We do things differently here…………the real challenge for design educators.

Coursework complete! The end of a lot of work for one pupil.

A couple of things have crossed my radar recently which emphasise a point I have been trying to make in a number of different forums.  If you have not come across this excellent video  produced by DATA in conjunction with Seymour Powell and the James Dyson Foundation then pause and have a look, it’s worth it.   thttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAZ24bukRpU    Your next port of call should be to this blog,  http://tristramshepard.wordpress.com/ looking for the post, “Oh Lordy, Lord”.  Tristram clearly moves in exalted circles but the conclusion of his post is that in spite of all the Design Council, the RSA and numerous other bodies have been doing for years there is no coherent level of understanding about design and design education where it matters.

If you pause to think about this is does seem to be an obvious point, politics in this country has become a closely structured community where promising graduates work as parliamentary advisers, interns or whatever until he time when they can be offered a seat and become an MP.  Whether this is a good thing or not is not the subject of the current debate, what is an issue is that if you have pursued higher education as a designer or maker then you are likely to want to go into designing or making, not politics.  The result is that those whose understanding of designing and making is developed are not likely to be those responsible for making decisions about it at a national level.  Moreover those who are in a position to make the decisions are by definition those who do not have a developed understanding.

The final spur for me to write this came in a surprising context.  Sitting in a cathedral about to hear a concert of early sacred music performed by The Sixteen, (Sublime music, worth catching on their current tour if you get the chance), under the direction of Harry Christophers I opened the programme to read this.  ..”Desert Island Discs featured an interview with a professional inventor who made an astonishing claim; the he could never look at any manufactured object without wondering how it had been made.  Few of us tread such an analytical path through life; normally it is the utility of things that matters, not how they came into being.  But with works of art the situation is different.  Typically we want to know who made the work in question.  Sometimes we ask why it was made, or when, or for whom.”  Now if you are the kind of person who has found their way to this blog then, like me you probably don’t find the inventors assertion at all remarkable.  (I suspect it was Trevor Baylis.)  You might find yourself shocked that anyone should regard it as unusual.  And there, of course is the point.

I can’t speak for anyone but I suspect that if we interviewed the inventor he might relate a story that included a lot of early tampering with made object, a series of successes and not a few failures, above all a growing awareness that understanding made things was something that provided intrinsic rewards.   Given that she or he had made it onto national radio you might be forgiven for thinking that there had been some material rewards as well.  On the other hand we have a gifted musician who probably has something of a parallel story, except that for him the discovery of intrinsic reward will have come from making and understanding music; clearly not from any engagement with made objects except in terms of their utility.  Perhaps the inventor also has a fully developed musical life.  The point I wish to make is that arguably a small proportion of the population ever finds what Ken Robinson would call their element, the one thing in life for which they have a passion and which occupies almost their total focus.

If you are any sort of maker or designer then you will know that whatever you produce you always want to have it seen by certain people, those who you know will understand how good it is.  Many people will see it and compliment you perhaps, but the one whose opinion you really value is the one who will truly understand what you have accomplished.  It might be a fellow practitioner, a teacher, mentor or friend but their response is worth that of a hundred others.  In that thought is the clue to how narrow your field of expertise may be.  In that thought is a  significant reflection on what we do as teachers.  I am privileged to know that some of my students have gone on to discover the joy of being designer makers.  I know that for many I may have taught them something, even something of value but they still just don’t get my passion.

Now the bigger picture is that as I have said, almost without exception those who make decisions about design education don’t know what it is.   More dangerously it is all too easy to seek advice from those who hold the same beliefs that you do.  Put this in the context of an education minister and you have a recipe for potential disaster.  At a national level DATA and others are striving to communicate some of the issues, locally, in your school perhaps, it would be good to remember Harry Christophers’ astonishment at what we might take completely for granted.


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