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Milan 2013: On design education

Right on the outer edge of Ventura Lambrate is LAP! a bright white space that this year plays host to exhibitions, talks, galleries and more. The first of three Milan Breakfasts looks at the role of education in design.  

By Cassandra Pizzey /asdf 15-04-2013

On Wednesday 10 April the first of three Milan Breakfast hosted by The New Institute and Design Academy Eindhoven took place at LAP!, was there to take notes. 

Joining the discussion – led by art critic Tracy Metz – were Guus Beumer, head of The New Institute, Justin McGuirk, author and critic, Alberto Bonisoli, Chief Academic Officer, Domus Academy and Jurgen Bey, designer and teacher at the Sandberg Institute. 


The discussion focussed on design education and where it is leading graduates. 


Some opening statements are given by Guus Beumer, the new Director of The New Institute (a merger between NAi, Premsela and Virtueel Platform). Many audience members will know Milan for it’s fashion weeks and it’s design week. “Although after fashion week Milan is dominated by just a handful of big brands, design week leaves the public with knowledge of independent designers.” Even though, there seems to be a large gap between the professional companies who present their latest products at large stands at the actual Salone del Mobile (some 14 km outside the city), and the independent designers who choose a show more central to the city in areas such as Zona Tortona, Rho Fiera or Venture Lambrate. 


Milan has grown over the years to become a public-driven event throughout the city, and not just at the Official Salone del Mobile. Young designers are brought in by big brands to create a buzz. “They aren’t paid in money but in PR”, says McGuirk. 


The author goes on to compare how each year in China some 10,000 design students graduate, “we need to rethink what designers are for.” According to McGuirk, the pyramid of big name brands, established designers and graduates is slowly changing. “We’re seeing more craft-based designers instead of product-based, but we need to teach them entrepreneurial skills.”


It’s true that brands will present works by young designers, but these are often part of existing presentations, commissions or special exhibitions. Many designers benefit greatly from this exposure, finding interested producers to back their next projects. 


According to head of the Domus academy Milan, Alberto Bonisoli we aren’t training too many designers. “You can’t teach design, it requires talent” he explains. With a Bachelor Master ratio of 10:1, we are seeing many young graduates choose a different path than the one they started. “The industrial designers tend to stay on for a Master’s course, but they do need to learn marketing skills, how to be self-sustainable.”


So do graduates need to be multi-talented these days to make it? “Real product design is undervalued and there aren’t enough commissioners,” says Jurgen Bey. McGuirk agrees and adds that designers need to be diverse. With so many different paths for graduates to take after their training, designers are becoming interdisciplinary. This allows the design community to keep growing. McGuirk: “Designers are even designing their own courses.”


Is there then really a need for design education? If not to teach design then surely as a place to meet, discuss and work together. As long as they offer diversification then yes, each school should be different, focussing on specific subjects or skills. As should each design week. “If each self-respecting city is hosting a design week, why not focus on certain topics, one specially about design education for instance,” says Jurgen Bey. 


Bonisoli: “There has been a big change in schools over the past ten years. I see schools as a shelter from bog companies. We allow them to work with our students but insist the students keep intellectual property.” 

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