Archive for January, 2008

The New Economy Is Here

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

The New York Times asks an interesting question that could be asked of UK politicians too:

Why do presidential candidates touting their concern for the economy pose with factory workers rather than with ballet troupes? After all, the U.S. now has more choreographers (16,340) than metal-casters (14,880), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More people make their livings shuffling and dealing cards in  casinos (82,960) than running lathes (65,840), and there are almost three times as many security guards (1,004,130) as machinists (385,690). Whereas 30 percent of Americans worked in manufacturing in 1950, fewer than 15 percent do now. The economy as politicians present it is a folkloric thing …

It is that the transition is over. The new economy we have been promised is in place. …The ‘jobs of the future’ that were promised 20 years ago are here. Choreographers, blackjack dealers and security guards have replaced factory workers as the economy’s backbone, if not yet its symbol. New economies have always required a kind of initiation fee of those who would participate fully in them.

(Via The Creativity Exchange.)

Eye Forum: first thoughts

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

I really enjoyed the Eye Forum on Design and Education in London yesterday (22 January), although in the build-up I managed to get worked up about whether I’d be completely inarticulate or not. So I’m mightily relieved it’s over, even though I wish we could have gone on for longer. I think most of what I said made sense, wish I could have been more controversial, and apologise if I sounded like I was shouting all the time – the microphone wasn’t near me so I tried to compensate!

Design and education are two of the worst fields to work in, and to research, because everyone seems to think they know more about them than you do. Thinking about it, I should have gone in to law because even though that’s an area where people think they know better, at least you can jail them when you disagree. I went in to this debate thinking it would be a lot more argumentative than it was, but it turned out to be remarkably consensual. Maybe we should have cracked open the wine before we started instead of at the end…

I was a little disappointed with some of the questions, many of which seemed to regurgitate long-running debates that I thought had been put to bed. This was an opportunity to tackle some important issues about the future of design education, its relationship with industry, the role of the Design Council and Creative & Cultural Skills, the links between research and teaching, and so on.

However, on reflection I suspect that the fact these issues did not come up tells us a lot, especially that most people are simply not aware of them. The more I look in to CCSkills, for example, the less convinced I am that their claim to represent industry should be accepted without question. Their consultations don’t seem to have raised their profile, and their policy pronouncements haven’t filtered through to those they will affect. If I have to explain who they are once more I’ll start charging them.

Similarly, the role of the Design Council needs to be questioned as, indeed, it is being (especially by itself). I’m not sure the Council is doing itself any favours by allying so closely with CCSkills and the Government, and the consequence is that it will be seen as yet another agency that education has to deal with alongside others like the Sector Skills Councils, the QAA and so on. That is in large part a misrepresentation, but it’s a real one. Lots to think about there.

It was good the audience had a high proportion of students in it, although they were reluctant to speak up until the very end when one of them seemed quite angry that we were suggesting the role of design education is not simply to produce designers – that produced the only applause of the evening (from another student at the back), and we should have explored that further if we’d had the time. I guessed the motivation came from the fee-paying nature of education and the idea that paying fees enters you into a contract for a definite ‘thing’, in this case entry to a particular job. I could be misinterpreting that, of course – it may well be such a specific promise was made to that person and I did say that if we claim a design education will make you a designer, and that there’s a design job at the end of it, we’re lying.

Ken Garland got up at the end and asked a question that made me rather angry, especially as it seemed to completely ignore the previous ninety minutes of discussion. Again I could have misinterpreted him, but the way his voice modulated as he said that design education is vocational and this means there are ‘just too many design students’ made me think this was his personal view. Accordingly I took him to task. In fact his question was remarkably similar to the one I asked in my first ever blog post ‘Graphic Design Education is Failing Students’ when I dismissed the idea that the role of design education is a simple one of supply and demand.
My main argument on the night was that restricting design knowledge to a select few was a sure way of ensuring that design becomes a niche activity, opening up a space that will be filled with self-taught designers – exactly the sort of design-poor scenario I think the ‘rationers’ are worried ‘over supply’ of design graduates will create. (There were a few rationers in the audience it turned out who simply didn’t listen to what we were saying, which worried me a bit)

But I simply think the idea of rationing education, no matter what the subject, is stupid, and I’m not afraid to call someone who thinks that ‘stupid’, no matter who they are.
However, we do have a responsibility to ensure that our courses are liberal enough that we aren’t just churning out designers, but graduates. I’m fairly sure (in fact I’m convinced) that this is precisely what is happening – too many design courses turning out ‘graphic designers’ no one wants rather than ‘designers’ we all need. So maybe Ken and others are right to be concerned, but wrong to prescribe rationing as a way of improving the situation. Very wrong.

We could have done with another hour, but as one of the questions we missed was along the lines of ‘is design art?’ (oh good grief, no, it isn’t, why are we talking about this again?) and another on graphic authorship (or ‘design wank’ as I like to call it), and as it was getting rather hot, we concluded at just the right time.

So talking of conclusions, what can we deduce from the evening?

  • There is a large amount of consensus that the purpose of higher education is to educate, not to train, and that the needs of society and students are not necessarily those of employers who are increasingly demanding a say in what we do without making any sort of offer in return (e.g. funding). To cow tow to industry’s ‘needs’ rather than society’s is idiotic and short sighted.
  • There is no such thing as ‘the industry’ with one collective voice, so to align what we do to ‘industry’ is impossible.
  • Design is an intellectual activity and we need to raise our game in the quality of student we recruit, and industry needs to stop talking about design in ways that makes it seem to be simply a visual and decorative exercise.
  • There is little awareness of what it is academics do all day, or the mess of policy and pressure being placed on us.
  • People seem to think the role of universities is to teach current skills instead of developing new ones, and developing new technologies and knowledge.
  • And there is a need to get across how difficult it is to teach everything under the sun in three short years. Partly this is down to us communicating what we do a lot better, but it is also incumbent on the Design Council to start singing our praises a lot more instead of insinuating we’re crap (which is the impression we get, even if it’s not intended), and on industry to engage more with us (usually we’re told we have to engage more with industry, but the fact is we do, and we try, and we find it difficult to break in).

