Every Child Should Know About Design

I wish all children in the United States could know about design and have some experience of it before they reach high school age, and that design could be an option in the curriculum during the high school years, so that they could be aware of the value of design thinking in solving problems, or build a portfolio to apply for a design program at University level if they want. Is that too much to ask?

I realized that I wanted to be an industrial designer at the age of fourteen. I was growing up in the South of England, at a school with an art department and strong teaching in the sciences and math, but with no design program. I was lucky to have well informed parents, who found out about undergraduate industrial design education at the Central School of Design and the Royal College of Art in London, and persuaded the teachers at my high school to let me study a mix of art, sciences and math, so that I could prepare a portfolio and qualifications to apply for the courses. How lucky I was, but how few others in my generation had a similar opportunity!

In the 1980s, the British government decided to support design in the hope that it would provide opportunities for new creative industries, as the European Common Market had shaken out industry on a continental scale, leaving the UK as a strong center for banking and financial services, but with most of the manufacturing industries more successful elsewhere. Design was added to the national curriculum as a subject to be studied at high school, with examinations and national certification, so that you could choose design as easily as a language or a science. The effect has been dramatic, with London emerging as a European center for creative industries.

Forty-four years after I graduated from high school, I went back to visit, and found a thriving design department, well equipped and enthusiastically taught. I talked to several of the students who had chosen to take design as a major subject and reviewed their projects. Three of them would have been worthy of an “A” grade if designed by students from my undergraduate class at Stanford. That amounts to a fast start if you want to be a designer! I’m confident that there were others bound for leadership careers who had a start towards using design processes to solve complex problems.