Baroness Whitaker and Vicky Pryce comment on this month's publication and launch of the Design Commission's first policy report, 'Restarting Britain: Design Education and Growth'.
The Commission was prompted to examine this issue by a sense that there is not enough understanding of the role of creative – and in particular design – education in driving innovation. Inventions and innovations rarely come from science and technology operating in isolation, rather from the interplay of a number of disciplines and skills. Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google, highlighted this point over the summer in a speech during the Edinburgh TV festival: "You need to bring art and science back together. Think back to the glory days of the Victorian era. It was a time when the same people wrote poetry and built bridges. … Over the past century the UK has stopped nurturing its polymaths." He has a point. The Chancellor's recent budget statement endorsed science as 'boosting economic growth', but not the creative industries, not design. Our schools rarely encourage young people to be artists AND scientists.
The relevance of design here is that it sits between the arts and the sciences – or, rather, bridges them. It therefore plays an important role translating between and synthesising bodies of knowledge and skills, in coming up with new ideas, in identifying markets and opportunities, and in communicating with a wider audience. We are concerned this critical capacity often goes unrecognized, which has significant implications.
If the creative subjects are not seen as fundamental to economic and social progression, it is no surprise that they can be left off the curriculum, have their teacher training places reduced, and teaching funding removed at university. All these decisions seem short-sighted, considering the importance of creativity for individuals, businesses and societies to succeed in the complex 21st century world.
The UK is presently a world leader in design education, but we think this may not last much longer. We conducted this inquiry because we wanted to get a better understanding of the system as it currently operates, map that against what other countries (our competitors) are doing, and learn where we can make improvements. At the same time we wanted to produce a document that would explain clearly, to those who may not be familiar with design education and design skills, exactly how these things relate to innovation, competitiveness, and growth.
Our conclusions are quite straightforward. Government needs to develop a National Design Strategy with clear ownership, accountability and with the budget to deliver; design needs to be embedded within the Curriculum with a clear understanding of how this operates in schools and a view to continuously improving delivery; FE routes into design need to continue to expand together with the development of consistent and persuasive HEI vocational entry routes. Higher Education Centres of Excellence need funding and they need to take cross-sectoral approaches to unlocking innovation from other sectors, especially in science and technology via interdisciplinary centres of excellence. Ultimately we would like to see design put on a par with other engineering subjects and recognized as a STEM subject.
Importantly, this is not a cri de coeur from the design education community about why it doesn't want to have its funding taken away. This is about protecting and investing in a sure way for the UK to continue to compete in the future.
'Restarting Britain' is the first inquiry of the Design Commission, and was directed by Vicky Pryce and Baroness Whitaker. The Design Commission was set up to carry out long-term, investigative research and thinking about how design and policy interact, and bring that thinking to a Westminster audience. It is comprised of leading designers, academics and parliamentarians, and is chaired by Lord Michael Bichard.