As far as the current UK government is concerned, the creative arts – art, design, music, drama, dance et al – aren’t as important in children’s education as academic subjects. This is the view of many in the design industry following the exclusion of creative subjects from the mooted EBacc (English Baccalaureate) qualification that current education minister Michael Gove wants to replace GCSEs with. Instead, the ‘five pillars’ of the EBacc will be maths, science, English, a humanities subject such as geography, and a language.
The fear is that if creative subjects aren’t a core part of education – and part of what schools will be judged on in league tables – they will be ignored when schools are setting their teaching priorities, and poorly resourced. This could lead to children leaving school with poorer creative skills and fewer going on to study such areas in higher and further education, which could have a negative impact on the UK as a whole – both culturally and economically.
To prevent this, many within the arts community and creative industries are asking for a sixth pillar to be added, so that children have to study at least one creative subject – whether art, design, drama or dance – to the age of 16.
The world of fine art was the first to respond to the exclusion, with much of the commentary focusing on the damage to children that not teaching them about culture – and inspiring them – would do. The artist Grayson Perry writing in The Guardian said that “it is the children from poorer homes who will be disproportionately deprived of exposure to culture.”
The response from the design industry has focused on more pragmatic issues than holistic ones.
Joe read Grayson’s piece and brought it up at the firm’s regular Monday morning ideas-sharing session. From the ensuing discussion came the #includedesign campaign, which has won the backing of some of the creative industry’s best known names and most high-profile agencies.
The campaign has culminated – so far – in an open letter to Gove, signed by the likes of Apple’s head of design Sir Jonathan ‘Jony’ Ive (below), fashion designer Stella McCartney, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby (designers of the London 2012 Olympic Torch), interior design magnate Sir Terence Conran, the D&AD and Design Council, and over 150 advertising and creative agencies. Digital Arts has signed it too.
To begin with though, ustwo was focused on creating something much smaller in scale, but the enthusiasm of their colleagues and peers made it grow quickly.
“We started to ring up a couple of our friends,” says Joe. “Within a few days we had about 10 agencies round here in Shoreditch. Then it started to blow up. A few more days, we had Ideo, Wolff Olins, Interbrand and Fitch, and it just kept building.”
Joe describes how they brought Jony Ive and Stella McCartney onto the campaign as “opportunistic”, as each new agency or organisation they signed up opened up its contacts to bring in more backers – with support spreading virally like an internet meme or Twitter hashtag (which the name of the campaign is based on).
“It’s all about contacts,” he explains. “As it grows, more and more people are getting their Rolodex’s out. It’s incredible the passion we’ve all got for this issue – and absolutely overwhelming how much the community came together with this.
“We’re still getting 20-30 requests a day. We just had [Sir Norman Foster’s firm] Foster and Partners land today.”
A further push to attract support from architectural firms and fashion houses will follow, according to Joe.
Joe’s personal attachment to the campaign comes from the impact of his own experiences at school.
“I come from a pretty rubbish school. I’m dyslexic. I didn’t have many choices in life other than I was good at art, design and interpreting the world in a different way,” he says. “What worries me is that if [I hadn’t had the chance to develop my creative skills at school], I wouldn’t have gone on to St Martins, the RCA, Orange, Nokia and now ustwo.
“David Cameron talks up ‘Digital Shoreditch’ and ‘Tech City’. We find this highly hypocritical, as they say they’re going to promote us as an industry, but yet they’re ignorantly not aware that this industry is built by designers and developers."
The Department for Education’s consultation on the EBacc ended on December 10. Speaking in late November, the DfE said it expects to issue a response “in the New Year”.
If you want to support the #includedesign campaign, visit includedesign.org and sign up as a company or sign the petition as an individual.