Design and Technology - Get their hands dirty

14th September 2012 at 01:00
The joy of design is in the doing, so more projects in class, please

When I realised that my chances of becoming a fairy were pretty slim, I focused on my other obsession: making stuff. But it wasn't until secondary school that my passion for design really grew. I chose to go to a City Technology College and remember feeling thrilled at the open day on seeing all the machines in the design department.

What I love about design is that the feeling of achievement never really goes away. With every project there is a wave of new things to learn. At the age of 26, I have just completed an MA in design products at London's Royal College of Art. But reflecting on my design education, I realise it sometimes seems to have been taught in reverse.

At secondary school the syllabus was quite rigid. The practical lessons and written work seemed like two separate subjects and I could not relate one to the other. I found learning from a text book incredibly mundane compared to the practical side and would have benefited if the practical and theory lessons had been intertwined.

Why I had to learn the names for all the parts of an injection moulding machine I have no idea - knowing how to use one and what it does is quite enough.

In fact, the first thing I was taught during my art foundation year was to throw the text book out the window and forget everything I had been taught previously. This was great for inspiring lateral thinking and creative ideas. With fewer limitations, I was able to push concepts that I would have previously suppressed because they were not considered to be commercially viable. My learning became increasingly conceptual, while the business side of the subject was almost entirely put aside.

Teenagers need a balance. Perhaps teachers should be less concerned about whether students can label a wood-turning lathe or list quality-control standards and instead encourage them to wonder, and to ask: what if? They could take part in more live projects, involving them directly in real-life design situations. They would learn real constraints during the project and what is or isn't viable.

I remember a GCSE project where the school did not have the equipment to help me bed a large metal part for my vase. My design and technology teacher urged me to look outside the perimeters of the school gates and visit a local metal workshop. It was one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received. To this day I push the boundaries of what is available to me and what could be available to me.

Charlotte Kingsnorth is a contemporary industrial designer. Having just completed an MA in design products at the Royal College of Art, London, she has been commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others, to create one-of-a-kind furniture.

What else?

For a tasty design project, try leannep83's Coca-Cola flavour task. bit.lytastydesign

Or test pupils' nerves and safety knowledge with BSI Education's theme park project. bit.lyTESthemepark.

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