Communities in Practice an enquiry

Tatsumo Orimoto – The Breadman

With the recent refusal by the current Conservative government to include the Creative Arts into the newly re-assessed GCSE model EBACC. Creative subjects are becoming sidelined and we have seen a dramatic 27% cut of creative subjects from the curriculum last year and 45% the year before that (Guardian article here).

Central to this ongoing debate surrounding Art & Design within education right now is the relationship our educational bodies and institutes have with the creative design industries.

Current teaching models ensure our creative learning departments ready students by learning ‘from’ the Industry. Professionals are now challenging us to reconsider this dated relationship.

More info here – Altshiftual Examining the future form of education for design and the creative industries. Dec 2012.

Altshiftual proposes that we begin to see industry as a partner, learning ‘with’ not ‘from’, this does not mean we replicate industry, instead it calls for the establishing of equal discussions and to use this new relationship to design experiences that will better prepare our students to benefit from the world they wish to inhabit.

One of the models Design in Education has adopted is that of developing creative spaces or visual idea labs that help nurture innovation, capability and preparation for graduates entering their chosen design industries. These spaces bring into contact design professionals and graduates and provide research and development opportunities that support the creative industries within an uncertain future.

Recession or no recession. In the UK top class designers are constantly in demand. Agencies are hungry for ‘newblood’ (D&AD) and the economy needs creative, versatile and engaging design graduates. If we listen to what some of the UK’s leading Art Directors have to say (Chris Clarke LBi). Education as a model working independently with little to no involvement with the creative Industries, proves unsuccessful at providing visionary  young graduates.

To surmise what Chris Clarke and others had to say at the AltShiftual Conference –

‘At best the conventional model for design education can only prepare our students for entering a design industry that ‘was’ rather than an industry that ‘is’, part of the reason for this is that industry moves so fast and that ‘any’ curriculum will find it impossible to keep up with this and will inevitably fall behind. Solution: The education system needs to in some way embrace a new working relationship’.

Trisha Austin. Director of MA in Narrative Environments at Central Saint Martins calls this new working relationship ‘a multiple stakeholder situation’. In which the college and its students becomes an intermediary between community and business. The MA Narrative Environment course enables students to work on a program of live projects that help inform this mutable relationship.

Design Agencies also recognise the importance and reward of exchange and debate. Student initiatives still largely governed by external professional/private bodies bring the industry closer to the education model rather than the other way round. Few educational departments have yet to address this successfully, although one example ‘Lost In The Forest Institute’ seems to promote the cultivation of a new industry/education collaboration very successfully.

‘LitFI’ has been built on an educational model inspired by the work of an inspirational world leading Designer – Bruce Mau is a Graphic Designer and co-founder of the Massive Change Network. His career, though rooted in graphic design, has spread into the realms of architecture, film, landscape design and more recently design education.

In 2003, he founded the Institute without Boundaries An innovative, studio-based postgraduate program in collaboration with George Brown College, Toronto.

Bruce Mau and his students created the groundbreaking exhibition Massive Change – A project that declared, “Massive Change is not about the world of design; it’s about the design of the world.”

With the ‘Institute without Boundaries’, Bruce Mau started a new revolution in design thinking which helped to re-frame the design student as a problem solver with the ability to effect positive change for humanity.

Mau went on to launch the Massive Change Network an initiative committed to developing purposeful projects in education, health, leadership, and security and effectively paved a way forward for Design Education in the first part of the 21st century.

Through the ‘Lost in The Forest Institute’ Bruce Mau challenges design education to adopt a more purpose driven, entrepreneurial approach to accelerate student development.

The ‘Lost in The Forest Institute’ is now based on the top floor of Stockport College. It is a unique departure from innovative design/education models. Instead of the more common approach of students leaving the department for placements within the local design industry. Thoughtful A design agency based in Manchester agreed to move their entire office into the school’s design department and work alongside second-year students for a whole six months.

 “What’s particularly interesting about this collaboration is seeing what happens when you have a commercial design practice functioning in an educational setting”. says Stockport College graphic design tutor James Corazzo, who came up with the idea after being frustrated at the lack of dialog.

In summary we must learn from what industry has to offer, we must actively engage agencies within our departments in unpredictable and interesting ways. Our students need to become well versed in the needs of the industry and we must encourage our institutes to engage with projects alongside communities and business partners, rather than opting only for projects of commerce. Communities in practice is happening outside of the academic institute, design agencies are embracing this approach, world design leaders are talking about it, so why is education failing to respond accordingly? Why some and not others? What do most of our institutes have to be afraid of?

Curiously my two models are from largely different backgrounds – Central Saint Martins, a very well funded art school and Stockport College, a further education institute. The majority of the UKs Art and Design Institutes fall neatly inbetween these two models, where more than likely it is the hierarchies and bondings of ageing, elitist, academic values that can still bear weight and relevance on the direction of a departments growth. In this new economy where uncertain futures bring about challenges, discourse, and engaging collaborative models providing opportunities for social change of which I can see the ideology of communities in practice being central. Will our institutes be one of the last ones to make a change, after everyone else has made up their mind? or will it engage in the social narratives that help to collectively improve our education system and with it the future of our art and design economy, right now?

Bruce Mau Designs


Communities in Practice in summary

‘The School of Athens’.  Raphael. 1509. Aristotle and Plato – Discussing the respective merits of Idealism vs Realism.

Notes from this months December Web-inar

Communities in Practice in summary –

A shared activity in which people are collectively engaging with an emotional bond that drives collective interactions without force.

Three key aspects to ‘community in practice’

1. A shared passion – The domain in which the community exists, be it online of offline is represented by the collective with commitment and competence, (for example the idiosyncratic practice which gang culture adopts and ultimately leads to the creation of a collective, recognisable identity).

2. A community – An interacting community, interacted with specifically for the benefit of collective improvement/self improvement, (for example – The Parisian world at the turn of the 20th Century ‘La Belle Epoque’, consisting the numerous Parisian Cafes famous for being Artists hangouts. The Painters, the early Impressionists together, conversing, exchanging, but not actually working together).

3. A shared practice – Arrived at from diverse fields and pathways (nurses, surgeons, hunters, tribesmen, musicians, etc).

Network of Practice

What are the benefits of Communities in Practice within the digital domain?

1. The community has access to a shared space, accessing tools, archiving events and open source.

2. It helps link a network of professionals directly with the community, allowing for equal voicing, comment and response from all those involved.

Perceived Disadvantages

1. The community has to communicate through a specific set of online tools, forum-base and generic expressions.

Experience and meaning becomes altered in some way by the mediating tools we use ( e.g. software/hardware/bandwidth).

Peripheral Participation

Genuine activities built in to engage with the peripheral activities of a specific community.

Two communities that dovetail together to benefit both.

Digital Habitats – coined by ‘Wenger’

Create spaces – provide the tools, cultivate the space for communities of practice to happen.