In addition to visiting design schools and viewing the students works we also want to use our 2017 #campustour to gather impression on contemporary European design education from those directly involved, on both the student and the teaching sides.
If, as we are so fond of repeating, the works the students produce are secondary to how they got there, not only are the views of those people who help them get there important, but also how the students experienced the trip.
We can’t speak with everyone, it would arguably be dull if we did, but we do hope to bring a mix of differing and interesting voices, starting with Peter Barker, Head of Industrial Design and Director of Education, at Design School Kolding.
A graduate of the Royal College of Art London, Peter Barker spent over a decade working as a design consultant across a range of disciplines before switching to design education and the post of Principle Lecturer in Industrial Design at Coventry University, in which context he also served as both Undergraduate Programme Manager and Postgraduate Programme Director. Following 20 years at Coventry University Peter swapped the English Midlands for America’s West Coast and a tenure as Assistant Professor of Industrial Design at California State University, Long Beach, before returning to Europe, initially to Central St Martins London and since August 2015 Design School Kolding.
In addition to his design and teaching work Peter Barker was also employed for 17 years as an editorial consultant to MiniWorld Magazine. More pleasure than work one imagines, the Mini being one of his stated passions.
We spoke with Peter about Design School Kolding and the challenges of contemporary design education, but as ever started by asking what led him to a career in design?
Peter Barker: My family have a long tradition in engineering, and I initially studied mechanical engineering at Portsmouth University. Towards the end of my undergraduate studies I designed a pushchair, and that experience saw me become increasingly interested in design and subsequently led me to complete a master in Industrial Design. On account of my background I initially focussed on the heavy end of design, principally machines, but over time my consultancy progressed into more general areas and I have worked on projects as varied as housewares, toys, bicycles, electrical components ……
smow blog: You’ve been at Design School Kolding since 2015, why the decision for Kolding?
Peter Barker: I very much like the style of teaching in Kolding, a lot of subjects are taught across departments, for example we teach subjects such as design theory, colour theory, or 3D visualisation across the whole school. The size of the school means that we can do that, and I believe it makes a lot of sense both educationally and in terms of the students’ professional and personal development. And what I didn’t know when I took the position, but know now, is that Denmark has the highest GDP spend on education in Europe, and so it’s good to be in a country where education is taken seriously!
smow blog: Which also links in nicely with your selection of the folkeskole for the Beyond Icons exhibition, just briefly why did you select the folkeskole ……
Peter Barker: Last summer I visited a Danish primary school, and it reminded me of my own primary school, so much so that I realised the English authorities must have copied it wholesale! As with other countries, the 1930s saw a period of social revolution in Denmark, something they however were able to continue developing during the war, and so by the end of the war Denmark was streets ahead of the rest of Europe in areas such as primary education, and so their folkeskole served as a model for other countries to reform their education systems, in addition to being an important cornerstone of contemporary Danish society
smow blog: Coming back to Kolding, from what you said about teaching across departments, we assume that means it is principally project based system at Kolding….?
Peter Barker: Very much so. The tradition in Denmark is that the students concentrate on one project at a time, and not, as is often the case for example in British universities, that students are often working on multiple projects at the same time. Yes, you have to learn to multi-task, that’s part of a professional training, and is often the argument against the Danish system, but in allowing the students to focus on one project they can approach it in a much more concentrated, whole-hearted fashion.
smow blog: And is that that principally groups, and across mixed years…….?
Peter Barker: About 50% of the time group work, and that tends to be from within the same stage of education, but mixed in terms of discipline. We have, for example, an annual project with the shoe manufacturer ECCO in which students from fashion & textiles, industrial design and accessory design all work together.
smow blog: Collaborations is a good key word, we noticed that all the graduation projects were collaborations with external partners, is that a pre-requisite, or……?
Peter Barker: Yes, the students have to collaborate with someone, whereby it doesn’t have to be a company it can be a public body or institution, but they have to cooperate with somebody outside the school, and somebody of stature…….
smow blog: …….and the thinking behind that is?
Peter Barker: On the one hand it’s good for them and their education, and is also an easy and effective way of moving the students on from education to work. In many respects the graduation project is a very good stage to start working in a more professional manner and helps makes the transition to working life much easier.
smow blog: Does however raise questions about the authorship of the projects, in how far is the school involved in such matters?
Peter Barker: Under Danish law the students’ rights as a designer mean their work belongs to them. However to ensure that all parties are clear regarding the situation we do have a standard contract which both the student and the collaboration partner sign at the beginning and which regulates the framework of the cooperation. Personally I find that very sensible, not least because I have known student projects go very badly wrong as the intellectual property rights situation wasn’t clarified at the beginning.
smow blog: You mentioned earlier the size of the school, you are relatively small, but do you feel visible?
Peter Barker: We are small school and so we have to shout loudly, which I believe one does most effectively through ensuring the quality of your education. Our fashion department is listed as the 26th best globally, which is a fantastic achievement for a school of our size, and our product design and accessory design departments are amongst the top 50 in Europe, which places them well above our numerical position, so yes we feel visible.
smow blog: Also in terms of attracting international students, our feeling is that ever more design courses means the competition between design schools is getting ever more competitive?
Peter Barker: There is more competition, but Danish design is currently very much on the up, is very much in demand and is experiencing a real boom phase, consequently there is currently a lot of international interest in Danish design schools. For our part we are currently receiving applications from Asia, South America, North America as well as from across Europe, and that indicates to me that we are visible and have a very good international reputation which is also important in helping us pursue our aim of helping Danish design through involving and promoting international exchange.
smow blog: Design as a profession is evolving ever faster, must design education also evolve, change or…..
Peter Barker: It not only has to change but it has to anticipate change, we have to produce the designers now for the world in five years. And that is extremely difficult! It means staying continually ahead of the game, that we have to explore anything new, every new movement, every new technology first, before our colleagues in industry, and try to anticipate where things are moving, what is going to be relevant, so that we can produce students capable of dealing competently and professionally in a rapidly changing world.
smow blog: Which presumably means as a design school continually investing in new technology?
Peter Barker: Yes, but not only in new technology also in research, our textile department for example is continually working on developing new materials, one current project is investigating new biodegradable materials for the soles of shoes to replace the current plastic based materials, and such research is important in helping to keep us ahead of the game. As is promoting new thinking, which is why we invite a lot of international guest lecturers and speakers to come to Kolding to discuss new ideas, new approaches with the students, to try to plant some seeds….
smow blog: A large part of your biography is cars, in context of anticipating the future, autonomous vehicles appear an inevitability, but do you see that as a positive development….?
Peter Barker: I think particularly for freight it is a very sensible solution, more freight by rail is also a sensible solution, but that is expensive, takes up a lot of land and so autonomous vehicles are in my opinion a sensible alternative. I’m less certain if in the long term it will establish itself for personal transport. For regular journeys, so the school run, going to the supermarket, commuting to work, it makes enormous sense, and I’m sure autonomous vehicles will be a lot safer and more efficient. However for longer journeys, heading off on road trip, I’m not so certain, there I think the actual experience of driving is important.
smow blog: And to end, what would be you’re advice to any new graduate?
Peter Barker: Stay open minded. Assumptions are the enemy in design, the thing you take for granted today is tomorrow’s dinosaur, and so you have to remain flexible. In many respects you almost have to start each day afresh. And that makes design very different from other professions, you wouldn’t for example say that to a lawyer, start each day as if you’ve never met the law!
Full details on Design School Kolding can be found at: www.designskolenkolding.dk