Transitions – PDE Degree Show 2011

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Craig Whittet at the Glasgow School of Art asked me to write some words for the Product Design Engineering degree show – what an honour! The theme this year is ‘transitions’.

Change is Scary

In the time between your first day at art school, global finances have collapsed, century-old car companies and even entire countries have defaulted on their debt, and with the rise of China and India political power has shifted eastwards. Indeed, the very status of hardware design is shrinking in the face of interfaces and software. You might be feeling a little uneasy about your prospects, and I don’t blame you.

Responding to these changes will require flexibility, and people that can identify problems, form synergies with other disciplines, creatively generate solutions, and communicate with enthusiasm and energy. Strip away the sketching, software, model-making and engineering exams, and PDE gives you a nucleus of skills that will arm you for a career of uncertainty and change. The learning process has not ended; it’s only just beginning.

Change is Thrilling

Nine years ago, I graduated from a Glasgow also in the midst of a recession. My instinct told me to pick an industry area where things were changing, so I began looking for jobs in sustainable design, the medical industry (since people were unlikely to stop getting ill) and in Asia. Based on little more than gut-feel, and the desire to have a fully-paid backpacking trip to the other side of the world, I accepted a job offer working on Asus’ design team in Taipei.

The night before I left, nerves gave me a knot in my stomach so tight I was in physical pain, but before I knew it I was on the ground, right on the cutting edge of the globe’s manufacturing industry. Fast forward to today, and while I am working with some of the best designers, most capable suppliers, in one the largest industries in the world, I am still anxious about change, what it means for our customers, to Dell, and my career.

My lessons; anxiety and excitement are two sides of the same coin, be prepared to jump in feet-first, don’t be afraid to follow your gut, and whatever you do, do something that you love. What do you want your story to be?

Change is Opportunity

For me, PDE instilled a can-do-attitude and appetite for tackling sticky problems with zeal. Global problems and their potential solutions will only get broader, and call on people capable of bridging between disparate skills and previously unrelated disciplines.

Companies need people like you to make products like the iPhone, combining industrial design, software, services and manufacturing expertise, and dozens more skills. The growing elderly population needs people like you to propose sensitive solutions that allow them to continue living fulfilling lives. And the world needs people like you to stand a hope of motivating people to use fewer products, consume less energy, and dispose of less waste.

There has never been a better time to be designer.

Photo borrowed from Flickr user 2plus2is5

The Glasgow School of Art - fond, fond memories.


  1. Alastair Macdonald
    Posted 2011/06/14 at 18:39 | Permalink

    Hi Jonathan

    Alastair here, ex PDE HoD. Great to read your intro to the PDE degree show and to see your blog. Sounds like you’re having fun in Taiwan and the east. Have been travelling out to the east (ie Japan) pretty regularly – twice a year – since 2003. May get a chance to visit Taipei in October with the IDA conference (tbc). Also one of my PhD students is from Taipei. Hope to catch up either here or there.

    All best wishes


    • Posted 2011/06/15 at 10:57 | Permalink

      Thanks Alistair. I would be delighted to meet up at some point; indeed, I am hoping to make it up to Glasgow in December, and spend some time in the studio.

      Taiwan is a playground for PDE graduates; the global bike industry, high-tech sector and countless others call this island home. It’s rarely dull!

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