The state of design education

Something interesting has happened in design education. There’s been a revolution, and the old order has been reversed. What do I mean by this? I mean that in many instances the students are now smarter than the employers.

You can see this most clearly in the way recent graduates are effortlessly absorbed into the new digital media landscape; students now emerging from design schools are the first generation of designers to be raised as digital natives. Anyone born in the early 1990s has grown up in a digital world – a world as natural to them as TV and newspapers were to previous generations.

You can also see how progressive many students are by their attitude to a world shaped by the global banking crisis, a world where the old idea of only doing something if it turns a profit is being questioned. In fact, many students are at the forefront of fresh thinking around the notion of design as a tool for social improvement, and also about finding an alternative role for design that is far superior to its traditional function of simply fuelling consumerism. Of course, not all students are enlightened visionaries, and not all studio bosses are blinkered. But in the smart stakes, the balance has tipped in favour of the students. The work produced by, say, the top 30 per cent in the leading design schools is superior to the majority of commercial work we see around us. The only thing that these students are unable to offer is experience: when I mentioned recently to a senior design educator that many of the students I meet know stuff that I don’t know and have a wider set of skills than I can ever hope to possess, he said, “Ah, yes, but they don’t have your experience.” And in truth, it’s often only experience that separates design students from design professionals.

Studio bosses have traditionally moaned about design schools failing to equip graduates for the ‘real world’ – a patronising term, since what could be more ‘real world’ than paying £9,000 per year for an education? Many employers view education as a playground for young designers, and complain about students graduating with inadequate professional skills, possessing only a shallow view of what it means to be a designer.

There is inevitably some truth in this: there are plenty of self-indulgent students. Yet perhaps it’s the professional designers who are behind the times, as they pursue outdated ideas of what it means to be a designer in a networked age where expertise and knowledge are shared and not imposed. Perhaps it’s the students and the design schools who are ahead of the game.

The fact is, design students are emerging from three or four years of study and many of them are simply too advanced for the positions that are open to them. Put bluntly, the design industry is not ready for them, with the result that good quality graduates are forced to take poor quality jobs, at poor quality wages, with only limited opportunities for growth in an industry that hasn’t yet learned to deal with an environment where the role of the traditional designer is changing – and indeed in many cases vanishing. But more on that topic later.

So for anyone contemplating a design education, there are three questions worth asking: What is the value of a design education? What is the state of the industry that graduates are entering? And what does the future look like – inviting or scary?

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The Creative Bloq team is made up of a group of design fans, and has changed and evolved since Creative Bloq began back in 2012. The current website team consists of eight full-time members of staff: Editor Georgia Coggan, Deputy Editor Rosie Hilder, Ecommerce Editor Beren Neale, Senior News Editor Daniel Piper, Editor, Digital Art and 3D Ian Dean, Tech Reviews Editor Erlingur Einarsson and Ecommerce Writer Beth Nicholls and Staff Writer Natalie Fear, as well as a roster of freelancers from around the world. The 3D World and ImagineFX magazine teams also pitch in, ensuring that content from 3D World and ImagineFX is represented on Creative Bloq.