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Design Delinquencies

Thoughts on Educational reform - Creative Destruction versus Destructive Creativity

"Collaborative innovation, technology and sustainable ecology"
Educational reform has been at the forefront of pedagogical discourse for decades. Some believe that the primary aim in educational reform for sustaining our future should be “creative destruction”, consciously obliterating the systems and processes that we have come to accept, to make way for a more inventive curriculum in which students re-evaluate their perception of the world and the extent of the role they can take in shaping it.
The concept of creative destruction is inspired and personified by the thought of Sir Ken Robinson – adviser to government on arts education. It stands in stark contrast to the views of our former education secretary Michael Gove whose beliefs could be conversely termed as "destructively creative".
Aside from parental influence, much of our early foundational understanding of our position in society is rooted in education. This system, designed for us and supposedly in our interest, is an enormous influence on what we consider to be meaningful and valuable in our lives.  Under scrutiny, it becomes apparent that outdated ideals are still haunting modern day learning. Many schools still favour a counter intuitive rigidity and structure which prepares young minds for an age and social construct that no longer exists. It could be argued that this leaves a lasting and damaging legacy for each individual, collectively affecting us all. There has been a growing call for a complete overhaul of the experiences we provide young people with, and what this leads them to believe their futures might consist of. Many school age pupils cannot recognise their own value, and never go on to achieve their potential for the benefit of society and ecology at large, as they are not being provided with the freedom and flexibility to explore their own talents.
The 21st Century demands an inclusive focus on skills which utilises all learning styles and intelligence's, through collaboration, social interaction, problem solving and life-long learning. These are relevant and creative learning approaches which harnesses each individuals uniqueness, and we must provide children with opportunities to intellectual challenges, which allow them to fully explore these aspects of the self. In doing so, we would be preparing them to independently tackle larger complex issues important to us all, in their professional lives such as globalisation, climate change, fuel provision and biodiversity.
Ken Robinson (2013) states that we all are born with the capacity to generate creative solutions with value. He goes on to say that as children, one of our greatest talents is our ability to think laterally. This will be a vital thinking skill if young people are to participate fully in sustaining global ecology. Deakin University’s Dr Anne Grant, (2013) explains that in schools today too many young people suppress their talents or became disengaged because they are told to think and behave in a certain way. She goes on to say that as a direct result the child gets frustrated and their behaviour suffers. This story is common and indicative of wasted potential, caused by the delivery of a one size fits all model of mass education, set up in the interests and the image of the industrial revolution, where the focus is efficiency and a disregard for the qualities of the individual.
This traditional format places emphasis on graded assessment, over-structured tasks, and often, boring, irrelevant content which lacks engaging context and delivery. These issues have long been noted and highlighted by educational researchers, initiatives such as PLTS, ILPs, SMART targets and assessment FOR learning have been fed into schools and colleges in a vain attempt to rectify this apparent conflict without true impact. These initiatives support an approach which the model is unable to accommodate.
Ken Robinson (2013) believes that because of this, we are actually educating people out of their creative abilities. He notes a longitudinal study that was carried out, where children were tested for their capacity for divergent thinking, A trend emerged. As children aged and became more “educated” their scores diminished, Our schools are seemingly killing the creativity of our young people and this may worryingly prevent them from becoming valuable and productive in a fast paced 21st century society. Speak to any teacher who has been practicing for over 15 years and they will tell you that our education system evolves and revolves cyclically. It is ever shuffling the emphasis and it sits uncomfortably, never settling. New initiatives which are theoretically promising never seem to work as we continue to maintain a centralised structure of routine and insist on firefighting issues with “bolt on” improvements rather than considering a complete overhaul.
Our schools are like factories, such batch production education methods are rife with contextual awkwardness, which no longer produce anything of quality. This will continue to worsen as the approach becomes ever more obsolete. Such negligence and failure to innovate is a prime example of destructive creativity. Is “creative destruction” the answer? Will a complete overhaul turn the situation around? Perhaps we need to start from scratch and think deeply about our offer, its relevance to today and its value for tomorrow.
To cope with our changing future, education needs to reassess its sense of linearity and embrace a deliberate empirical approach advocating flexibility and ambiguity. It needs to stop trying to judge, measure, control and label everything. Instead we should embrace methods which heighten students curiosity and help sustain their childlike sense of exploration and creativity, in order to harness their potential to problem solve and tackle worthwhile tasks independently. Robinson believes that creativity now, is as important in education as literacy, and that we should treat it with the same status.
