Rowan Williams on Education

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Rowan Williams on Education

Art & design education is an intrinsic and often compulsory part of many creative disciplines. Both the Royal College Of Art (1) & University Of The Arts London (5) rank in the top 5 of art & design universities globally. Furthermore the United Kingdom is home to a bevy of other schools which consistently rank in the top 50 such as the Glasgow School of Art, the University of Oxford and the University of Loughborough which was home to Industrial Design graduate Rowan Williams for 4 years. In an interview which follows on from our chat with tutor Flora Mclean of the Royal College of Art, we asked Rowan, who is now employed by Seymourpowell, to reflect on the process of his design education in a modern and rapidly shifting world ... 

Where and what did you study? What led you to that point and what are you doing now after graduating? 

Having inspiring tutors and mentors willing to push their students to the limit contributed a long way to where I am today. Highlighting this, I must mention Simon Langton Boys. Here I was educated by a fantastic design department and was first enlightened to design in industry through the Richard Seymour and Dick Powell 'Better by Design' TV show.

I studied at Loughborough University, during which time I completed a one year placement at Vax and graduated with a BA in Industrial Design. The exposure to industry standard design tools from Adobe Suite and Magic Markers to CAD, as well as access to a full manual workshop was invaluable in creating a very basic platform that could be nurtured and developed. I embraced the world class facilities and learned from the staff who possessed a strong passion for design. I continue to apply these skills to my work within my current position at design agency, Seymourpowell.

Working within a consultancy of such status and repertoire has its perks; exciting clients, pioneering projects and fantastic colleagues, but undoubtedly the greatest personal reward of all is the opportunity to develop my knowledge, embrace experiences and apply the inquisitiveness and curiosity that we have as designers into products, services and brands.

How was your experience in general? Can you point to anything that you found really exemplary or memorable during your studies?   

The most memorable experiences generally resided around the times I was working on ‘live projects' or in the industry. The briefs were set by external companies for us to create solutions for and we would then receive feedback from designers in the Industry. This was exciting to be involved with and really stimulating.

Looking back on my time as a student I wish there were more opportunities to develop my skills on live projects. I am a strong believer of this being a key responsibility of design consultancies and companies. It’s something I am involved with at Seymourpowell by giving talks or design workshops to school children and setting briefs to Universities. I would recommend getting involved in design education and helping to inspire, develop and nurture the next generation of design graduates.

Rowan in the studio

Do you think the level of education you received was worth the money, and with the increase in fees would you do it again now?

I always advocate university for students if they have the drive, basic skill, commitment and passion for their chosen subject. If you have these attributes then yes, I think that the financial commitment is worth the reward of education, even with the increased fees. I do however feel that there is a bigger opportunity for companies in industry to offer their own educational programs which will have benefits to all - more of an updated approach to apprenticeship schemes that address students who don’t want or necessarily need to go to university.

How did you find the standard of teaching, were you engaged and inspired?

As much as you wanted to push yourself and develop, teaching staff were willing to reward you with their time and advice. I have always been fortunate enough to have mentors who are involved with fantastic research topics. However, regardless of those who are there to help - a design degree is dependent on strong manual and creative skills and the standard of teaching is irrelevant if you don’t put the time and practice in; be it drawing circles, building models in CAD or trawling the internet researching new manufacturing methods and materials.

What did you take away from your experience. If there's anything you could change, good or bad what would it be?

Work ethic and drive. The harder you work, the better you become. The better you become, the more desirable you are.

A major inspiration for Rowan, the 'Better By Design' show hosted by Richard Seymour & Dick Powell

Can you tell us about some of your projects or some of the themes and ideas that tend to underpin your work? How did they develop throughout your education?

At SeymourPowell we strive to make things better and solve real problems as an overall theme. There’s a lot of “off the tool landfill” that gets manufactured simply because it can be, and it really doesn’t do the world any favours despite the fact that we have an environmental responsibility as designers. Throughout my education, the growth of internet enabled products (and the rise of Apple) meant that I was able to see that the best design is also invisibly ubiquitous until you want to sense it, at which point it should be an absolutely faultless experience, coordinating seamlessly with other products and/or services. 

Did you get many opportunities to collaborate in your studies? What did you learn about creative collaborations?

During my time at Loughborough University, many of the projects were collaborative. What you soon learn is that the strongest team is one that recognises each other’s strengths and weaknesses, distributing tasks accordingly. The best creative results came from everyone being committed, skilled, and willing to embrace feedback constructively, leaving their egos at the door. The best idea creation comes from when everyone in a room feels like they can contribute.

Hard at work testing out the latest in VR tech

What did you learn at college that you feel you probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise?

Prioritisation. It’s really the first time you experience many modules and projects that run parallel to one another. Just as in the professional environment, it’s imperative that you are doing the right thing at the right time.

Is there anything that you’ve learned from working outside of college that wasn’t taught there?

When working outside of college, you do realise that efficiency and streamlining design processes whilst maintaining quality is key. As much as design is a fantastic and enjoyable career path, we’re here to realise great ideas and make a difference.

What advice would you give people just about to start art or design education at university or art school?

Expand knowledge. Embrace opportunity. Be Curious.

What is your aim for the future? 

Let’s see …

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  • Rowan was interviewed by Samuel John Weeks
  • Edited by Chris Photi
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