Work / Product Design

Sir James Dyson

For the design industry to thrive, it is vital design and technology in schools is protected. Here Sir James Dyson explains why it is crucial to fight for the subject’s future.

Britain has a heritage of inventiveness and creativity; Rolls Royce, Kenneth Grange and George Carwardine just to name a few. The culture of “making things” requires inquisitive minds – an ability to approach a problem creatively, fused with the technical know-how to make it a reality.

One subject does this: design and technology. But it’s under threat. A thirst to “make things” develops at an early age – D&T is a primary school favourite, and the most popular optional subject at GCSE. It’s prestigious; A-level product design is a valid entry qualification for engineering courses at Russell Group universities.

But the subject is gradually being eroded. It threatens being sidelined in the current National Curriculum review, in lieu of more “academic” subjects. Added to this, it struggles to fight off a dreary image – design and technology is about metal bashing and making wooden key holders. Very damaging.

In some schools D&T is celebrated. Teachers inspire through experimentation and creativity, not health and safety rules, and there is brilliance in our universities. I see talented young inventors entering the James Dyson Award; often D&T was their springboard.

But of the Government is serious about reasserting Britain’s position as a high-tech nation, they need to make D&T available to all.

We are already falling behind. China produces 300,000 engineering graduates each year, compared to our 22,000. It is no surprise that “general technology” is compulsory in Chinese schools. A UK education system based on academic rigour is important, but our future inventors aren’t created from maths and science alone.

The best graduates I see at Dyson are those who – through design – cleverly utilise technology in a new way, as I did with my vacuum cleaner. The concept of a cyclone was not new, but its application was. Yes, we need scientists to research new technologies, but we must also nurture the minds that apply it to make something useful.

The inventors of tomorrow have to be inspired today.