Beyond Our Ken

 

In memory of Ken Baynes, 1934 – 2019

This special edition of All Change Please! is a tribute to writer, designer and educationalist Ken Baynes who sadly recently passed away. Ken Baynes was one of the very few people who understood the potential of design education, not primarily as a means to produce a future generation of professional designers, but as a powerful and important learning experience for everyone, and one that potentially extended across the curriculum as a whole.

The support and encouragement Ken gave me during the 1980s was critical as I sought to establish one of the few secondary schools that actually attempted to deliver a developmental programme of design education from 11 to 18. In those days there was no National Curriculum, Ofsted inspection or league table regime that dictated what must be taught and as a result it was possible to easily explore new approaches to teaching and learning and curriculum content. The only problem was establishing the validity of what was being done, and to do that one needed convincing external approval, which Ken provided in abundance.

Informed and Inspired during the mid 1970s by his books ‘Industrial Design & the Community’, ‘Attitudes in Design education’ and ‘About Design’ I first met Ken at the Design Education Unit of the Royal College of Art in December of 1979. I recall two things about him. One was his enthusiasm trying to recruit me to undertake an MA there, which sadly I was never able to do. The other was that he was wearing cowboy boots.

Later in the 1980s he invited my school to contribute to an exhibition he was curating called ‘The ART of LEGO’, and we all spent many happy hours diving into two large tubs of assorted LEGO bricks to explore their potential as a modelling material. He visited the school on several occasions to participate in a range of one-day project workshops we ran. It also gave me the opportunity to visit him to discuss the exhibition on the splendid barge he lived in on the now unrecognisable Paddington Basin.

The last time I worked with Ken was in 2017 when he asked me to contribute to a Loughborough Design Press publication ‘Design Epistemology and Curriculum Planning’. As an essentially academic publication with a very academic title I said I wasn’t sure I could manage to write anything with the usual long list of book and journal references, to which he delightfully replied ‘We don’t want to know what you’ve read, we want to know what you think.’ He had the last laugh though: his contribution was a series of wonderful sketch drawings.

For the very first edition of the NSEAD JADE magazine, back in 1982, Ken contributed an article entitled ‘Beyond Design Education’. One paragraph in particular struck me as being of particular importance, and indeed is more relevant than ever today:

“I do not believe that the creation of visual literacy or design awareness is something that will yield to any grand curriculum strategy. It is a matter of footwork. It is a matter of detailed, local development. It is a matter of the ‘small print’ of teaching. It is to do with building up confidence. It is about people meeting to change one another and to create something new. At national level, it means encouraging diversity and unique local initiatives. It means putting people in touch with one another and leaving them to get on with it.“

In our current academic knowledge-obsessed, subject-based national curriculum there appears to be little space or opportunity for Ken’s vision to be realised. But at some point in the future we will perhaps come to accept that there is a need for an education that is more appropriate for today – let alone tomorrow. When we do, we must ensure that its architects and planners have access to Ken’s pioneering work that established the foundations of design education that are there ready, just waiting to be built on.

Punning on his article’s title, I had the idea that one day in the future I should write a follow-up piece entitled ‘Beyond Our Ken’. Sadly, many years later, this has proved to have been it.

If you had the pleasure of meeting or working with Ken, please do add your own memories and tributes below.

 

Photographs of Ken Baynes courtesy of Eileen Adams