Opinion: Tutors have failed design graduates

Digital Arts | 18 July 13

Simon Wright (above), MD of Greenwich Design has been unimpressed with the new graduate designers that he's been interviewing for jobs – and says the tutors are to blame.

We’re all so busy, few of us give much thought to how important we are to 'Brand UK'.  The government says that innovation is one of the major factors that will help the economy grow – after all, it was the Brits who unravelled the genome, helped design the iPod and invented the World Wide Web.  It has been fantastic to see how the passion of design industry bodies has turned around the government decision to remove design and other creative subjects from the compulsory school curriculum, with the #IncludeDesign campaign, however, there is still a lot to be done in the Higher Education sector if we want to ensure we have a decent calibre of innovators to lead the next generation of the UK Design Industry.

Indeed, if my recent visits to several colleges are anything to go by; we are not currently doing our best to nurture talent to produce employable grads.  Open evenings felt more like county shows rather than showcases for the future of design.  The majority of ideas on display were replays of existing ideas, such as iPod stands.  There wasn’t a single student that offered up something that made us stop and think. 

It’s not the fault of students.  As you would expect, the ones we spoke to were passionate and enthusiastic about their subject.  The problem, made clear by a dearth of tutors in attendance, is a total lack of direction. Many tutors, perhaps because of the overwhelming admin they have to do, seem to have become indifferent to their protégés.

Talking to students it seems they are left pretty much to get on with it themselves.  They receive very little mentoring and, worryingly, it seems that when they ask for advice, some tutors say they are not allowed to give it!  And, with tutors apparently drifting in at 10 in the morning and disappearing at 5, what does this say to students about work ethics?

Better teachers, better practice

Good tutors are essential to the future of design.  It’s not enough for students to learn the tools of the trade.  They need to learn who they are, what they love and what they want to be.  These are all things which are difficult to discover without guidance and nurturing.  Tutors need to engender innovation and encourage off-the-wall thinking – if you can’t do it when you’re a student, when can you?

However, colleges also need to provide students with real life situations with genuine links with businesses investing in the future of British design.  Some colleges are doing this, but far too many are simply paying lip service.  A grounding in the real world is paramount for providing students with commercial understanding as just being a good designer is not enough these days.  Left to their own devices, all students would want to do is draw, but if they want the best chance of a career in design, they need to learn how to pitch ideas, price projects and prepare business plans.

Degree courses also need to be more focussed.  They often appear muddled and unstructured, not giving students a clear understanding at the outset of what they will achieve.  In addition, modules are often done in isolation with scant teaching on how skills and disciplines integrate which limits student thinking and potential.

Competition for jobs is huge but, if the interviews Greenwich Design has been conducting over the past months are anything to go by, many fresh designers are simply not savvy enough for agencies to risk investing money in.

The design industry itself needs to take more interest in colleges and be given the opportunity to advise them on what tomorrow’s designers need, while colleges need to empower and inspire their tutors to do the same for their students.  Otherwise, I fear many students will be wasting their student loans, while Brand UK will be wasting an opportunity for sustained competitive advantage. 

Do you agree with Simon? Let us know in comments below, on Twitter or on Facebook.


skipratmedia said: The article makes me cross, but not directly at the author. In fact I'd like the opportunity to explain what some of us are doing in HE Design Comms. education. Its thorough, groundbreaking, articulate and driven by design process principles. Maybe we could talk.

Ted said: Couldn't disagree more. Yes a school can teach skills but it can also teach you how to unlock your creativity. They can show you different ways, resources, different mediums and exercises you can do to unlock your creative side.

Kendo said: I've seen the work on your website and quiet frankly I could download templates that are more put together. It's big talk about what is needed to be done without having any background on what is being done. You make your claim based upon an interview of students? You walk around all high and mighty thinking you're the god of design. Perhaps the applicants you're interviewing are not the top of the barrel, but what's left behind. Or, better yet, perhaps your vision is clouded by your self righteous, over inflated ego?

Crystal Nunn said: Being a creative cannot be taught, but fundamentals of the industry can. It was very hard when I made the transition from Education to the industry, because nobody prepared me for it, I knew nothing about how the industry works. My time at uni was mainly spent independently 'learning', if I wanted to do that, why would I pay £9,000 for an 'education' (or heaven forbid, £27,000!). I feel incredibly let down by my university and cannot see value in what I received. I've learnt everything about what I do, in the industry.

Karolina Szablewska said: I agree that art schools pretty much teach ZERO business skills and you're left to figure that out on your own. However, I think there's a lot more going on with the quality of creative graduates than just that. I'm not in the UK, but I don't think Canada is that much different.

Tugela said: If you need guidance you are not creative. A school can teach skills, it can't teach creativity, that has to come from within.Can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear.

jfoxfire said: Fortunately, some of us actually remember DARPANet. Schoolsalso lack the ability to assist you in entrepreneurship. Once people understandthey are independent contractors instead of employees or students, we might beable to self-direct instead of being lead. Schools should be based oncertificates instead of degrees. We want people to continually learn. Thissupports the schools, businesses, and individuals by providing an opportunityto consume the latest information without being hampered by educational plansthat are over ten years old.

Guest said: Totally agree. I studied at Central St. Martins and Goldsmiths. On my degree I always felt that we were left alone in the studio to figure everything out ourselves. Pretty much 4 years with very little guidance. Unfortunately a lot of people teaching on these courses don't actually have much practical experience. I learned 99% of what I know in the industry.