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

6 comments on “Beyond Our Ken

  1. Eileen Adams writes:

    I first met Ken Baynes in 1974, when he was researching the Design in General Education report at the Royal College of Art and I was teaching at Pimlico School, although I had encountered his work previously in Welsh Arts Council touring exhibitions. We worked together on the Front Door project, then on Art and the Built Environment. Recent collaborations have been on some of the Power Drawing books, and finally, Eileen Adams: Agent of Change, which he kindly edited. Ken has been a presence and influence in my life throughout my career. His approach is collegial. He has respect and empathy for his co-workers. He is able to explain difficult concepts in ways that make them intelligible. His insights, clarity of thought and persuasiveness in argument have enabled me to think about my work and developed my understanding of what I am doing. Ken is funny, entertaining, sociable, a good raconteur – not all qualities one immediately associates with an academic – and has ensured that I have experienced a high level of joy and satisfaction in our work together.

    For 45 years, Ken and I have worked together on various projects, books, conferences and courses, and only a few months ago, were discussing plans for a film about his life and his ideas. I will miss his enthusiasm, his insights, the wine and the laughter. However, I can still hear his voice when I read his books.

  2. Richard Shearman writes:

    I first met Ken on my first day at the Design Council, when the first meeting of the Primary Education Working Party took place. I was immediately struck by his openness and willingness to share ideas. He readily invited me to attend the monthly seminars which he held as part of the Masters’ in Design Education at the RCA, from which I learnt a good deal. Later, as Tristram will remember as a contributor, he played a key role in putting together the first Signs of Design booklet, and in organising the weekend seminar at Warwick which generated many of the ideas in it. He was willing to rearrange various things in order that we could do this within the short time window available for spending the money which the DTI had given us at short notice. I shall always think of him with affection.

  3. Tony Wheeler writes:

    Tristram often suggested that we should ‘pop in’ and have tea with Ken as we passed on one of our many visits to work in schools across the country and about 15 years ago we did. Ken’s house was beautiful, as you would expect as he had designed it, and everything in it was lovely -not perfect “Homes and Garden” lovely, but practical, everyday lovely. Just like his approach to learning.

    I was impressed by the water jug in the style of Michael Cardew. The sugar bowl was just like a Lucy Rie and as I looked round the room there was a Hans Coper-esque pot in the corner by the window. I foolishly commented on the quality of these reproductions but if course they were the real thing. Ken and Krysia were contemporaries of the studio pottery movement in the 50s and 60s. What a treat to actually use, feel and enjoy things as they should be, rather than peer at them wistfully through glass in a gallery or museum. A further surprise and delight was to discover that Ken was also a keen model railway enthusiast.

    We spent the afternoon chatting about design education: even in his 70s Ken was deeply committed to helping young people take control of their world. As we were leaving Ken asked where we were heading back to. When I said Gravesend he said “Oh I grew up in a little village in Kent.” Of course it was Eynsford, the same village I grew up in. I wish we had made the connection earlier on in the visit.

    If you care about young people, Ken’s vision for creative learning is even more important today than it was in the 60s.

  4. Thanks Tristram. You’ve provided an excellent tribute to Ken. I met him on several occasions during my career and like you, was influenced by his writing – particularly as a young teacher in the 1980s.
    I only met him properly however at an Loughborough iDATA conference in the late 1990s, shortly after I took up post at SHU. But on that occasion, I was able to tell him something I hadn’t before, relating to when I was teaching his son Tom at North Westminster School some 15 years earlier. I was teaching a Science Technology and Society (STAS) module as part of a common core course established by a Michael Marland. I noticed Tom was not paying attention and asked him to reveal what he had under the desk. It turned out he was reading Plato – certainly of greater value than what I was covering. Clearly the barge library kept by Ken influenced his son’s thinking too.

    We laughed about that again the last time I met him again at Loughborough I think about six years ago. A lovely man. He will be missed.

  5. I was very saddened by the news of Ken’s death. I knew him as a delightful, amiable and always positive man with a very sharp intellect. My first meeting with him must have been in 1982 when he was living in Stroud – he invited me to dinner soon after my appointment as the Society’s General Secretary. From that time on we met frequently both through NSEA and other agencies such as the Design Council and the RCA. He was a strong supporter of the NSEAD and contributed to the Society’s publications and conferences on many occasions.
    A good man in every sense.
    John Steers

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