Design and ?

Paul Woodward
23rd March 2016 at 10:14

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, Design and ?

When Design and Technology was created 27 year ago as part of the first National Curriculum, the world was very different from today. There was no Blu-Ray or DVD, the Nintendo Game Boy was the pinnacle of gaming technology, the Intel 486 CPU ran at a measly 50 MHz and the first episode of the Simpsons aired on TV….ok, so not everything has changed. 

In the 27 years since, most of us have become familiar with the term ‘Design and Technology’ either as teachers or students; possibly both. The subject was created at a time of great technological change and one where only science or technical subjects had access to cutting edge technology, but hasn’t everything changed now and is there really a need to retain technology in the title of this subject?

Technology may once have been a relatively new aspect in the study of Design but surely it’s now a part of modern life and integral to most subjects in education. The typical modern student is one who lives a life full of designer goods and engineered products, they use technology on an almost daily basis and the whole of the developed world is dependent on the use of technology in one form of another. Take the silicon away and the world would grind to a halt! What may have been ‘cutting edge’ back in 1989 and worthy of discreet study is perhaps best considered an element of today’s lifestyle. Technology once expensive and specialised is becoming indistinguishable from domestic goods, I wonder how long before 3D printers appears in the Argos catalogue and under Christmas trees.

Art uses a range of traditional materials but also incorporates digital editing software yet there is no Art and Technology, it doesn’t exist. There is no English and Technology or Business and Technology. ICT has dropped the technology to become computing and even Food Technology has found itself a new title sans the ‘T’ word. It has become expected that technology will be used in most subjects but they don’t need to incorporate it in their subject titles. In fact I cannot think of any others that still do!  

If I may use an analogy with Music, design is much like the traditional aspects of notation, composition etc. The musician uses a range of tools to craft a thing of beauty much like a craftsman does with materials. Just as the modern designer/maker will use technology to aid them, so the modern musician will use technology to help create beautiful music. It is no longer a technology to be embraced by any one particular subject.

If we take technology from the title then the focus returns to the creative process of design with technology simply being an element of the product being designed, a way of designing more productively or as a tool to aid in its creation. Is that any different from a modem, mouse, printer or monitor serving their purpose in other subjects? Furthermore, are we losing valuable drawing and modelling skills because the CAD program can do it more easily. Have we lost the ability to calculate, mark out and cut accurately because the laser cutter and software does it for us? We managed to develop these skills perfectly well before we had the choice.

Surely Design as an area of study is strong enough to stand on its own legs without the need for technology as a crutch. Take the ‘technology’ from the title and you are left with a specialism that, like all other modern subjects, will use whatever technology is available or necessary to successfully achieve the end result. If a student wishes to craft a one off bespoke piece of work in hardwood, that should be as viable as designing a flat pack piece of space saving furniture to be produced by laser cutter in order to lower production costs. As long as they meet the needs of the client and demonstrate a range of assessable design skills. All too often it’s the levering in of technology unnecessarily that reduces a project to little more than mundane and one seen again and again in workshops.

I am sure there are Design and Technology purists who will be up in arms at my suggestion but I am not advocating the removal of ‘technology’ from the subject, just suggesting it’s not necessary in the title. The technology used should be relevant to the design task undertaken rather than a means to meet assessment criteria by simply ticking off requirement on a checklist or to justify investment in a piece of machinery.

We are already seeing the numerous strands of the subject combined into a single title but ask yourself; does Design really sound so bad as a subject title? Should Art and Design also evolve to avoid confusion with the subjects? Given the convergent nature of these subjects  they could well become a multi-disciplinary subject within the school where you could offer either Art or Design as a specialism much like Art and Design already offer multiple routes within one syllabus. In many ways, this is already happening in schools where Technology is no longer part of traditional STEM faculties and has embraced Art under a creative banner. Given the way creative subjects are under threat from the EBacc and Progress 8 measures, the worm could turn and design (and its associated technology) may well eventually be embraced by Art departments in order to survive.


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.