Purpose and future of design education

Image: Sarah Gold

I did short talk at the new Design Museum. It was one of three on the purpose and future of design education.

Thanks to Helen for the invite and Angus for helping with the words.

Here are my slides and notes from the talk:


My name is Harry. I’m a designer at the Government Digital Service. We’re here to help government do the internet better. We made the website GOV.UK, which won Design Museum’s Designs of the Year in 2013. Some of you may have seen or used it.

I’m also a small part of growing design company called Studio PSK.

It was actually at the now ‘old Design Museum’ that I realised I wanted to be a designer. My dad took me there when I was doing graphics GCSE.

Then I went to art school.

A few years after that I was a designer in residence at Design Museum, which is when I first volunteered on the museum’s school competition Design Ventura.

After that I went to art school again.

So–what is the purpose of design education?

Design education is for learning to solve problems.

End of.

Yes — it might touch upon art and branding, but design education is fundamentally about problem solving.

This is at the core of design education. And I believe it should — and will — be in the future. But how will design education be delivered in the future? What will it look like?

It will look like this. Design education will be of the internet, not just on it.

The internet is not about computers, it’s about people.

Design education in the future will fully embrace the culture of the internet: it will be more open. More collaborative. More distributed. And more adaptable to change.

This is already happening in some places.

First — let me show you an example of what I mean when I talk about problem-solving.

This is an early prototype for service SH:24, which provides free and confidential sexual health testing that you can access 24 hours a day.

The prototype is exploring how people might take their own blood and urine samples in the privacy and convenience of their own homes. Rather than go into a clinic.

This sort of practical, hands-on problem solving is design at it’s best. It’s purposeful. It’s intellectually stimulating. It’s done by teams.

It’s the type of design you can explain to a classroom, family at Christmas, friends down the pub or an MP. “They get it.” When design is solving real problems, you don’t have try very hard to explain its value.

I’ve seen the learning that leads to this type of design happening at lots of schools. But it’s needs to be in all of them.

Working in teams, testing ideas and explaining your decisions are all things that will help in most careers in the future, not just design. So the more young people who are able and comfortable to do this, the better.

To make this happen, we need to support teachers the right way.

This is the Design Ventura teacher training we hosted at Government Digital Service in August.

Young people are Design Ventura users. More than 36,000 of them in 588 schools have taken part since 2010. Without teachers the service can’t run. Let alone scale the way it is.

For the training, we talked to the teachers about this year’s brief and held a group exercise about designing in teams. But one of the most important things that the teachers got to do was meet each other. And to share their enthusiasm about teaching design.

This last point is the most important: the world can never have enough enthusiastic teachers.

Having networks of enthusiastic design teachers is a powerful thing. Bringing people together around a shared interest is a powerful thing. The internet is great for this.

For me Design Ventura is a great model to support those teaching people to problem-solve. It focuses on people and it uses the internet to do this.

This is Code Club — it’s a nationwide network of volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged 9–11. It’s delivered by volunteers and teachers across the world.

It’s only four years old, but there are already 4792 Code Clubs in the UK, teaching over 67,000 kids!

The club teaches children the material of the internet: computer code.

But it is more than that. Code Club teaches stuff that is hard to learn in an academic, theoretical way.

It’s about learning by doing. It’s learning with a purpose. Code Club is project based, so all the children know what they are working towards.

And the really clever thing about Code Club is that the organisers have done the hard work so that volunteers and teachers don’t have to.

If you want to set up a Code Club, all you have to do is go online, download the tools and find a room to host it in.

Because it’s a centrally-run resource it can be updated regularly. Meaning the things the children learn is as up-to-date as possible. The internet is great at this too.

Art schools and universities could learn a lot from Design Ventura and Code Club.

The world is fast and not short of problems. Design education can and should be equal to it.

Lead designer at the Red Cross, previously @projectsbyif, @gdsteam. Fairness fan

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