If the government is serious about putting design at the heart of post-Brexit Britain, it must support creative education says Hannah Paterson from the Design Business Association in this Opinion column.
With the government pushing forwards with the English Baccalaureate, design and technology GCSE uptake plummeting 10 per cent in a year, and the shadow of Brexit threatening the movement and richness of our industry's talent, the challenges are stacking up for the UK design sector. Now, more than ever, we need support for creative education.
"I think the failure to put creativity on the same level as literacy and numeracy will inhibit the future prospects of the UK," said design luminary Michael Wolff.
Keren House, creative director of design consultancy Aricot Vert, feels similarly. "The depth of our intelligence as a species is so much greater than our ability to perform well in English, maths, history, geography and science exams," she said.
"Surely equipping all our children to perform well in a computer-literate and contemporary world means drawing them into the creative and cultural parts of our society as well as the academic – in fact if all children are to be encouraged to develop the breadth of skills they are born with there is a duty to teach them as broadly as possible," said House, who has been an external examiner for both BA and MA graphic design courses in the UK for many years.
Encouragingly though, that sentiment seems to be shared by the newly appointed Digital and Culture Minister Matt Hancock, who promised to fight for the creative and digital industries at a Creative Industries Federation event earlier this month.
Hancock used sports – and the UK's recent success at the Olympics – as an example of what can be achieved when an industry receives long-term investment from grassroots up. "Our sportsmen and women proved that when talent is supported, this small group of islands can make an outsized contribution on the world stage," he said.
The value of investing in and nurturing talent is a point industry bodies like the Design Business Association (DBA) will continue to impress on the government, to keep hammering the message home – after all, there's no question that the ongoing growth and success of the creative industries is fundamental to the future of the UK.
The creative sector is a huge asset to the country both economically and culturally – it consistently outperforms the rest of the economy (design as a sector is one of the fastest growing of all the creative industries) and it is central to the reputation and perception of the UK overseas.
Without young people taking up creative subjects in the first place, the opportunity to develop the brightest and most imaginative minds will be lost. And what of those that go onto higher education – will it prepare them fully for a career in design?
"A lot more collaboration between students and the UK's design firms would be helpful – and a lot more serious synergy between them," said Wolff. "There's more synergy with university science departments and enterprise than between design education and enterprise. That seems a shame."
Service design consultant Joel Bailey also believes that investing in new forms of design for the future is fundamental for a thriving industry.
"Service design is only about 15 years old, but it has evolved to meet the needs of a service economy of empowered customers, in a digital era," he said. "The UK is a recognised leader in the field of service design, but not for long unless we invest in the sector and make the most of this opportunity."
Although service designers are in demand, there simply aren't enough of them. "The amount of service designers being trained is woefully inadequate," added Bailey.
Investment to ensure our design courses continue to deliver world-class talent will be pivotal to delivering against Hancock's message that "the creative industries will be absolutely central to our post-Brexit future."
The RCA's Service Design and Glasgow's Design Innovation courses are leading the field in service design education, but the quality of homegrown design talent is ever more important in light of Brexit if we are to remain competitive as an industry and as a nation.
According to Bailey, the service design sector is a prime example of an area that currently relies on overseas talent.
"Many have trained at well-known and leading design schools abroad but are coming here because this is where the money is being spent on big service design projects," he said.
"If we turn off that supply of talent, without nurturing homegrown talent, those projects will struggle to deliver, and those organisations will be uncompetitive as a result," he added. "Most UK students don't even know about service design as a possible career path. Further investment and awareness are absolutely key."
Something positive the EU Referendum result has done is to stir up the industry. We are being forced to focus collectively on the future beyond products and projects. We have to identify what we stand to lose, and focus on how we can maintain and grow the industry's prosperity and reputation well into the future, whatever the obstacles.
Initiatives like Dezeen's Brexit Design Manifesto – which is supported by the DBA and lays out very clearly how the government must support, invest in and prioritise design, design education and talent in order to ensure the sector continues to wield such a positive impact – are so important in crystallising focus, especially when it comes to government strategy at this unique time in our history.
"We are trained to be problem solvers, creative thinkers and communicators," said House, "surely our attitude as an industry should be to ensure that our industry not only thrives but becomes a champion of openness and ideas for the global community."
Answering challenging questions is something our industry is perfectly placed to do – it's the nature of design thinking after all.
If the industry works together to take firm control of its future – to lobby for it, fight for it, to make it a priority in the eyes of government – then the future will be in good hands.
Hannah Paterson is the insight and content editor for the Design Business Association, which is one of the supporters of the Brexit Design Manifesto.
The Design Business Association is the trade association for all those working in the field of design, supporting them and championing the transformative power of design. The bridge between design and business, the DBA is committed to promoting the use of design at a strategic level to solve business and societal problems.