Educating our Children about the Value of Design

Growing up on sci-fi shaped a generation; Star Wars, Star Trek and Enders Game, all helped to define our use of technology. They heightened our sense of what could be possible and, most importantly, made us believe and strive for advances which are now coming to reality. We used concepts of science fiction to create a future in which they could be fact, which is now transforming the way we live.
Now imagine if design was the focus of our attention and not technology. Imagine if by enabling, educating and engaging, we helped our children to think about design in the way that we think about technology; no longer just the computer on our desk, or phone in our pocket, but the connections and everything in between. That is the task given by Open City: to imbue our children’s generation with a love of design and leave them expecting nothing less than best design.

The Problem

Design is hard. Good design is even harder. Designing a space which millions of people will use over decades harder still; all amplified by the fact that UK schools teach design poorly. There’s little wonder that design and craft subjects are seeing falling numbers at schools when you consider how we see design exhibited in our day-to-day lives. There is a real risk of the United Kingdom being unable to continue the same design and creative pedigree which we have become known the world over; an issue caused entirely by unfit education.

The fundamental issue is solidified by craft being grouped with design; a lack of understanding in what design brings to the UK economy. Educators look at design and see “prettification”, choosing to boil design down to how an object or image catches the eye. This is only part of what makes good design. If you consider the design of a building for instance, there is a lot more to how well designed it is than simply how it looks.

Design should be a process, a journey, a way to put the needs and wants in, and get a solution out. Design when we talk about developing a new city can not be just about looks which are striking, but creating a place which fits the needs of visitors and residents alike. A modern, smart and open city should consider the impracticalities of day to day life; making it easy and timely to go to work in the morning, and giving a safe and comfortable ride home at night.

Designing For Fulfilled Lives

The result of instilling knowledge of design in the upcoming generation will not just be more functional and useable living environments (with all the social economic and cultural benefits that entails) but also many secondary outcomes. Increased empathy, critical ability, reasoning and imagination are design skills worth nurturing and all are skills that have been demoted on the curriculum over the last decade.

For some students this has had great results, STEM subjects (Science, Technology Engineering and Maths) are at their highest levels ever recorded, a massive 11% increase in students taking engineering and technology subjects is just one benefit of this push.

The reason students are taking these subjects is not due to a sporadic increase in interest, it’s due to a concerted push in terms of policy and an effort to advise students towards this path. Because engineers and technologists (and policy makers) understand the value these subjects bring to UK GDP, they have received the necessary funding and support.

It’s almost as if we need to add a D into STEM… as arbitrary as that may sound. Sure S.T.E.M.D. might be less catchy, but maybe it’s what design needs? As with STEM in the early 2000’s it’s an acceptance that we’re closer than we should be to having a skills shortage, and the first step towards a national understanding of the value added by design.

Design: The Keyword For Our Future

There are on-going trends in design and architecture that the team and I at Granit Architects support through our work; sustainability is one. Over the last few years’ sustainability has become a keyword for business, from sustainable products, to infrastructure and services. I think design should be the same, every aspect of modern businesses should be designed, from products all the way to support structures for staff; they should all be looked at with a design mentality, not only to benefit employers, but employees and society as a whole.

That goal is potentially a long way off, though the starting point is to think about the spaces we live in, work in, and our children play in, with design in mind. Giving our children the confidence to consider what is best for themselves and the environments in which they work, live and play in, will also promote an environment where-by they truly appreciate great design.

Over the last 27 years at Granit we’ve always strived to promote those design values; always creating with the future in mind and people at heart. We know the benefits of design in our environment; it’s what we do every day. I believe that my work, and that of the team at Granit is one of the most tangible and compelling examples of science, technology and design sitting together to create beautiful and purposeful results.

Maybe creating practice and policy for design led thinking in society and education is a pipe-dream; or maybe promoting design in the spaces we inhabit is the first step to a people centered approach in our children’s future?

OpenCity is doing great work to help encourage design and architecture on a city-wide level, which will inspire and help society for years to come. If you would like to find out more you can see this year’s program.