Our learning: Design education

Lynne Elvins, Design Strategist  Design Rally

Lynne Elvins, Design Strategist Design Rally


An important part of the Werkhouse weekend was an open conversation about design training. The group shared and compared the experiences they had at a variety of university courses across the UK, as well as overseas. And some explained how they had found a self-taught route to a design career.

A clear message was that university design courses vary. Some are excellent, and students revealed just how much they had learnt, and how much experience they had been able to gain. Others raised issues about unmet expectations or a lack of facilities or industry connections.

There was a sense that design courses carry a message of ‘the grade is not the focus’. Instead, developing a portfolio and adding the ‘extras’, such as work experience, collaborative projects or working on real briefs, is said to be more valued by the industry.



The situation also seems to reflect that the assessment process is not suited, and sometimes even prohibits, the ability to award marks for team projects, work experience or extra curricula effort.



Given that all courses are priced at similar rates, it was also felt that it can be hard to choose or know exactly what to expect. Website information can be vague and some felt they had ‘gone in blind’. 

The true cost of courses was also highlighted, as it was felt to be hidden or not communicated clearly. ‘We never see or touch the course fees, it’s like they don’t exist.

And then you start to pay them when you have a job and you go WOW, that’s a big investment. Would they have felt differently if they been asked to sign a cheque for £27,000 before starting? ‘Yes’ one Werkhouse participant said, ‘if the cost had been clearer, I would have thought about it more’. 

But Werkhouse didn’t set out to criticise courses. Everyone involved appreciates that resources are tight and expectations can be too high. Universities can’t provide everything. They are not there to spoon-feed. And they cannot guarantee anyone a job – it’s competitive out there!

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