I could go on, so I will! I’ll write posts on individual questions and link to them here later.

Thanks to LCC for hosting the forum, to my fellow panellists for a stimulating discussion, my various friends and former students for putting me up on my trip, the audience, the questioners, and of course Eye for asking me.

As well as my thoughts here you can read (or add) your thoughts to the forum comments thread over on Eye’s blog.

Kitten murderers

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008


Mmmm… kitten. In gravy.

The Definition of Irony

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008



Reading level

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

cash advance


Bisexuality, crotch-staring and loads of totty. Kids TV today…

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

Children’s television isn’t what it used to be


An actor who says he was unfairly dismissed from the hit BBC children’s programme In the Night Garden made unacceptable comments to a colleague, an employment tribunal heard today.
Isaac Blake, 28, who brought the unfair dismissal case against Teletubbies producer Ragdoll, made continual reference to ‘totty’ on set, a statement from a colleague said.

Blake has alleged that he was sacked from the programme after he complained about a faulty animatronic suit he had to wear as a Tombliboo character. He also claimed that he was called ‘bitch’ and ‘faggot’ by a colleague.

However, this morning Marcus Difelice, representing Ragdoll, read out statements from production staff alleging that Blake had made inappropriate comments to them.

One of the statements read: ‘Isaac was always making comments to me that were not acceptable.

‘I had to say to him once, ‘Why can’t you have a conversation with me without looking at my crotch?”.

Another said: ‘He [Blake] kept saying he was distracted by the totty on set.’

Blake denied doing so.

The tribunal in Birmingham also heard evidence from Italian actress Elisa Laghi, 31, who performed alongside Blake during filming in 2005 and 2006.

She admitted calling Blake a ‘bitch’ during an argument, but said she had used the word ‘faggot’ on only one occasion, in jest.

She said she had walked into a changing room and saw Blake and another actor who played a Tombliboo with their trousers down.

‘I said, ‘Oh, you two look like a pair of faggots,” Laghi said.

She added: ‘I’m bisexual myself so I don’t have a problem with people being gay.’

Blake said he had been unfairly dismissed because he had raised concerns about health and safety from being in the animatronic suit and about verbal abuse.

‘I think if I had shut my mouth, taken the abuse, worked in a faulty suit, I would still be there now,’ he said.

Ragdoll is contesting the unfair dismissal case. The hearing continues.

Four outcomes of teaching

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

Not sure I agree with the thesis of this Guardian article, but this paragraph is nice:

Numerous studies show that the bridge between teaching and learning is sometimes a bit rickety, and that what we might think of as great teaching doesn’t necessarily result in the most learning. Teaching and learning is a transaction that has four possible outcomes. The first and second show an easily understood cause and effect: either the teaching is good and kids learn stuff, or it’s crap and they don’t. However, there are instances when the teaching is great and the kids learn nothing, or, strangely, occasions when the teacher couldn’t knock the pedagogic equivalent of the skin off a rice pudding but the kids still get multiple A-stars.

That last bit is interesting in the context of universities with good reputations. I visited one in the south of England once where the staff on one course (Fine Art) had a policy of only recruiting students who were already so good, they could piss off and carry on doing their own work rather than worry about teaching them anything. The bizarre thing is, as a result of the place becoming legendarily difficult to get in to (because standards were so ‘high’) it acquired a reputation for being good, despite the fact it wasn’t…

Desperately seeking students

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

The Guardian reports:

Up to 40% of Japan’s 744 universities could go bust, merge or close in the next 10 years, according to research by a British professor at Oxford, out later this year.

Decades of falling birthrates have shrunk the number of 18-year-olds, who provide 90% of all university entrants, down to 1.3 million last year from 2.05 million in 1992. With no baby boom or immigration influx on the horizon, the figure is expected to further plummet to 1.18 million by 2012 – an overall decrease of 42.3% over 20 years.


‘To survive the global competition among universities, each institution in Japan is trying to create a unique selling point for itself,’ he says. ‘For example, there are universities that focus on attracting office workers to study part-time and those that are trying to recruit as many foreign students as they can.’

Japanese universities are also starting to teach classes in English in a last-ditch attempt to recruit students from outside Japan. Waseda University is one example. Its international studies faculty now runs the majority of lectures in English.

Japan’s predicament might ring alarm bells for those in the know in the UK. The number of our 18-year-olds is predicted to fall dramatically between 2010 and 2019 because of fewer births in the 1990s. By 2019, there will be 120,000 fewer school-leavers in the population than a decade earlier. By 2050, the proportion of 15- to 24-year-olds will make up just 11% of the population. It was 16% in 1990.


A Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) paper, Demand for Higher Education to 2020 and Beyond, argued that closing the gender gulf by getting more boys into university was crucial to maintaining and expanding numbers in the sector. But the thinktank’s director, Bahram Bekhradnia, does not think the demographic decline we face poses a threat to the majority of institutions.

Those that could be hit, reckons Gerstle, are the less prestigious, the recently founded and those in rural areas.

Good grammar not included

Monday, January 14th, 2008

This ad appeared today on my website

Fills me with confidence

A Walk Up The Fife Coast

Monday, January 14th, 2008

This VoiceThread tells the tale of a walk I made last summer