What Are The Skills Required For A Teacher Of Product Design?

Product DesignI have just answered a question on a forum I use whereby a colleague has asked what, exactly, are the skills required for a teacher of Product Design?  As someone who has taught and worked with Schools & a few Universities over 27 years delivering Product Design (and has now moved on into a consultancy capacity) I felt I could offer some thoughts based on reasonable experience.

For me, the key skills (in no particular order) are:

  • The ability to sketch with a pencil/biro on paper for me is the most important. You don’t have to be a ‘brilliant sketcher (some are, some aren’t…) but a picture really does paint a thousand words. Convey your ideas freely and spontaneously in the first instance. You can then sieve through all the ‘reality’ checks regarding manufacture, costs, health and safety etc. as you develop your concepts and ideas.
  • Modelling/prototyping and manufacture is vital.  Forget any CAM at this stage but having basic key making skills across a range of resistant (woods, metals, plastics) and compliant (paper, card, clay) materials is a requirement of the job, not incidental.
  • Don’t have a fear about the latest CAD/CAM software or latest technology. Be aware of it, have a grasp of what it can do for you then look to use part of your team to apply the bits you need. Don’t expect to be a knowledgeable user on everything.  Know what you want and drag the resources (human and other…) towards your goal. You will have skills in one or two areas but invariably as a product designer you will be, re-wording a well-known phrase slightly, ‘Jack of all trades, master of one or two possibly…
  • Take risks. Challenge the status Quo BUT be prepared to support and justify your decisions – back them up with substance.  Always ask ‘Why not?’ rather than simply ‘Why?’
  • Stay on top of communication throughout a project be it Twitter, email or phone calls. Above all else, don’t forget that ‘facemail’ i.e. talking to someone over a beer, coffee etc. is the most important part of a project and establishing a rapport with your pupils/students/clients/customers/colleagues is vital. In today’s society it is being rapidly forgotten but people skills are crucial to success.  Don’t lose them.
  • Don’t be afraid to say to a student/colleague/client simply ‘I don’t know’. On teacher training I have seen so many good practitioners trip and stumble by trying to pretend that they know an answer because they feel that they will lose face. Don’t. Be honest. You will get more respect that way. Admit you are unsure and then say ‘…however, let’s go and see what we can find out about this to try and get an accurate answer…’ Everyone learns then.
  • When using the World Wide Web to research things don’t just search in your own language. Use words from other cultures. I am still amazed when I see youngsters (and adults) gathering research by, for example, just typing in English words. Use French, Spanish (Mandarin or Japanese if you want to show off…). Chair/Chaise/silla, car/voiture/coche and so on. Not everyone writes their websites in English (or French or Spanish…). You open up a whole extra slice of the internet regarding idea generation by doing this.
  • Listen to your students/clients. Show an appreciation for what they are saying to you. Tease out the important bits of information. Never wade in directly and say to someone (especially a youngster) that their idea is stupid, silly or fantasy. You don’t have that right. Guide them, educate them, inspire them but never stamp on their ideas.
  • Above all else, enjoy what you do. As a teacher of design, irrespective of discipline, every day brings a new challenge and that is a wonderful way to work.

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