Contrast this approach with that of former education secretary Michael Gove, who wanted to see schools push more generic classical knowledge, and further standardised assessment with less emphasis on an individual’s personal development. He was symptomatic of further destructive creativity, believing that if we all adapted to follow the established and familiar pattern, then we could all be successful. This arguably contrived view disregards ranging contexts and individual aspiration. Adam Tomes (2012) who writes for revolutionary socialist group “Counterfire” said at the time: “The effect of Gove's new system is to narrow our children's education and make it less relevant to the world they live in and need to understand, leaving no space for learning in the widest sense,”
The idea of a return to verbal lectures centred on abstract thought is an archaic ideal that is unnatural and unattractive to many young people today. Had this been implemented, the majority would have been unable to resist distraction. Ken Robinson (2013) affirms that young people are living in the most intensely stimulating time in the history of the earth, yet we are medicating, penalising and labeling them as having disorders such as ADHD because their attention is diverted from the irrelevant and “boring stuff” that we deliver. Focusing on one method of delivery suited best to an auditory learner, as Gove suggested, is far removed from the multimedia platforms that children are familiar with now. It only delivers meaningful content to a small number of participants, making such method of educating ineffective and exclusive. Government must plan for and deliver services thoughtfully, resourcefully and flexibly, so that we, as individuals, can remain diverse, sustain growth and survive challenges by engaging with creative approaches to collective progress. A contemporary curriculum calls for more widespread use of multimedia and technology in provision, making delivery appealing, accessible and aesthetically engaging. This could deliver a truly intelligent experience, flexible and individualised, adapted easily for a broad range of learning preferences.
There has never been greater opportunity to implement personalised and relevant learning than there is today with the development of accessible learning technologies in VLEs. Such digital platforms present a familiar mode of operation for young people which is directly relevant to how they will need to communicate in the future. The range of apps that can be embedded can appeal to broad interests and “ways of doing”, and students have the opportunity to explore at their own pace when supported by remote tutorials and formative online feedback. A new curriculum could harness this technology as a central, versatile system for delivery of work set, to exercise a contextualised and meaningful problem solving approach. Collaborative working could exist between learning groups by embedding social media, and schools and colleges could better use their physical working space for flipped learning experiences that apply the knowledge gained and skills practiced online. Economically this would work to the institutions advantage as they would free up the constant occupation of vital assets (their property and capital equipment) so that it might be used more broadly and efficiently. It would also mean that employees could work more effectively as facilitators, utilising their specialist approaches as consultants to a wider range of individuals through a collaborative, collectively shared experience at prearranged times.
Today our collective vision for education is broader, our nation is more complex and diverse, and our technical capabilities are more powerful. But we continue to assume the factory-model classroom and its rigid bell schedules and age-based grade levels when we talk about school reform. Our focus for sustainable ecology should primarily be to take advantage of what technology can do to revolutionise and assist education to harness individual potential, Used creatively, and designed without restriction in the spirit of revolution, it could facilitate collaborative innovation for the benefit of all our futures.
Creative destruction – Remodelling the school structure and system from scratch. The radical idea of complete change in how we conceive, plan, implement and manage delivery of creative learning experiences to the benefit of all with the goal of sustainable ecology.
Destructive creativity: The production of new educational initiatives and theoretical shifts which are added onto poorly designed systems and threaten our ecosystems
Creativity: The ability to think laterally and generate innovative solutions to problems
Sustainability: to continue to remain diverse and productive over time
Ecology: the study of organisms in relation to one another
PLTS: personalised learning and thinking skills
Ecosystems: a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment (referring here to humans and how their educational experiences affect their operational potential in the world)
Flip learning: a form of blended learning in which students learn new content online by watching video lectures, usually at home, and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class with teacher offering more personalized guidance and interaction with students, instead of lecturing.
VLEs: Virtual learning environments such as “Moodle” or “Blackboard”
ILP: Individualised learning plans
SMART targets: aims which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time based.
Assessment FOR learning: Where the teacher and student work together to assess the student’s knowledge, what she or he needs to learn to improve and extend this knowledge, and how the student can best get to that point (formative assessment)
Einstein, A. (1901) Albert Einstein Quotes [ONLINE] Available at:, (accessed 01 October 2013)
Grant, A. (2013) Guidelines seek to ensure talented students get their chance to excel [ONLINE] Available at: (accessed 15th September 2013)
Marmer, M. (2013) I’m not voting in tomorrows election, I’d rather see creative destruction [ONLINE] Available at: (accessed 14th September 2013)
Papanek, V. J. (1972) Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change. First Edition. Pantheon Books.
Robinson, K. (2013) How schools kill creativity [ONLINE] Available at: (Accessed 10 July 2013)
Tomes, A. (2012) Gove Levels: the educational abyss [ONLINE] Available at: (accessed 15th September 2013)
Vasagar, J. (2011) Michael Gove to send copy of King James Bible to all English schools [ONLINE] Available at:
Posted: Thu 19th of March, 2015

