About Design for Life

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‘It was a humbling experience to see not only how invaluable the Design for Life programme is, but also to hear the positive feedback from the students themselves... This programme gives them the chance to stand up in the world and to be acknowledged for their right to freedom of expression'

Erin O’Connor, V&A Trustee

A national museum education project

Special guest Erin O’Connor at the Design for Life exhibition at the V&A, April 2010

Special guest Erin O’Connor at the
Design for Life exhibition at the V&A,
April 2010

Design for Life is a well-established museum education project which began in 2008. The project was devised by the V&A in response to the Design Council’s report High Level Skills for Higher Value. The report highlighted the importance of boosting young people’s creativity and design skills in order to develop their talents and cultural entitlement, and to maintain the strength of the UK design sector. Over the past decade, the creative industries have become one of the fastest growing job sectors in the UK. The report concluded that Design and Technology education in schools would be improved by a greater emphasis on rigorous research and the development of innovative ideas, and that students should be set more imaginative and less linear or prescriptive project briefs. Working relationships between teachers and professional designers also needed to be encouraged and strengthened.

Young mums from an Action for Children project in Sheffield display bags they made for their children

Young mums from an Action for
Children project in Sheffield display
bags they made for their children

It was clear that museums could offer ideal environments and resources to help schools meet these goals. Yet research carried out by the V&A indicated that very few D&T teachers used museums to support their teaching, unlike their colleagues in Art & Design; and many museums, with the exception of some specialist design collections, were unfamiliar with the D&T curriculum and did not offer programmes and resources tailored to this subject.

The schools and youth groups involved were partnered with professional designers and worked on projects leading to a national exhibition of their work at the V&A in 2010. Young people attended a conference and exhibition private view opened by special guest Erin O’Connor. In addition, professional development events for designers, teachers and museum educators enabled expertise to be shared and disseminated. In 2010-11 the V&A received additional funding from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) to extend Design for Life to ten further associate partner museums. 4,510 young people participated in activities and around 10,000 have visited displays of work by young people at the V&A and partner museums.

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The Design for Life project successfully demonstrated that design projects inspired by museum collections could result in work of outstanding quality, boost creativity and self-esteem in young people and have a sustained positive impact on learning and attainment levels. One participating school recorded an average two-grade improvement from predicted to actual GCSE grade among students participating in the project. The projects proved equally effective as a way of connecting young people across the community with museum and gallery collections, introducing new skills and fostering a sense of pride and individual achievement.

Design for Life was funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education from 2008-2011; and additionally by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council from 2010-11, as part of the government's Stategic Commmissioning Programme for museum and gallery education.

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