What is the role of a design school ?

Christian Guellerin is the dynamic director of L’Ecole de Design located at Nantes.
This text iis a good opportunity to have a preview of the ideal design school. Not so far away ?

doc-671.jpg 1 What is the role of a Design school  ?

What is the mission ? It has…
To fix a strategy – a long term plan – the manager has the responsability to never forget the « role » of the organisation he leads.

For example, when you ask some of the Representatives of L’Oreal about what is the role of the company, they may tell you : « we are producing perfumes or beauty products… »

Lindsay Owen Jones has an other approach : « the role of L’Oreal is to produce « hopes », hopes for Men or Women to be good looking.
Two ways to define the role which are totally different !

Concerning the field which desig schoola are involved in – Education in Design – we have to be very clear, precise about our intentions.

We have to define exactly what is the role of a Design School .

4 Years ago, when I arrived in L’Ecole de Design Nantes Atlantique, I asked the staff and the teachers : what is your mission, what is our mission ?…

What is a school of Design ? A centre of creation , an education centre, a business centre for new products, a research centre, a wonderful place to invent tomorrow…the thing is complex…and all those questions may be answered by Yes…we are all that and hopefully more….

What is the job of the Faculty : teaching ? creating ? innovating ? helping students to find good jobs, good positions, high salaries, valuable perspectives for their careers ? or is it to help them to become good creators ? or, in an other way, to help companies to find new products, new targets, new outlets…

What is the job we are doing ? What is a school of design ? This is probably the most important question we have to answer.

Probably, the most obvious things are the ones we forget the most easily. One of those obvious things is to define this role, the goals we try to achieve, and then the ways to get there.

This is a very crucial question which determines how we organize the whole academic program, the whole organisation of our structures and permit to fix the strategy and development.

We may have different points of view about the subject, diverse appproaches, considering culture, structure, faculty, feelings….none are definitely wrong or right.

Let me give you the point of view of L’Ecole de Design Nantes Atlantique.

What is our role ?

We consider that we have two major goals

To promote Design in the companies and the economic fields.
That means to promote creation, and innovation as an economic matter, a generator of added values – profit or image – for products and companies.

In France, the expansion of Industrial Design in the economy has been historically slowed down by the supremacy of Applied Arts and the mistrust within the economy.
Withe the exception of a very few fields, design has not been spread out as an integral part of companies.
Most Representatives still think we are teaching to artists and feel design is still reserved for furniture, interior decoration, or recently multimedia.

We definitely want Industrial Design to become an economic matter, which places creation at the heart of Production, Marketing and Management.

When we talk about a product, we are not speculating about an object, we are really dealing with a concrete item of the market. It represents in itself a tool for profit or image.

If I go further : A well designed product should be a « sold product » corresponding exactly to a demand, or corresponding exactly to the image that helps you to increase your sales. Good design should be measurable in terms of sales and profit, as advertising is.

Is this sufficiently « noble » for design and designers ?

I feel this approach is highly humanistic :

As designers, we have the responsability to place humanistic values at the heart of industrial production and market, and give these elements a meaning.

We have the responsability to use the economy to serve society. This is sufficiently «  noble »

-To teach design may be our second goal, the one for which we are paid : to teach the students to become good creators.

In fact, this is not the case ! :We have the responsability to place our students in design jobs.. This is the second goal. Help them work as designers, in good positions, with decent salaries, with good perspectives for careers to permit them to create. These are the conditions necessary for them to become good creators.

2/ Multiply ways to approach companies
To pursue our two goals, we have different responses that have evolved recently, two major developments in our approach.

 All our academic programs are nowadays organised around professional projects dealing with industrial and commercial companies. That represents about 30 to 40 projects per year. First of all, the academic program is defined by the Faculty, teachers and designers, to garanty the development of knowledge and to ensure working on the main trends of the moment. Then we look for companies. They are involved from the beginning to the end.

Some companies have already approached design, others have not.
Some know, the others need to be informed about design. It is exactly what the students will be faced with through out their careers.

 The five year program leads to a diploma, recently recognized by the French Ministry of Education, which is awarded to students by jury. It evaluates two necessary steps :a final project ( one semester) and a training period of professionnal integration in a company or agency which ends the curricululm( second semester).

The purpose of the jury is to answer this question «  is the student ready to become a professionnal designer ? », the question is not « is he a good creator ? ».
To demand a final training period in a company as the end to the program is our recent major change.

Paradoxically, if we consider the History of Design Education, the relationships we are the most suspicious of, are «  National or International Competitions ».
International competititons are not often the right occasions to meet the companies. The professional approach, that is to say working with teams or professionals, is often absent from these types of competitions. Often, these competitions simply give many ideas to companies for pocket money.

3/ What are the ways to develop in the coming years ?

We are working on two major ways to develop our expertise in design

 In our school, we have no expertise in fundamental research. (Most of our projects are valuable but there is no capitalisation of the work we are doing. We can work two or three years on the same project without furthering our experience. We are surfing on trends rather than having a real expertise.We ‘d like to create real research departements, financed by public and private funds and work with companies as the engineering schools do, on long term plans.

 We are developing courses for professionals in design, Creativity and Management for executives or people coming from other fields, to make them aware of the opportunities and responsabilities of creation in all economic fields. We have just opened a post-graduate program with Audencia – School of Management – on Design Management.

To conclude :
I want to emphasize what i presented before : To promote industrial design as an economic matter.

We really do think that design offers us a new means to appreciate economics and management.
Design is the way to federate people in companies and to motivate them to work on projects of creation,
As i said already, Industrial cesign gives us the opportunity to place creation at the heart of the economy, and gives it a meaning : better products tomorrow for a better life.

In France, Most of the Managers are people coming from « Exact Sciences ».
We think managers from now on should be men and women aware of human ressources, creativity, with great intuition in their approach…In one word Designers. Our role is to prepare the managers of tomorrow. Engineers give us the opportunity to be « high tech », designers create the generation of « high touch » management.