Interview: Lauren Currie, "There is currently a big gap between what schools teach and what designers need to know to thrive."

Experts in the creative industries are claiming there is a gap between what students are being taught at design schools and what they actually need to know to make products. One of those aiming to address this concern is design entrepreneur Lauren Currie (above), co-founder of Glasgow-based service design agency, Snook.

Currie is deeply involved in the experience design world both locally and internationally. She also teaches and speaks all over the world about design, entrepreneurship and social innovation.

Currently promoting the launch of a MA in Digital Experience Design at Hyper Island’s school in Manchester, Currie answered some of our questions about the scale of the problem she and other professsional creatives have witnessed, as well as revealing something about the course which aims to collaborate with industry experts to mould students into vocationally skilled individuals.

Michael Burns: What are some of the qualities and skills that you feel design students are missing?

Lauren Currie: "There is currently a big gap between what schools teach and what designers need to know to thrive in the world. It’s an exciting time for the world of design, with IBM and global investment firms seeking formally trained designers across disciplines including service design, user-experience, user research and empathy.

"Many design courses still focus solely on design in the cosmetic sense. However, the world is in desperate need for designers who can bring their clients a deeper understanding of how their organisations, products and services can work.

"I have been asking my friends in industry what they think is missing from design education, and the results have been powerful, although unsurprising. We are teaching design via an archaic system. It was created in the 14th century to teach Bible studies producing academics, not craftspeople.

"The common thread that is missing is reality - live projects, tutors from industry, a learning environment that reflects industry, real feedback, working in teams, working with people who aren’t designers and giving and receiving feedback.

"This was reinforced by John Mathers, CEO of the Design Council, who said in a recent interview that despite the rapid growth of the design sector in the UK, which is growing three times faster than any other sector, there is a real skills gap that must be addressed."

MB: What evidence do you have that students aren't being taught these skills and knowledge at design schools?

LC: "The digital design industry is growing enormously. Globally there are massive job opportunities. The education industry is not producing anywhere near enough in numbers to fill the need. Courses like the new MA at Hyper Island are desperately needed.

"Late last year, Jony Ive stirred up debates surrounding the failings of contemporary design education to turn out students ready to take up gainful employment. Speaking at an event at London's Design Museum, Ive used the word 'tragic' to describe the many design schools' inability to teach students how to make physical products and for relying too heavily on cheap computers.

"Jared Spook, co-founder of Centre Centre in the USA, believes if we took all the design schools in the world who are producing students who are good enough to go into industry - it would be less than 400 students a year. Combined.

"John Mathers said the skills gap was not only in terms of numbers, but in terms of how prepared students are coming through the education system. He said many of them are not fit for purpose when they walk into a job."

We are teaching design via an archaic system. It was created in the 14th century to teach Bible studies – producing academics, not craftspeople.

MB: Why do you think this disparity exists?

LC: "Schools traditionally produce creative practitioners that fit neatly into labelled 'boxes'. We need systems that facilitate life-long learning. This requires truly collaborative partnerships between industry and education. The industry moves so quickly; it is very hard to produce a long-term plan in education terms. We need to create a culture focused on soft skills and thinking, not just practical skills.

MB: What aspects of the MA course will address this?

LC:  "It’s my job to design this MA with industry, not for or at industry – but together with entrepreneurs, CEO’s, developers, strategists, designers and more. That’s why the MA has been designed the way it has been, with industry leaders delivering the content at every stage of the programme.

"The very foundation of Hyper Island is the symbiotic relationship between design, technology and business; all of which are driven by human behaviour. This has been at the core of our work for the past 18 years.

"The clients that work with students on the programme will be real, and the briefs will be live. We work with clients such as Unilever, Greenpeace, Skype, Google and the NHS.

"Students gain experience of working in a pressured environment with cutting edge technologies in industries that are on the cusp of disruption. There is an interdependent and connected relationship between technology and human behaviour, and in this space, we see disruption as an opportunity. Not only will it give students a taste of real-world projects, it will also equip them with the skills needed to carry out these projects above and beyond the standard expected by industry."

MB: Do you have any names of the professionals who will teach the students?

LC: "Absolutely. We will be working with Gill Wildman, co-founder of Plot; John Thackara, founder of Doors of Perception; Dominic Campbell, founder of FutureGov; Joe MacLeod, previously global design director at UsTwo; interaction design lead at UsTwo, Lawrence Kitson; and many more."

MB: Who can apply and what do they require for entry to the course?

LC: "We are looking for applicants with a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent work experience. Current applicants are coming from a diverse range of fields such as advertising, model making and music but all have a common focus of design. At Hyper Island, it's about attitude, potential and a desire to learn."

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