Product Designer

Design Blog

Is it worth going to university to study product design?

I am coming fresh this summer out of a four year product design degree, and this question has been ringing in my mind for a number of weeks while trying to find a job: do people wanting to get into the field of product design/industrial design need to really go to university to start their career?

There are many good reasons why you should go to university don't get me wrong: the formal training from tutors and lecturers, an ability to fail and learn from your mistakes but not at the cost of the client, and the relationships you make with your friends which you (and I) will likely rely on when in industry. However, with the increasing cost of fees within UK universities and the cost of living, surely there is a better way for people who are wanting to get into the world of industrial design.

For context, I left my 4-year course at university with £36,000 of debt from tuition fees alone, compared with £12,000 for people who started before 2012. Add on top the money borrowed for living expenses, and I live safe in the knowledge I will never pay off my debt to the government over the next 30 years but will instead be a 9% education tax on everything over £25,000 I earn.

What would the alternative to this be? Well, one option would be apprenticeships, a method of learning which has seen a resurgence in the last number of years. Design consultancies and in-house design teams could take on designers fresh out of A-levels or possibly even earlier and teach them the ropes within the industry. Alongside on the job training, time would be spent in formal education learning things such as materials, manufacture, and software (CAD possibly the most significant learning curve for students). These apprentices would also build up a portfolio of live projects with real clients from the word go, rather than the theoretical ones seen in many degrees, and gain experience which many graduates are looking for work often miss (me being one of those graduates).

It was a possible solution which I spoke with a former tutor about while studying. An owner of a design consultancy himself, he said that they still have to fill the gap between their degree and industry when they join, taking up to a year before they become an asset to the company. The ability to teach from the beginning while working on live projects, it could be a method where students would not have a debt over their head, and companies knowing what the skillset of their workforce will be, seeing their apprentices progress.

This route would, however, bring some downfalls: companies would be taking more of risk through this route despite a levy to reduce financial risk. Apprentices would not get the same creative freedom as during university to find their process of working. Instead, they would be made to work in the way and style the company wants them to. This lack of creative freedom could hinder them later in their career if they decide to move on to a new company.

As you can see, I have barely touched the surface on this topic: but I believe that this is something which should be considered by the people at the top of the industry. Surely the ability to create more routes into the industry would allow people to become better designers, following their path rather than the current academic model?