Icograda World Design Congress 2009 - Conference Presentation, Beijing, China

Theme – Design Education and Innovation
Title - What use is Design Education?
Presenter - Lawrence Zeegen / Kingston University /UK

What use is design education? If only 41% of all designers hold a degree level qualification and as many as 350,000 people working in design consultancies in the UK alone are actually non-designers. What use is design education when one considers the competition for jobs following graduation - between 2004 and 2007 the number of students studying design at degree level in the UK increased from 56,785 to 59,345, while only 39% of the 17,297 new recruits into design companies came directly from college or university courses, equating to just 6,745 of all design graduates.

What use is design education, when a recent survey – Supply and Demand for Design Skills, discovered that most working designers are critical of the perceived constant over-supply of design graduates into the industry, believing that students are spending less and less time with tutors, and that many design students lack genuine talent or even motivation. Why study design when, The Business of Design, Design Industry Research 2005, conducted by the Design Council, concluded that only 29% of all art and design students engaged in work placements, contact with industry professionals, during their courses.

Faced with statistics and commentary that devalue design education; how do we, as design educators, respond? Does the blame lie squarely with us; are we solely responsible? Turn the tables and consider what use is a design industry that today’s design graduates are de-motivated by and disengaged with? There has been a considerable shift in ethos and the aspirations of a new generation of designers and design educators are a world apart from a previous generation; those motivated by greed and profit with little regard for the impact of their actions on the planet. New design graduates are now less content to enter an industry to row boats; many have started to rock boats.

Amongst today’s design educators and new design graduates, there is a genuine understanding of our responsibilities – we know that making our voices heard is critical if we are to shape real change. In this time of environmental, social and economic crisis, we can make a simple choice – we can choose to enter an industry that invents deceptions that encourage more consumption or we can help to repair the world. If we are to succeed in changing opinions within business - it is crucial that we engage and communicate with the design industry.

It is likely that many of the 71% of design students not engaged in industry placements are staying away for a reason. Consider the situation from a different perspective – how many design professionals undertake placements back into design education? Not to spout forth wisdom about ‘the real world’, but to engage and learn from those staking a claim in a new world. A unique placement program encouraging design professionals to re-enter design education, at Kingston University, London UK, will help readdress the balance; creating genuine synergies and real collaborations between education and practice - restoring faith in design education as an instigator and innovator of change for the better.

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