On Tuesday the Lords discussed on the recently published Restarting Britain: Design Education and Growth from the Design Commission. The transcript of the debate provides interesting reading – partly for the way in which the Lords interpret the word ‘design’, drawing on their personal stories: working as trend spotters in the fashion industry, establishing technical colleges to teach hand skills, or simply owning a Lachasse suit. Below are a few snippets.
The Lords raised the design community's old grievance that their skills are often misunderstood:
“…many people regard design as largely concerned with aesthetics or with products such as furniture or ceramics. As a result, they regard it as a marginal issue-something that is good and desirable but not essential.”
They affirmed that certain important capabilities are effectively learned through design training:
"Design teaches “a problem-solving approach; the capacity to work collaboratively; interdisciplinary capability; taking into account the participation of the end-user … and the habit, and satisfaction, of creating projects which work ... [these qualities] are ... hard to acquire from other subjects."
Most frequently they noted – unsurprisingly given the report’s title – that design is critical to the UK's economy:
“…our education system needs to be design-linked with technology for the future, for our economy and, most importantly, for jobs”
“One distinguished magazine editor told me that British designers are the creative engine of the French fashion industry. We seem to be able to produce design talent but it appears that we just do not know how to use, develop and nurture it.”
“…we have grown used to hearing it bruited about that the UK's record of scientific invention and the great strength of its creative industries-product design, architecture, fashion, media, games software, entertainment and advertising-would equip us well enough for the future. However… the uncomfortable truth is that, with a few very honourable exceptions, we have not been good enough at carrying these capabilities through into consistently world-beating products and services.”
The eulogies for design continued, with the accusation implied that the Government was not taking Design-with-a-capital-D sufficiently seriously. Baroness Wilcox hit back on behalf of DBIS:
“While we welcome the commission's contribution to this important subject, we must dispute the suggestion that the Government do not fully appreciate design as a lever for growth … We do not see it as "whimsical", which I heard Sir Paul Smith say was the view of design that many people have when they should be looking at the beautiful design of an engine or water bottle. He actually said that design "isn't all red hair and bare chests" when he was interviewed this morning about the relocation of the Design Museum.”
Leaving the red hair and bar chests aside, her response gave the impression that the Design Commission were pounding on an open door, but the contribution that struck me as most thoughtful was from Baroness Morris:
“I have never known anyone who was against design. There is no army of people out there making a case against it. Sometimes when that happens, because there is no core to the debate, you find that everyone thinks that it is a good thing but no one really fights for it to be as good as it could be.”
She advocated that rather than top-down directives on design education, more demand creation (as exemplified by the Design Council's Designing Demand programme, I suppose) could be a better route:
“…it is all too easy to say that if we made [design] compulsory for every child in every year of schooling the problems would be solved, but I am not sure that that is the case. The more difficult task is to win the case and make it so good that schools want to teach it and children want to learn it. Sometimes, giving something the hook of compulsion actually makes you take your foot off the accelerator in making it a very good subject.”
Which to me at least, seems like a more designerly approach.