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The strategic choices of L’École de design Nantes Atlantique

What is the mission of a design school?
To fix a strategy, the manager has the responsibility to never forget the role of the organisation he leads. Therefore, as the director of L’Ecole de design Nantes Atlantique I have to consider the role of this kind of academic institution. What is a school of Design? Is it a centre of creation, an education centre, a business centre for new products, a research centre or perhaps a wonderful place to invent tomorrow? All those questions may be answered in the affirmative, as the issue is complex. Schools of design are all that and hopefully more….
Once we have defined this role and the goals we try to achieve, we can determine the ways to get there: how we organize the whole academic program and structures. Let me present you the strategic choices of L’Ecole de design Nantes Atlantique.

We consider that we have two major goals: to promote industrial design as an economic matter and to teach the students to become good creators.
We have to promote design in the companies and the economic fields. Creation and innovation are an economic matter as they generate added values for products and companies. This should place them at the heart of production, marketing and management. In France, the place of industrial design in companies has been limited because of the supremacy of applied arts and the mistrust within the economy. Most people concerned with design still think we are teaching to artists and feel that design is still reserved for furniture, interior decoration, or recently multimedia.
To teach design is our second goal, the one for which we are paid. We have to teach the students to become good creators. We have the responsibility to place our students in design jobs, to help them to work as designers, in good positions, with decent salaries, with good perspectives for careers. These are the conditions, which reunited allow creation to flourish.

Multiply ways to approach companies

To pursue these two goals, we have different options. Among them two appear as the most important:
– First of all, our current academic programs are all organised around professional projects dealing with industrial and commercial companies. That represents about 30 to 40 projects per year. First, the Faculty, the teachers and the designers define the academic program. It is aimed to guarantee the development of knowledge and to ensure that the main trends of the moment are worked on. Then the school looks for partnerships with companies. They are involved from the beginning to the end of the curriculum. Some companies have already approached design, others have not and need to be informed about it; this is exactly the variety of situations the students will be faced with throughout their careers.
– The second way to achieve our goals is related to the five-year program. This level leads to a diploma, which is awarded to students by a jury after evaluating two mandatory steps: a final project and a training period accomplished in a company or an agency at the end of the curriculum. This last step was recently introduced in the program and is a major change. The mission of the jury is to assess if the student is ready to become a professional designer, not if he is a good creator.
Paradoxically, despite our will to collaborate with companies, we are still suspicious of national or international competitions. The reason is that the professional approach, that is to say working with teams or professionals, is often absent from these types of competitions. They often simply aim to collect good ideas in return for pocket money.

What are the ways to develop in the coming years?

At L’Ecole de design we are working on two major ways to develop our expertise in Design.
– First, we plan to create real research departments financed by public and private funds which will work with companies on long term plans, like the engineering schools do.
– We are developing courses for professionals in design, creativity and management for executives or people coming from other fields, to make them aware of the opportunities and responsibilities of creation in all economic fields. We have just opened a post-graduate program on design management with Audencia (a school of management in Nantes).
In France, most of the managers come from formal sciences fields. We think managers from now on should be men and women aware of human resources and creativity, incorporating intuition in their approach. Designers suit those characteristics well. Our role is to prepare the managers of tomorrow. Engineers give us the opportunity to be « high tech », whereas designers create the generation of « high touch » management.

L’École de Design Nantes Atlantique has undergone an important development during the last couple of years. At present our school is supported by the French Ministry of Higher Education and also by various cultural and economic structures, such as “Chamber of Commerce”, the Ministry of Industry, the “Region des Pays de la Loire”…
This school is very much invested in the economic and cultural network of the area. Its driving force is based on one fundamental value: to give its students the opportunity to learn and create, while ensuring that they can make a livelihood and find enjoyment in the process of creation. Our work does not consist of developing schools. It consists of expanding the horizon of the students we are training. Only our students count: their success is ours.

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