Is design education broken?

For anyone that follows me on Twitter, you’ll know that I tend to retweet a lot of job listings. These sometimes come directly from the people I’m following or other retweets. I also try and read every job listing before sending it on just so I know what the job entails.

Now, for the most part the job listings are highly creative however over recent months I’ve noticed that more and more are asking for a degree or related qualification as a ‘required’ necessity. I’ve only seen one out of the past ten which has ‘OR Experience related’ attached to it. On top of that, within the last hour I came across another job listing via the Channel 4 website asking for a Visual Design Qualification (what the hell is that?).

I should quickly add in here that I didn’t study design at University, my highest qualification in design is a GCSE in Graphic Products which to be honest is and was completely useless. The web hadn’t even been in its first nappy when I was a part of that course. Design as I know it now was never taught. No theories, no knowledge and certainly no design history was passed across.

The broken bit

This is where I think something has gone wrong. Listing a job with ONLY an option for degree educated persons is not only discrimination albeit in a very light form but also annoys and disgruntles people who decided not to go to University for further education. I think employers need to take a good hard look at reality when looking to recruit and fill new roles. There are a couple of ways to look at the negative aspects of only recruiting degree educated persons for a design role.

  1. Many courses are out of date as soon as they’re taught and more often than not courses have the wrong people running them. They tend not to have practitioners on the course who have been in the industry and know how the land lies and usually have educated people in education with no real experience. I currently only know of two courses that I think understand what the industry needs and I’d love to hear from Christopher/Niklas (@standardistas) and (@libwella)
  2. If a person has a degree which is more than 2 years old, then you’d be right to think it is out of date due to the lack of core design education within it. Most focus on tools rather than the ‘it’. However, their experience should hopefully make up for it.

If you’re looking for fresh degree educated persons then you should make it clear that you’re looking for the above, degree educated with experience rather than just holding a degree.

Show of hands

After issuing the question “Did you study design at degree level?” and asking for a show of hands approximately 20 people replied. 12 people said they had or were currently studying design / web design / multimedia or other course. 2 of those said that it was a complete waste of time as they weren’t taught ‘design’. The other 8 said they hadn’t studied a design related course at degree level at all. A number of the 8 who hadn’t were people I would class as experienced design professionals.

The madness begins

After seeing those 20 something replies it dawned on me what kind of crazy world the design education system was turning into. The majority of the replies came from people who were currently on or had recently left a design course. The courses themselves had all manner of names, and if I asked if they had taught any core theory behind design, you’d find quickly that they hadn’t. Now, not to get all high and mighty, but what are they teaching? If you head over to Authentic Jobs (one of the most populated boards for design related jobs on the internet – probably) you will currently find jobs for,

  • Visual Designers
  • Interaction Designers
  • UX Designers
  • UI Designers
  • Product Designers
  • Interactive Designer
  • Sr. Visual Designer
  • Mobile Application Designer
  • Art Director
  • Hybrid Designer
  • Designer
  • Front-end Web Designer
  • Presentation Designer
  • Web and Print Graphic Designer
  • Applications Graphic Designer
  • Services Web Designer
  • Information Architect
  • Theme Designer
  • Graphic Artist
  • Editorial Web Designer
  • Infographic Designer.

21 different types of ‘designer’. I fell from my chair. The last time I checked we had various avenues that you could go down in design. If we specifically think about ‘web’, about 18 of the job titles above fit in with our current design eco-system. Getting out of control a bit do you think? I believe we need to pull on the reigns a bit and not let our industry and education system get out of hand with naming the types of jobs.

Earlier I mentioned the Channel 4 job which asked for a ‘Visual Design Qualification’. Both Mark Boulton and I can’t figure out what one of those is as I never knew there was such a thing. I’ve only noticed the title ‘Visual Designer’ cropping up over the last couple of months. The line from the job advertisement says it all,

Visual Design qualification  and/or extensive professional experience of interactive screen based design

A visual design qualification OR experience of interactive screen based design. Knowing that the job is advertised as an Interface Designer it would seem that Channel 4 do not know what they’re looking for. Something like a Visual, Interactive or Interface Designer if we look at the list above or in other words someone to maybe prettify things on the screen? By the way, that is not design. That is using the tools at your disposal. Channel 4 would have done better by understanding the role they wanted to fill as a Designer with a specialism in Interface Design. At least they may get someone who understands design.

It would seem that our industry is now playing a name game and forgetting about where and what design really is. It is certainly becoming fragmented and needs to start aligning itself down a more precise path otherwise we will lose control altogether.

Designer first

In the Army it is ingrained in you that you’re a soldier first and your trade second. I believe in our industry we should instill a sense that we’re all designers first and then have a specialism or specialisms like typography or IA.

Let us hopefully work towards a better education system, designed for our industry so that we can work pro-actively to teach ‘real design’ as a core skill behind all design related courses and let us not get complacent when advertising new design roles and making names up as we go along. I would hope this would better align with those who choose not to go on to University as more often they fall into a specialism once within a job.