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Interview with Christian Guellerin: design education, strategy and management issues

Interview with Christian Guellerin: design education, strategy and management issues

The director of L’École de design Nantes-Atlantique shares his vision of design, and his determination to make it a discipline of management and entrepreneurship.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

I’m the General Director of L’École de design Nantes Atlantique. This establishment has undergone remarkable development - from 80 students in 1998 to 1700 today. Its curriculum now benefits from all the academic recognitions up to the Master’s degree. L’École de design Nantes Atlantique has become an emblematic establishment in the region and is now highly regarded both in France and internationally. It federates designers, industrialists, and all the institutions with which we are associated, including the University of Nantes.

Running this school is an amazing job. Every day I meet students who speculate about the world of tomorrow, who shape the future and who build the world we want to live in. Thanks to them I am constantly learning.

Can you give us a definition of design today?

Design is a discipline that represents the way we will live tomorrow. It speculates and gives shape to the uses of tomorrow. It makes them real, objective and more acceptable. It is at the service of companies, who are aware that innovation is a source of added value, but more generally at the service of society and citizens. The designer has become a project manager whose mission is to bring together engineers, scientists, marketers, finance people, philosophers and sociologists, and get them to work on the uses of tomorrow.

You’re launching your personal website, what is the objective?

I defend a strategic approach to design, a global reflection on the major societal issues we are facing. Globalization of commerce and culture, ecological issues, issues related to man-machine relations, protein transition, hyper-concentration of metropolises, mobility problems, evolution of health and safety services...

I also think of the designer as a manager with a mission to hybridize all disciplines. We are living through radical and very rapid upheavals sustained by the speed of communication. Like all changes, they are very stressful by nature because they make tomorrow uncertain. It is important to reassure people, to testify that designers are there to reconcile Science, Conscience and Added Value. At a time when we are talking about social responsibility and the emergence of an ecological conscience, this is a formidable playground for all those who give shape to tomorrow. Designers are an integral part of this and that’s what I want to testify to.

There is a political dimension to design that we don’t talk about enough, bringing it back all too often to its "Applied Arts" dimension through the shape of a beautiful chair or a stylish lamp. We shouldn’t be naive: when Decathlon makes a beautiful bike, its aim is not for the bike to be beautiful, it’s to sell more, to become a leader in the sports and leisure retail sector, to generate value, employment and wealth. This is the role we should be talking about.

Who is it aimed at?

Everyone, of course, those who are familiar with it, and those who know nothing about it. Design is a discipline that still has not been fully understood by many in terms of its relevance to society.

Can you tell us what we will find there?

Articles on design and education, because as director of a design school it is my role not only to educate and to train students but also to support companies in their innovation and design processes. Company managers must become aware that design has become strategic for their structure.

Obviously, students need to perform well and be competitive at the time of recruitment, but they need to be aware of the role they have to play in shaping the world of tomorrow. Future managers are being recruited from the ranks of designers.