How Far Should Design be at the Heart of a 21st Century University Focused on Creativity and Innovation?

DS 69: Proceedings of E&PDE 2011, the 13th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, London, UK, 08.-09.09.2011

Year: 2011
Editor: Kovacevic, Ahmed, Ion, William, McMahon, Chris, Buck, Lyndon and Hogarth, Peter
Author: Holtham, Clive; Wilkins, Andy
Series: E&PDE
Section: Creativity in Design Education
Page(s): 79-84


In many countries, the roles of universities are in a state of flux, with traditional assumptions and priorities being under challenge. The focus here is with institutions which explicitly place a high priority on creativity and innovation, with particular emphasis on transferring their own insights to other sectors of the economy, both through teaching, research and knowledge transfer activities.
The paper firstly reviews the meaning and nature of a university, referring to the differing historical traditions originating from Bologna and Paris/Oxford respectively, through the nineteenth century evolution of the German/US university, to the modern mass university system with a strong global dimension. Creativity and innovation are well understood within individual disciplines, especially when applied to all forms of research. Some disciplines deal directly in particular forms of creativity, notably in the humanities and arts. Others have as their focus the support of “creative industries”. Our concern in this paper is with not with traditional discipline-based or specialist forms of creativity and innovation, but rather with the potential of creativity as a core and indeed core value and objective of the university system as a whole. The term “creativity” is in practice used in a variety of ways across different disciplines, and a wide variety of viewpoints on what constitutes the core dimensions of creativity and innovation. This paper reviews the proposition of what can or must be at the core of university-based initiatives relating to creativity and innovation. There have been many different approaches advocated. For example, in Finland there has even been the creation of Aalto as a “creative university” (Ministry of Education Finland, 2008). This paper includes a case study of experiences over a two year period in a UK university in creating and developing a cross-disciplinary approach to both teaching and research, including the creation of an unusual cross-disciplinary masters in creativity and innovation. There are strong advocates (Martin, 2009) of a role for design at the very centre of both corporate and educational initiatives to stimulate creativity and innovation. This paper concludes by reviewing the implications of Martin’s proposals in the university context.


Martin, Roger (2009) “Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage” Harvard Business Publishing

Ministry of Education, Finland (2008) “Charter of Foundation Aalto University”

Keywords: Creativity, innovation, design education


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