Is art the new design? Can D&T compete with the range of routes offered by art and design?

Paul Woodward
22nd June 2018 at 17:35

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, Is art the new design? Can D&T compete with the range of routes offered by art and design?

Eagle-eyed readers might notice a similarly titled blog in the design and technology section today, but there is a reason for that. As a design and technology teacher for most of my working life (but one with a history of commercial art and design), I have found myself spending more and more time in art departments over the past few years and less in the D&T workshop. I recall a time when D&T was compulsory and art attracted relatively small numbers of students, in my schools anyway. With one creative subject covered, art tended to attract those more "quirky" pupils, those who were not so good at more "academic/written" subjects or those who just genuinely wanted to study the subject.

However, all that seemed to change when D&T was removed as a compulsory subject, which left students free to choose whichever creative subject they preferred within the limitations of the options. If memory serves me well, I don’t recall any exodus towards art at the time, nor a dramatic drop in D&T numbers…but all that seems to have changed recently.

While D&T once offered many specialist routes through the GCSE, the reformed subject now has a single title subject. There are various Level 1/2 courses that address those specialisms but the GCSE takes a broad-based approach to a range of materials all under the same D&T banner. Inversely, art and design has expanded the routes available to the point where it’s perfectly possible to study elements of jewellery, architecture, interior and exhibition design, digital design, games design and many more. At last count, the AQA art and design spec offered six different routes with around 10 suggested areas of study in each. For a creative-minded student, that’s the academic equivalent of a pick 'n' mix!

As someone who struggles with the concept of limiting a student’s creativity to a 35-hour NEA task, this idea of exploring creative routes without the time constraints and free from a written examination at the end is very tempting indeed, and I have been looking very seriously at replacing the D&T GCSE with a 3D art-based option.

The bottom line is, this is the sort of course I would probably have chosen over D&T back in the day, if such a thing existed. The idea of working digitally appeals to those students with an interest in the creative aspects of technology; web design, games design, interactive and VR etc, but don’t necessarily want to study computing. Those who procrastinate over choosing art or D&T for a potential career as an architect can now explore that route through art and design while still developing CAD and model-making skills. With so many routes available, the only limitations are the skills and knowledge of the staff delivering the subject!

Here is a subject that potentially offers all the best bits of what D&T used to, that requires students to pitch an idea to a client through visual communication but one that massages a different side of the creative brain and lets students explore their creativity without time constraint as they craft their work. Considering the health and safety factors and material costs involved in running a D&T department, is it really any surprise that teachers of the subject are moving over to a 3D route through art and design? Factor in the failure to introduce the Technical Awards for students for whom examinations are too challenging, and art and design proves even more tempting for departments struggling to justify to their commitment to providing a D&T curriculum.

I remain passionate about D&T and what it could offer but feel that it is best linked with business, enterprise and science…with a smattering of maths, of course. For creative students who want to explore their creative skills in design-focused tasks, it’s easy to see the attraction of art and design. With the art and design route, students can choose one of many routes and mix them up to gain an even wider range of skills and experience. They are free to explore ideas within a context of their choosing, not one defined by an exam board, and they can still enjoy the challenge of an externally set task where they can hone the skills they have learned and develop time-management skills. For their coursework, they can select their best work for presentation rather than putting in every scrap of paper and idea they managed to squeeze into a 35/40-hour task. The more I think about it, the more tempting it all sounds.

Am I converted to art and design? Not 100 per cent just yet, as I am still hanging on to happy memories of 25 years of D&T teaching, but, if I put on my pragmatic head, I am very tempted indeed. I suspect many creative teachers able to make the move will be thinking the same as well.



Paul has taught and led Design and Technology in a variety of schools as well as working as a musician, artist, designer, examiner, moderator, resource author and D&T consultant. He is currently the Head of Creative Arts at a large independent school in the North of England.