Fractures in the faculty: the state of sustainable design teaching in the UK
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Design is integral to the UK economy, and with the rise of service design and design thinking has also become a means of addressing society’s greatest challenges – such as social and environmental sustainability. Design education is under pressure however, and there is an apparent disconnect between the concerns of young people and the ‘real’ world, and the traditional preoccupations of design courses: creating and selling more stuff. This study was conducted in collaboration with the Royal Society of Art’s Student Design Awards (SDA). 55 staff were surveyed and a further 13 staff and 8 students interviewed from 32 design faculties across the UK, to gain a comprehensive picture of sustainability as taught in a variety of courses. We found that when staff were given support and autonomy, with sustainability embedded in marking criteria, they were able to integrate it in their teaching with very successful results. On the other hand, if staff had a poor appreciation of sustainable design, saw it as a cost or hassle and lacked support from industry or management, it was less likely to feature in the courses. The divide between those who saw design as primarily about making things and those who saw it as a means to address systemic and behavioural problems in society was striking, as was the impact that individual staff could make through their own passion and tenacity. Although design was seen as key to future global innovation, external pressures like finance played a significant role in influencing the topics taught.