be at the centre of a cluster – as a permanent fixture with all the expertise and dynamism they bring to a locale.

Industry-relevant learning spaces popping up all over the country are a big part of that:

  • Manchester School of Art’s stunning new open-plan building that exudes creative collaboration.
  • University of Brighton’s Waste House, a shining example of an innovative building that will provide an inspiring learning space for the generation of sustainability-minded designers that we desperately need to grow.
  • Arts University Bournemouth’s interdisciplinary ‘creative agency’ approach and their partnership with animation giant Framestore. This led to Oscar-winning glory for ‘Gravity' – the tracking and paint work was undertaken on campus.

Not all of us can win an Oscar. But if we – education and industry – work together, all young people can get an education that prepares them for the reality of working in what is almost the most successful, and definitely the most exciting, industry in the UK today.

Design Skills Academy Manager at the Design Council.


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