‘Design isn’t about spotty socks – it’s problem-solving’

22nd July 2016 at 00:00
Dundee museum will show that creativity is crucial in all subjects and industries, learning manager says

Being a designer is not about being able to draw or wearing bright clothes and spotty socks, says Joanna Mawdsley, learning manager at the V&A Museum of Design in Dundee.

When Mawdsley visits schools – which she does regularly – she points out to pupils that design is all around them, produced by people working in myriad different fields.

Everything has to be designed: the mobile phone alarm that wakes them up in the morning; the clothes that they wear; the transport that they take to school. Mawdsley gets pupils to look at landmarks like the Forth Bridge and the Falkirk Wheel, and talk about designers, both past and present, who have hailed from Scottish shores – such as Ian Callum, design director at Jaguar (see box, “Driving innovation”, below).

Inventive and entrepreneurial

“Scotland is just full to the brim with amazing designers and I don’t think people realise that – how inventive and entrepreneurial Scotland was and continues to be,” Mawdsley says. “Here in Dundee, the digital technology and gaming industry is massive. Those people are designers. Our museum will push the message that designers and creative thinkers are needed in all different areas of work.”

It is a source of frustration for Mawdsley that people – including teachers – often think of design projects as art projects, and that the subject can “get lost” in schools because it is wrapped up in art and design, design and manufacture or design and technology. In reality, design is about problem-solving and is relevant to all subjects, she argues.

It is “the glue that holds everything together” and should be a more prominent part of the curriculum, she believes: “We need to be clear about what we mean by design. It’s a bit of a mixed-up term because people think it just means being able to draw or wearing bright clothes and spotty socks.

“Being creative is about looking at things in a different way or questioning things. It’s like being a detective. Design thinking is problem-solving and is such a useful tool for the world of work.”

Mawdsley – a former art and design teacher from Liverpool who was schools education officer at the National Galleries of Scotland before joining V&A Dundee – has been in post since 2014 even though the museum will not open its doors until summer 2018. “It will be my role to make the objects sing, to come alive,” she says. “To make them exciting and relevant and to make people look differently at them and to get people talking about them.”

Her work on the schools programme has been supported by seconded teachers: Sandy Hope, an art and design teacher from Dundee’s Craigie High, returns to school in August after two years on the project and will be replaced by Susan Whyte, a teacher from Claypotts Castle Primary in the city. She will be seconded for a year, but Dundee City Council has committed to releasing teachers to work with the V&A for a total of 10 years.

“I would like to get different subject teachers – it would be great if we could get a science teacher seconded,” Mawdsley says.

Robots and relaxation

The museum is still being built, so Mawdsley has – rather aptly – had to be creative when it comes to engaging with schools. “It can be a bit surreal not having objects or a museum but it pushes us more and makes us think differently,” she says.

The museum ran a schools design challenge last year, asking the question: “How could you improve your school or school life?” More than 1,000 S1 pupils in 250 teams submitted an answer and 10 teams were selected to work with professional designers to develop their idea and create a prototype.

St Paul’s RC Academy in Dundee created an anti-bullying robot that listened to pupils’ concerns; Brechin High in Angus came up with a musical relaxation garden, and Webster’s High, also in Angus, invented a learning device, like a tablet, that could be powered by fidgeting.

Next on the horizon is a national schools project, due to launch in September, which the museum is running in conjunction with the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Pupils studying design and manufacturing at Higher will be given the chance to create an object as part of their course, with the design becoming a reality for one lucky student. “Just wait until you find out what the object is,” Mawdsley says. “It’s amazing!”


Joanna Mawdsley will deliver a seminar called “Can creativity be taught?” at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow on 22 September. Find out more at bit.ly/ScotLearnFest

Driving innovation

Ian Callum, design director at luxury car manufacturer Jaguar, was born and bred in Dumfries. At the age of 14, in 1968, he submitted a car design to Jaguar in hope of landing a job and got a letter back from William Heynes, the chief engineer at the time.

In it, Heynes praised his ideas and general conception and advised him to take up engineering drawing training at “the earliest possible moment” and “some art training in due course”. Callum joined Jaguar in 1999.

‘A living room for the city’

The V&A Museum of Design – the first design museum in the UK to be built outside London – will be the centrepiece of a £1 billion redevelopment of Dundee’s waterfront.

It is due to open in summer 2018, and will be Japanese architect Kengo Kuma’s first building in Britain. He says that he wants the museum to be a “living room for the city” – a place for all to enjoy and to be inspired by.

The galleries will be the first dedicated home for telling the story of Scotland’s design heritage. However, the project has had some bad press owing to spiralling costs, which have risen from £45 million to £80 million.

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