Degree ‘not vital’ to good design

Claims that retailers ‘need a degree to design’, have been rejected by industry commentators.

In kbbreview’s February training special, designer Jo Buckerfield of kitchen specialist Your Space Living in south Wales insisted designers should be educated “to at least degree level”.

However, Phil Tutt, a partner with 360 Integrated PR, which represents Drummonds, told kbbreview he “doubted whether a degree was vital” and that art and design A Levels, plus learning the technical aspects of designing in 3D, were “a viable route to success”.

“I’d like to take issue with Jo Buckerfield,” Tutt said. “What some designers don’t like is that there are businesses out there that offer a good service and have happy customers, but without the same design flair that the purists think should be compulsory.

“Designers who complain about ‘people who put boxes on walls’ are, in effect, saying either: members of the public are too ignorant to judge between a good and a bad designer – which is another way of saying you don’t respect your customers; or a significant portion of the market does not actually want ‘cutting-edge design’ – just a planner to make the space work as effectively as they can, using a product that functions well and looks attractive – which is the manufacturer’s job.”

Tutt claimed end consumers would be the ultimate judge of whether a kitchen plan met their needs and that designers would be better advised to enhance their levels of service.

“If the consumer is satisfied with the product, service and cost of the kitchen they buy, what right does anyone else have to cry foul?” he asked. “Perhaps, like an interior designer, the independent kitchen designer should work harder to differentiate his or her service and target those customers who genuinely want exciting design. That has to be better than complaining that too many consumers don’t appreciate them.

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“Ultimately, this is about positioning,” Tutt continued. “We’ve worked with many kitchen studios over the years and we’ve noticed that some designers have not been good at positioning their businesses against the more run-of-the-mill competition. Why should I buy from you? That’s where I’d be applying the effort, not trying to restrict that competition by pushing for ‘degree-only’ entry.”

Paul Crow, managing director of bathroom retail chain Ripples, agreed that “maybe customers don’t value design quite as much as designers think they do or should do”.

The Ripples approach to recruitment, he said, was to request a portfolio showing an aptitude for design.

“This can be demonstrated by qualifications in art, as well as in interior design or even graphic design,” he explained. “Someone with an A-Level in art can do this, so we don’t need a degree here. We then need to know that they are ambitious, confident, smart, technically competent and good at taking responsibility and working with others in a team. But of course they must be able to design. And design in the way that Jo Buckerfield rightly describes – not just adding new products to a space and printing it out in colour.”

Crow admitted that, “in an ideal world”, he would like all Ripples designers to have an interior design degree or equivalent, because they bring with them a lot of professional skills that are valuable to our business. “However,” he added, “the real issue isn’t whether these degrees are helpful or important, it is finding people with them. Most bathroom and kitchen retailers are independent and creating links to these universities is time-consuming and expensive. It is here that perhaps the industry could work together more closely.”

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