Why design schools need to teach life-long skills

Here we are again, at the start of another academic year, with another crop of art school freshers. The wannabe illustrators, communication designers, animators, photographers and art directors of tomorrow are only just beginning their three-year ascent to the top of the pile, and the competition for the opportunities that the creative industries can provide in 2016.

But how likely is it that the internships, placements and jobs - full time, in-house and freelance - that are on offer in three years' time will be comparable to what was available this past summer? We already know that the communication design and media worlds move forwards, onwards and upwards at a relentless pace, and that the nature of the creative industries translates into an insatiable appetite for novelty. The newer, brighter and shinier, the better.

Advertising agencies, branding companies and design studios continually seek the latest hot property, often favouring youth over experience. Look at it this way - when did you last meet a designer admitting to being closer to 50 than 20? The drivers are the fresh and new-fangled, and there's no room for passengers in the pursuit of the next big thing.

Evolving demands

So how can art and design education hope to meet the demands of these endlessly evolving industries? And how should today's art and design schools work to prepare students to enter a challenging professional arena that remains in constant flux? Quite simply, by ignoring the here and now, and concentrating on the long game. By staying true to the belief that we teach life-long learning skills, not the short-term, quick-fix, fast-buck trends of here today and gone tomorrow.

Despite the speed at which hardware and software developments move, and despite the speed of change across apps, social media and online environments, there continues to be a genuine need for more in-depth understanding and knowledge, and for a more deeply developed practical skill-set.

Three years of study on an undergraduate degree may flash by, but there's really no need for students to panic. There's plenty of time to begin exploring your subjects of choice in more depth; to develop an understanding of your discipline, and investigate the history of your craft.

Learning how to learn

In addition to expanding their skills and mindset, students will also learn how to learn; how to uncover and identify salient new knowledge, and equip themselves with a significant capacity for life-long learning. Designers only truly progress in their careers if they begin with an open-minded approach, and an understanding of the importance of learning.

The key to a successful design career lies in maintaining your curiosity, asking questions and demanding the best from yourself, naturally - but also in knowing how and where to learn, across both your education and the creative industry in general.

Words: Lawrence Zeegen

Dean of the School of Design at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, Lawrence Zeegen is a practising designer, illustrator and design writer.

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 219.

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