Working together: bridging the gap between design education and practice

Lesley Morris, Design Learning Manager
Design and Innovation Team, Design Council, London

Business into education
One of our main aims at the Design Council, which is funded by the Department of Trade and Industry, is to help business understand and use design to its best advantage.
We are also committed to spreading the knowledge that we gain from business into education, something that we do in a variety of ways. This is undoubtedly an exciting time, as there appears to be a super synergy going on between institutions. Creative businesses and organisations, different people and different activities are coming together, and they seem to be moving in the same direction.

The dynamics of design
The whole subject of design is dynamic. Driven mainly by client needs, it must respond to commercial and social change because these are the factors that ultimately drive design activity. Areas such as personal, corporate and community safety and security, biotechnology, health and wellbeing, manufacturing, and science and technology, are of paramount significance. And because commercial and societal factors such as these shape the context of design, designers need to understand them. They also need to develop a greater understanding of client businesses — organisational structure, strategy, culture — as well as the issues that drive those businesses and organisations.

Innovation in collaboration
Consider ‘Meeting of Minds’, a Design Council project resulting in a publication and event with the DTI and CBI, that looked at how universities and businesses work together. The project was based around the subject of innovation in collaboration, and not just those relating to art and design. A typical example was the company Primal Pictures, which had very strong links with education. Primal Pictures makes animated graphics of anatomy for medical students and their idea was to produce mass-market coffee-table books about the human body, using 3-D graphics. However, having linked up with University College London (UCL) and consulted one of its 3-D graphics experts, Primal Pictures was inspired to refocus, realising that their best market was, in fact, surgeons and medical students. They subsequently secured research funding from MRC and EPSRC, and have since developed an entire series of projects on this theme. Subsequently, several graduate placements were secured at Primal Pictures under the Teaching Company Scheme (TCS, now known as KTP), an initiative providing resources for continued research-and-development work.

Benefits and drawbacks
Other examples of collaboration also presented within the ‘Meeting of Minds’ project, revealed benefits and problems. Benefits for businesses included the provision of skilled graduates, access to the latest research and technology, and networking opportunities with international academics. Universities, meanwhile, benefited from funding and development, the chance to bring ideas to the market and access to ‘real world’ challenges. The Lambert Review, which was set up by the Treasury to explore the benefits and issues surrounding collaboration between businesses and universities, has subsequently reported very similar findings to ‘Meeting of Minds’.
The Design Council collaborated on ‘Meeting of Minds’ with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Confederation of British Industries. As part of the project, we staged an event where companies and educators spoke about their conceptions of what collaboration involved. Prior to the conference, to set the scene, we staged a two-man play with actors, as a means of succinctly highlighting the cultural differences between education and business.
One of the actors represented an academic, while the other played a businessperson — a ‘suit’. The play showed how, when the two met, they thought they would immediately engage and be instantly compatible. Yet, when they met they were shocked to discover that they were actually speaking completely different languages. The play set the scene beautifully, highlighting in an engaging way, the fundamental differences that can exist at the outset of a collaborative project.
Following on from ‘Meeting of Minds’ the Design Council started work with researchers at the London Institute to look more specifically at collaborations in art and design. One project example in the study — called ‘Bridging the Gap’ — was Edinburgh Crystal’s collaboration with Wolverhampton University School of Art and Design and Edinburgh College of Art. In embarking on the initiative, Edinburgh Crystal hoped to generate some product ideas that would enable them to relate to a younger market. The collaboration proved a success, and the coming together of the three institutions resulted in new product ranges.
Hence, the ‘Meeting of Minds’ and ‘Bridging the Gap’ studies pointed to the fact that many collaborative projects have strong design elements, often based on product development, that require all the skills that designers possess. This is explicitly clear in the links that design schools forge with industry and is perhaps far less obviously recognised in other university
departments in their collaborations with businesses.

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Design Management
VIZO Workshop

“Design makes the Difference”
Brussels, Belgium - 29/30 November 2002

  • Lesley Morris, Design and Innovation Team, Design Council, London
    Working together: bridging the gap between design education and practice 
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