Exploring a design career

Cultivate Routes is the strand of the Cultivate programme that supports careers education, focusing on creative roles and opportunities related to place-making. A big part of Cultivate Routes is a workshop that will be available for primary and secondary schools all around Nine Elms, led by creative and place-making professionals. The idea is that pupils can have a direct and friendly encounter with someone doing interesting, inspiring work, who can challenge them to try out a task they typically face in their jobs.

We have just piloted two of these workshops. One was led by designer, Fatima Khuzem, working with a Design & Technology class in Ark Bolingbroke Academy.

Fatima’s workshop in Ark Bolingbroke Academy was with a GCSE Design & Technology group. It focused on product design, and being mindful about the needs of users. Fatima first introduced her own route into design, starting with when she was a curious 16 year old, the same age as the participants. She went through the stages of her career development, aiming to show the diversity of different roles, mindsets and work settings in a design career. These different places included university projects, a design studio, a large company and being a freelancer. She is currently studying for a masters’ degree at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, in a course called MA Narrative Environments. This uses storytelling and imagination to create experiences and solve problems for people. This was helpful to show that you can continue your studies at any point in your career, not just at the start. Although a product designer, she showed how her different roles have used other design methods or skills such as Spatial Design, Service Design and Graphic Design. For example, developing signage and wayfinding for an airport draws on all three.

Several of the pupils commented that this diversity of routes into work was new learning for them; “that it’s easy to change in a creative career”.

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Fatima introducing her work

The main part of the workshop was a practical activity that set them a challenge to design a product for an imagined person, who has a problem in a certain setting. Fatima gave groups a person, a problem and a setting, from a random set of prompts. The students played roles in pairs, one a designer, one the user, questioning them about their problem. The people included a dyspraxic young person, a lonely 50 year old and a busy parent, so this first task called for lots of empathy and good questioning techniques. The next steps were to write a design brief (i.e. to identify the need and commission a solution), to ideate (to generate ideas), to select the best ideas and also to combine or flip them, to get feedback from the user, and then to sell their idea in a visual presentation. In the ideation stage, they were encouraged to think like an artist, or like a younger child. In the final stage, they were asked to think like a business person.

As an example, one group invented a rotating cycle storage rack for a train station, that would allow bikes to be stored quickly to speed up the commute.

“I enjoyed learning about how to reach and join a product design path and what comes after education. I also enjoyed the designing aspect.” Pupil

“I found out that working together and collecting other people’s opinions and ideas are useful in designing something.” Pupil

“There are an abundance of things you must consider when designing – especially the user.” Pupil

This workshop encouraged open thinking about the role of designer, the diversity of mindsets and situations you find yourself in. The teacher observed that the students were all engaged, listening and on task, and that they appreciated seeing lots of examples and discovering a wider context for how design is applied. She was pleased that the session explored transferrable skills and the importance of collaboration. She also gave some practical suggestions about injecting more pace into the session, and insisting that everyone makes a drawing. The students struggled to come up with questions for Fatima, so future participants may need more thematic prompts to know what to ask, especially as the workshop leaders will be strangers to them.

Fatima found the session useful too. It helped her reflect on her own career and see how one can design your own life using design methods, and was interested to learn from the responses of the young people.

She realised that the workshop would be even better with some examples of local companies or design practitioners working in the Nine Elms. Our aim is to add more stories of people working in or based in the regeneration area to the People Who Make Places series on this website, so do get in touch with ana.ospina@flowassociates.com if you have a story to tell.

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A group gets down to work, designing a product to solve somebody’s problem

Cultivate is delivered by Enable Leisure and Culture for Wandsworth Council and the Nine Elms Vauxhall partnership, with coordination provided by Flow Associates, culture and education specialists.

Funded by A New DirectionWandsworth Council, Lambeth Council and Nine Elms developers and is one of seven projects in A New Direction’s London Cultural Education Challenge.

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