My current lectures for the University of Dundee’s 3rd year students in design and the market explores the future of work in design.
The first lecture new challenges considered the fast pace of change in work and employment and sketched out some of the broad trends taking place. We looked at technological, economic and demographic changes which are set to transform work practices and structures – but I stressed that this does not predetermine the future. I quoted Karl Marx, who said that people “make their own history” and that there is the opportunity to shape the future ourselves. But as Marx quickly went on to explain “they do not make it just as they please, but under circumstances transmitted from the past”. Yes, we can make our own futures, but we have to understand the preconditions, constraints (but equally, opportunities) that the past gives us.
Generational developments, and the tectonic demographic shifts currently taking place – linked to an ageing population – is perhaps the most significant constraint for the future. We considered how the pre-boomers, babyboomers, generation x and generation y looked at work and identity. The characteristics of Gen Y were explored by Don Tapscott in his book Grown Up Digital. In the UK, the think tank Reform described them as the IPOD generation in their report. Notably, Gen Y is less politically engaged than other generations, which means that they are less regarded by political parties. However, the rise of student activism and protest could suggest a shift, as Laurie Penny argues.
A recent issue of Time magazine has looked at the future of work. In this issue it was argued that “Most of the best jobs will be for people who manage customers, who organize fans, who do digital community management. We’ll continue to need brilliant designers, energetic brainstormers and rigorous lab technicians.” A key argument of the Time feature, supported by other research, is that women are likely to play a far greater role in management and business. A further trend which developments this month support, is bi-generational leadership. The most successful high tech start ups in the US have leadership teams that include both Babyboomers and Gen Y. The lecture dwelt for a short time on the virtues of bi-generational leadership in Universities.
The future belongs to the T-shaped practitioner, by which specialist knowledge skills are balanced by cross-disciplinary inter-personal skills. This all comes together in our context through the Design Council’s work on multidisciplinary design education. As it explains: “Tim Brown, CEO of design firm IDEO, which has been a vocal proponent of the need for ‘T-shaped people’, describes these ideal employees as ‘specialists with a passion and empathy for people and for other subject areas’”. I finished the lecture by suggesting that increasingly we are inventing the nature of work as we do it – a bit like building planes in the sky.
The second lecture creative futures examined how recent research has shed light on the nature of careers and employment for design graduates. The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) undertook the “largest-ever study of the career patterns of graduates from UK courses in art, design, craft and media explores graduates’ experiences of higher education, their activities since graduating, the work they are currently engaged in, and their plans for the future.” From the IES website you can download the three major reports that have come out of this study. In short, the research shows that graduates are making use of their creative education, are generally positive about their work, are increasingly pursuing portfolio working lives, and value their education. However, the research suggests that art and design graduates “had less well‐developed IT, networking and client‐facing skills”. Within the lecture we were unable to explore the detail of the research. Students are strongly advised to look at the reports, especially creative career stories.
There is little difference in terms of career patterns between students who pursue craft-based or industry-based design disciplines – both require entrepreneurial skills and involve portfolio working. The Crafts Council has commissioned research that studies the career patterns of craft graduates, which has resulted in a number of reports that can be accessed from their website. The Making Value report by Mary Schwarz and Dr Karen Yair is of particular interest. The survey and report New lives in the making by myself and Alison Cusworth was published in 1998, but shows very similar patterns of employment. The book The Independents by Charles Leadbeater and Kate Oakley published by Demos is also from the late 90s, but it has some highly relevant observations and advice for emergent creative professionals today.