Forget the wall of fame. Design schools need a wall of shame for real inspiration.

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

This video of Bruce Nussbaum (from here) is interesting for several reasons, but it really strikes home with me for one in particular.

About a year ago I went to a teaching and learning event in Dundee which attracted colleagues from all over Scotland. The event was quite successful with people being quite imaginative about changing the way they teach design, and approach the subject.
But late in the afternoon the discussion turned to the environment in which we teach. It was suggested that the traditional art school, with its plaster cast statues everywhere, its portraits of famous designers and pictures of ‘classic’ designs, sent out completely the wrong message to students in the 21st century. Why not replace the sculptures with plasma screens showing what was going on that day, or showing video of design in action? The presenter went on with some pretty good ideas for turning design schools in to modern, energetic environments rather than fusty old museums to the 19th century way of doing things.

Somewhat predictably, the idea was shouted down pretty vociferously. A colleague from an august institution in a city that rhymes with ‘has go’ went quite pale at the suggestion. “Those statues are what tell a student they’re entering a place of creativity” he said. “They’re inspirational”.
Really? I found them quite off-putting. Certainly I wouldn’t walk in to some of the design schools I’ve visited and think “wow, this place is forward looking – this is the place for me to learn how to innovate and tread the cutting edge”. Instead I’d think “blimey, I’ve walked through a time warp”.

The equivalent of Nussbaum’s swapping of the CEO’s photos would be to rip down anything that spoke of the past without criticism, and replace it with images of the present. And not ‘great’ design – ‘crap’ design.
Get rid of the photo of the Bauhaus founders and their chairs and lamps. Get rid of the William Morris prints and furniture. Throw away the plaster cast sculptures and the Neville Brody posters.

Instead lets get photos of children learning in schools that haven’t been updated since the 1960s, of people using cars that are creating smog, of kids slaving away in China to produce the textiles we design, of towns gridlocked by congestion, of factories blotting out the sun, of people waiting in villages for buses that never turn up, of individuals in wheelchairs who can’t get into places they should be able to get into, of farms that have been rendered barren because the dye from the local denim factory has left a thick crust everywhere…

Those are are the questions we face as designers, the challenges. And through the door, on the courses, would be the answers, taught by people who are angry that the world is the way it is and determined to educate the people who will change it. Screw ’employability’ if by that you mean entry level jobs just repeating the mistakes on that wall of shame. We shouldn’t be happy if our students get jobs like that, we should be ashamed.

It’s the only way to change the mindset of those who practice, teach and study design. Stop looking to the past and start looking to the present and the future.

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One comment on “Forget the wall of fame. Design schools need a wall of shame for real inspiration.

  1. Vikki Miller says:

    That is really rather true. I’ve never thought about that at all. The Duncan of Jordanstone corridors are quite dated especially the fine art department. Those creepy, badly aged, sculptures are just uninspiring.I like the idea of an art school being ashamed of its students contributing to the problem. It’s been 2 or 3 months and I am getting so tired of not having a proper meaning or schedule that I was almost tempted to start applying for agencies. You’ve almost rescued me from that idea.

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