I worked as a product design teacher for 20 years until I resigned in 2016 to set up a design focused business with two friends.
Throughout my teaching career my GCSE and A level students would often ask questions like “What's the point of doing chemistry? I want to be a product designer.” I would always talk to them about the value of transferable skills. “Many of the products we design and use are made from plastic. The chemical structure of these polymers dictate their properties and characteristics. Isn’t understanding this, every bit as important as being able to sketch or make a prototype?” would have been a typical reply.
Recently I have been reflecting on my change of career and how the skills I developed as a product design teacher are transferable and valuable within our business. Of course there are the obvious design skills- conceptual sketching, design iteration, CAD modelling and prototyping. But I’m thinking about the more obscure ones……...
Negotiation skills: Any parent of a teenager will know that negotiating with them is a challenge. When dealing with a class full 15 year olds, each with their own opinions, this challenge becomes magnified. Being able to empathise and then negotiate is the key and it is as important in the boardroom as it is in the classroom.
Making things accessible for all: In a single class I would be working with students from diverse backgrounds, different cultures and with a range of abilities. My aim was to make everything we did in the class accessible for all, differentiated and challenging. Not a bad set of requirements when planning the marketing strategy for your product launch!
Making things engaging for your audience: Even the unruliest class can be engaged if you capture their imagination and they can see the benefit of what they are doing. This is why I was never prescriptive with the exam projects students undertook. If everyone had to make a salad server (as I did in 1985), only one member of the class will be happy and only one member of the class will therefore want to be there. This can be just as important when pitching to a room full of VC's or angel investors. They obviously all want to make money, but behind the poker faces are individual people with lives and interests outside of the corporate rat race. Making a pitch engaging on a human level is just as important as a robust set of financial forecasts.
I was nervous leaving a career in education and starting up a company. I didn’t have the conventional business acumen, after all I was ‘just a teacher’. Reassuringly, things seem to be going well, thank goodness for transferable skills.