Industry-led design training
Posted by Bob Mytton
23 November 2017
Are young designers learning the right skills from University for today’s commercial world? Are students getting value for money for their £9,000 per year? Are employers seeing design graduates who they feel are ready for working in today’s design studio?
I, like many design professionals I speak to, are not convinced. And this year a group of us got together to try something to help make a difference.
As the design world constantly changes, design training, as in any other industry, must adapt to ensure its students have a fully-rounded and relevant skill set.
22 years ago when we set up Mytton Williams our first employee was a design graduate and since then we've employed many more. As a studio we have always believed in training and helping young designers, whether through placements, lectures and teaching or helping local universities. We expect with any graduate that there will be some training involved to help them settle into life in a design studio.
But during the last few years we've heard many design industry professionals questioning the skills and knowledge of the young design graduates pouring out of the universities every year. Partly this has been about design skills. But it has also been about the business of design and a lack of understanding of the commercial design world. Whether it’s questioning the brief, negotiating with the client, presenting ideas or working in a team, they are all essential to delivering a design project.
We’ve also heard design graduates questioning the value they are getting from their course. I am often surprised at the stories I hear about the amount of one-to-one time students have with their lecturers. At over £9,000 a year many question how little time they get. They then leave university with an enormous debt. Are they getting value for money? Are they getting the skills employers are looking for? Is there an alternative or something that can help?
This questioning led to a small group of design professionals from Bristol and Bath getting together to deliberate the changing needs of the commercial design industry and the idea of Werkhouse was born.
It was a weekend in June 2017 that 32 successful participants, selected from 150 applicants, got together in a Bristol design studio, with 20 design industry professionals from Bath and Bristol. Creative directors, strategists, designers and account managers took students and recent graduates on a deep dive into the creative and interpersonal skills needed to succeed in a design studio. They shared how they rapidly develop concepts for clients and sell the impact of ideas. All done within a project scenario, five teams and some realistic time pressure.
Day 1 was all about the briefing, research and creating multiple ideas. Working together to make informed decisions and develop propositions.
Day 2 was about filtering the ideas from day 1, agreeing the best idea with the team, preparing and then presenting to the whole group.
We entered into Werkhouse thinking we would be enlightening the participants with our knowledge, but it quickly developed into a shared learning experience. In the end, we’re not sure whose eyes were opened more. Everyone agreed that the professional development opportunity of working together, and facilitating groups of young designers, provided a learning space like no other.
Feedback from the participants was overwhelmingly positive. And an important part of the Werkhouse weekend was an open conversation about design training. The group shared and compared the experiences they had at a variety of university courses across the UK, as well as overseas.
Is university the only pathway into design? For some it is unaffordable and not a realistic option. There are other options such as apprenticeships and new courses cropping up as alternatives. Or is there something more radical? When you hear the stories from the students it makes you think. What if a young designer were to take their loan and pay a design studio 9K a year to teach them design? In a design studio, surrounded by live projects and designers of all ages, getting real hands-on experience, I’m confident many could learn a great deal in a short space of time.
Universities can be wonderful places to learn and experience life. But I believe industry has much to offer in helping prepare young designers for life in the commercial world. There can be other pathways into the design world and ideas such as Werkhouse could develop into one such alternative.
For me, Werkhouse provided a fascinating insight into the current situation and real inspiration into how industry can help designers of all levels.
If you would like to learn more visit the Werkhouse website.