Meaning matters - reflections on communicating value in divergent design and the significance of commercial branding for creative thinkers

Many creative designers begin their careers with what they believe to be a clear conceptual vision for the work they produce. Whilst in education certainly, this is reinforced when credit is offered for work which applies a complex thought process, regardless of whether it can be successfully deciphered and practically employed by commercial agents and consumers. In my experience, this can lead to the emergence of designers lead by thought rather than clear application, which in turn can make for a complex, divergent practice, difficult to communicate succinctly.As a freelance designer and product entrepreneur with a back portfolio of personal and commercial projects spanning over a decade, developed from concepts which were hailed as credible from my education, I reached a point in my career where I no longer felt a sense of purpose in what I produced. My output had shifted dramatically over a period of time, influenced by a range of "real world" external factors such as technological shift,commercial trends, market pull, access to finance and an awareness of the ever changing opportunities available to design led entrepreneurs. I had produced a vast amount of project work for various people with wide ranging agendas and as a result, I no longer felt assured of where I fitted as a practitioner.Interest in what I created seemed to rise and dwindle spontaneously with no clear rationale and therefore I felt a growing lack of direction for my work. In 2012, I decided that this needed to be analytically addressed to make some sense of how my practice was perceived and valued, and so I made the decision to embark on a deep exploration of my skills, outputs and beliefs in the hope that I may find a way to pinpoint direction and determine how to better communicate it to regain direction for my design abilities.I recognised that my skillset was broad and that I was enthused by more than one area of creative thinking and process, so I first needed to establish what ultimately drove me to work in this way. In the past, I strived to produce work which addressed tangible problems, work which applied ecology to material choice and work which held a human story. Over the years this had expanded to include educational aspects, sharing my beliefs on the opportunities that both design thinking and consumer understanding could bring to both individuals and organisations as they developed and engaged with the products we use everyday. I realised that ultimately I wanted to engage people withthe broader significance of the experience of design, and the benefits it can bring to both our emotional state and our practical abilities.Initially I had thought that the key to this might be in working on bespoke briefs as opposed to designing for industry. Producing things of significant functional and sentimental value to an individual rather than struggling with the complexity of attempting to address issues concerning mass civilisation, global cultures and economic matters when trying to create a product which meets a broader need, which often results in diluted impact due to the nature of corporate operations. With far fewer demands to satisfy, I figured that the imagination is surely only limited by the resource offered by the commissioning agent when working on one off outputs to commission. In considering the balance, it became apparent that whilst I might be more able to deeply involve individuals in the creative process in the realisation of one -offs (and therefore be able to engage a few in the significance of the experience of design), ultimately I would have less impact on a broader scale in communicating the benefits of strategic thinking to larger audiences.In an attempt to readdress this balance, I considered the potential for advocating craft as a method for self fulfillment in both a practical and emotive sense through trialing the development of DIY product packs which employed self crafting. I figured that this might both allow an individual to adapt a design for personal significance, yet take advantage of current commercial systems to reach a wider market through a standardisation process that would streamline potential reach. For this, I developed a graphic instruction set for individuals to realise their own version of handcrafted lighting from everyday materials thereby reducing labour and material costs. This experiment proved that although self crafting generated design affordability, pride in creation, and the subsequent appreciation of the transformative process, many people lacked the skills, time and dexterity to develop the outcome to its full potential.Despite the fruitlessness of this exercise in assisting me to identify a way to communicate design value, I did discover the importance of graphic projection in the presentation and subliminal communication of work, and recognised that this was a major factor in the extent to which engagement occurred. More importantly, I realised that in my use of graphics to hand over the crafting process to the end user, the emerging value behind my practice was not in what I produced, but in how I consistently attempt to offer a transformative solution through end user engagement with outcomes. The trick therefore was in finding a mechanism or "hook" to get people to engage and relate to the different aspects of my work in the first instance.I realised this could only occur through separation of my output into distinct entities. This is where "branding" comes into play to tame the undisciplined designer and allow for rational value to be uncovered from the relevant content assigned to each identity. No matter how much a creative attempts to reveal the meaning of a concept, it will remain unrecognised unless it is directed to relevant parties, and positioned in a context that is relatable. Essentially, it revolves around the basic principle of the marketing mix, (or the 4 p's) price, people, place and product. Output must be accessible (affordably priced and easy to find), understandable and visibly beneficial in the context in which it is placed so that the end user can successfully interpret and imagine its application.The result of my study lead me to the creation of three distinct commercial entities for my practice, which each spoke in a different tone for a different set of individual needs. I believe that we should not force pigeonhole creatives into committing to a single definition of who they are and what they represent, but we should help them to consider, how they can be, however simple or complex and help them to communicate it effectively to the right people in the commercial world. It took me two years to develop my separate brand identities following nine years of existing practice. It astonishes me that today, so little emphasis on the importance of effective self branding for designers to succeed commercially. Divergent thinkers are essential for contributing to innovation, If educators uphold the principle that graduates need to make impact with the work that they produce, yet fail to provide them with the necessary skills and insight to realise methods for such, then the system fails to assist them in signposting the meaning of HOW their ideas can matter.Follow my blog with Bloglovin Posted: Sun 25th of January, 2015

Assume nothing, seek to understand...