Here’s a question I often ponder, and one that’s come up again recently as I mark student essays that ask them to examine the influences on their tastes, and why they are now studying design (graphic, textile, interior, product, and jewellery).
The thing that’s common among them all is ‘an interest in art’, which is odd, considering that design is not art. It looks similar, it uses similar materials and techniques but it is certainly not the same.
So why don’t students who study, say, maths or physics or history go on to study design?
Why is an interest in art seen as a prerequisite for an interest in design? Are we not limiting ourselves by only seeking students who take the art route at school and, in doing so, sending out the signal that other subjects are not important?
In product design, might an interest and knowledge in maths or physics be as important, if not more so, than the ability to paint a stuffed rabbit? So why is it the interview process for design usually uses the portfolio as the first, if not the only, filter to the course?
There’s no demonstrable link between artistic ability or temperament and design ability, so why impose one on 16-17 year olds (and younger, given that choices of specialism are made at 13-14)?
It would be interesting to see what would happen if we started saying to school kids ‘if you want to study design there is no need to do art – do history, English, maths, physics or anything’. I have a feeling we might find design leaping ahead if we widened the gene pool instead of narrowing it, and in the process putting up blocks to those kids who may be the greatest designers who walked the face of the earth, but had the misfortune to go to a school where the art teaching was crap. It shouldn’t matter.
Shame it’ll never happen though. Designers like to pretend they’re artists, and adopt the cultural swagger that goes with it. Maybe that’s the ‘use’ of art as a subject for design students – that’s all it does: lets you walk the walk and talk the talk. But it certainly isn’t a guarantee of design ability.