Emily Campbell: The Creative Education Trust
The Creative Education Trust is a registered charity and social enterprise set up in 2010 with support from leaders in the creative industries, innovation-based businesses and education. Our mission is to improve standards of education and skills for children and young people across the UK, equipping them to be successful adults in the competitive, globalised world of the future.
With previous roles at the British Council and RSA, director of programmes Emily Campbell talks about supporting and educating our youngest designers
The creative, problem-solving, innovation and making skills used in design, engineering, high-tech manufacturing, construction and architecture are at the heart of our approach to learning because they are at the heart of the UK economy of the future.
Do you think the design industry does enough to support young creatives?
I know there’s a lot of appetite among professionals to ’do something’ to improve education in schools, but often they find very few channels for them to contribute – we are creating such a channel. For example, our programme includes ‘signature’ classroom projects created in collaboration with some of Britain’s world-class designers.
The lack of interest in teaching among design graduates at higher education is very dispiriting and a real systemic problem which shortchanges young people in school because it makes their design education very one-sided – all technology and no design.
While I appreciate there are various ways of learning design, I have been surprised to find out how few design and technology teachers have a degree in design, architecture, engineering and so on. In raising the bar for the teaching of design in school – by making it resemble the exciting world of professional design more closely – I hope we can attract more designers into teaching.
You’ve held positions previously at the British Council and RSA – how have those roles helped what you do now?
At the British Council I ran projects all over the world, including some places where there was no design industry as such – usually a rather hapless art school, a couple of multinational advertising agency local offices and the odd architect in town.
But there was always real need for design in these places; there was plenty to get working on if you were a designer. There was also lots of things you could call design – examples of informal improvisation, invention and organisation.
This experience gave me a pretty ‘essentialist’ understanding of what you’re doing when you are designing, of what the highs and lows have in common. It’s certainly contributed to the key concepts on which the Trust’s design programme is based.
At the RSA I produced a manifesto called You Know More Than You Think You Do – it argued that if everyone learned design, everyone would be more resourceful and self-reliant. In the end it centred on a sort of research question: “What is the value of teaching design to people who have no intention or likelihood of becoming professional designers?”
Because school is a universal context (I mean because everyone goes to school), my job as programme director at the Creative Education Trust is the perfect place to find the answer to that question.
Design, engineering, architecture and manufacturing are not always seen as artistic disciplines – why do you think that is?
Probably because of the ‘brief’ element – that is, because you are performing creative or artistic acts in answer to a commercial brief from a paying client, rather than to express yourself.
But actually if you take the ‘art’ out of it – as design technology explicitly did when it was divorced from art and design by the National Curriculum in 1988 – you lose a lot of what makes design, engineering, architecture and manufacturing exciting, satisfying and successful for people.
The ‘art’ bit is a combination of all kinds of rather murky things – skill with visual form and shape, understanding meaning and visual language, taking risks with propositions that can’t be rationalised easily.
Design and technology tends to be very nervous about this stuff, threaded with a pathology of words and phrases like ‘contemporary’ or ‘aesthetically pleasing’, but essentially it avoids the art issue in favour of things that are easier to evaluate.
What do you think we can do to change those perceptions?
We can stress that design is as conceptually rigorous as maths, English and other subjects in the curriculum. Our conceptual framework for design makes links to maths, music and geography through the concept of pattern, to English through the concept of meaning, to science through the concept of performance (as in ‘environmental performance’ or ‘performance materials’) and to just about everything through the concept of structure – need I go on? What better way to learn about structure than to build something?
Are you excited by the next generation of young designers? What’s different now to, say, 10 years ago?
Of course – it’s a truism to observe that all children are creative! What we’re doing is providing a rigorous conceptual and practical framework for that creativity – a programme of activities that helps them to get what might vaguely be in their head into made form, with structure, meaning, performative function and understanding of human use and behaviour.
I think what’s different from 10 years ago is that so many children now have access to electronic tools that allow them to make very complex things on a screen almost instantly. While these tools are fantastic for execution and realisation, they don’t teach you judgment – the rigorous conceptual bit.
You’re done in 10 minutes and you haven’t learned much except how to apply a filter or a software function. Neither do they teach you to cut and join materials, make a volume, make something stand up etc – all of which are pretty useful for an independent adult life.
Emily Campbell is programme director at the Creative Education Trust
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