The department of the future?

Paul Woodward
8th April 2016 at 13:43

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, The department of the future?

‘We stand now at the turning point between two eras. Behind us is a past to which we can never return ….’ Arthur C. Clarke 1952.

It is often asked of candidates at interview ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ but in a subject like design and technology, perhaps a more informative question might be to ask where you see the subject itself in 5 or 10 years! This got me thinking about the next wave of design education; not the imminent reforms but a curriculum 10 or 15 years from now; presuming the subject still exists in its current form. Imagine it like a time capsule; I will jot down my ideas for the future, bury them, then dig them up when I retire and see if I am right. Here goes…

Given the increase in technology and reduction in manufacturing costs, laser cutters and 3D printers as discreet objects will be a thing of the past replaced with the CAM equivalent of today’s all purpose printer. Multi head machines that can laser, etch, mill or print in 2D or 3D. You will simply create products and send them to be produced. Large bulky manufacturing machines will be phased out on the grounds of health and safety leaving workshops looking more like design studios. Such traditional past times as woodwork will be taught as historical enrichment clubs after school presuming the school day hasn’t extended so far as to make such activities impractical. 

3D printing will have replaced wasting processes and be as common as laser copying around the school instantaneously providing edible objects in food, humane lab rats for science experiments, sculptures in art and components and products in design. Graphene will be the material of the moment and will have revolutionised the world in much the same way plastics did in the last century. Materials sourced from nature will be almost obsolete in school to be replaced with biodegradable, reprocessed and recyclable materials.  

Technology will no longer be unique to the subject now simply known as design and ICT will no longer exist as a subject as it will be integral to all areas of study. In much the same way as the media, there will be a gradual blurring of content between subjects and design will become a modular subject where units in business and marketing can be taken with science and engineering or product design and packaging. Art will not be confined to traditional media nor design based on construction. Digital media in all areas will exist alongside the more traditional pursuits of architecture and industrial design.

Students will have a clear working knowledge of the design process learnt through the previous key stage and experience of working in a range of digital and physical media. Project work would require a knowledge of aspects of the business world, scientific principles, use of mathematics and be well versed in the use of all aspects of computer technology and language. They would create and store digital work digitally yet be expected to have a working knowledge of ‘historical’ communication methods including freehand sketching and traditional rendering techniques even if this is done on electronic paper directly linked to the cloud.

The internet will no longer be something you simply log into to view. From arriving at school to leaving it will be an integral part of school life; constantly connected and immersive with web pages being replaced by virtual experiences that extend beyond the classroom with all work delivered and stored digitally. Class teachers will be real but will also be accessible in virtual space once school is closed and the concept of a school day will be a long forgotten concept.

The environment will no longer be a ‘green issue’ or an afterthought in project work but an integral part of each and every project undertaken with students asked to consider their contribution to the community and the world in general. Predefined tasks would be obsolete and examination level students would discover their own real world problems to solve or anticipate the need for a product or service; a skill that would be developed from a young age.  Such tasks will become focussed on solving real world problems, meeting the demands of the consumer or providing opportunities for commercial development rather than inviting birds into the garden.

Modules of work would be credited against an overall attainment score and students would be awarded a title of design with [insert modules here]. They would leave school with a wide range of design and make skills coupled with technological and problem solving skills. They would be competent designers and/or makers depending on their personal choice of module. 

There will still be hand tools and machinery but they will often relegated to displays for historical reference although some teachers may still offer classes in traditional construction in order to keep historical skills alive. On this one I fear the changes from this era might have eradicated such approaches to design or relegated them to vocational courses in colleges.

Of course, this speculation could go on indefinitely but this is simply what I would imagine to be a future creative design department and you are free to disagree or dream your own dream. Whether you read irony in this piece given current attitudes to the subject, or if some of the predictions appear more dystopian than utopian, will depend on your own point of view. However, do take this for what it is: a teacher on Easter break musing on what this subject might be like in the future if indeed, it is given the chance to survive that far in the current educational system.


Paul Woodward has been a teacher of DT for 22 years in a range of schools with stints as HOD and Head of Faculty, qualified to MA level and an examiner and moderator of Resistant Materials for the AQA.