I’m a great believer in nurture and the concept of “practice makes perfect.” With a lot of people who excel at something, you can more often than not trace their expertise back to their childhood. If you do something all your life it becomes second nature, and you can’t always pick it up later.
Famously, Andre Agassi learnt his trade at 3 years old and David Beckham learnt his signature skill of being able to “land a football on a sixpence” by spending hours and not going inside till he had kicked a ball through a tyre hung from a tree 10 times consecutively.
I know from families like mine, that kids growing up with creativity around them more often than not become creative almost by default. Matthew Syed’s book Bounce, The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice says more than I can say here.
I therefore have a problem with people who go to college at 18 in the expectation of becoming creative. It is extremely difficult to come at it from a standing start. Being creative is in you in some way by adulthood or it’s not. You can choose to turn it off, but it won’t be easy to develop without nurture early on.
I was brought up in a tremendously creative household. It was a working class family in Morecambe, Lancashire that wanted to do things. My granddad made all my toys, fishing rods and so on and my mum and gran always had two sewing machines whirring. They even dyed their own fabrics.
Gerardine and I have four kids and they are all very creative. They were brought up surrounded by magazines and books, attended fashion and materials shows when we ran Red or Dead and frequented vintage, design shops. And after we sold Red or Dead came to visit housing developments and regeneration schemes around the world with us. We never had time to teach them, but they were immersed in design and creativity.
You can go out and learn things, but you have a better chance if you start that learning early in your life. Our son Jack left college after 18 months, for example, because he felt he was gaining nothing. He just wanted to go out and do it and was ready for that.
This is why primary and junior schools are very important. They give children a chance to indulge their passions early on. It can be too late at 18. I do though, have a problem with the lack of creativity in state schools – when we sent our younger two kids to private school they were much happier with their creative schooling.
There has been an increased demand for creative education over recent years. In my generation parents wouldn’t have seen it such a good idea, working in a bank or for Marks & Spencer being seen as better options. That perception has changed, particularly among middle class parents who see design as a viable alternative and one with “bragging rights.”
In our business we need designers who are fleet of foot and can work across disciplines. For example, our daughter Tilly studied urban design, works with us at Hemingway Design and is equally at home designing G-Plan furniture and on uniforms for McDonald's.
If you’ve got a creative mind you can be flexible, but colleges don’t generally allow for that. Design for us is a state of mind rather than a particular course of study.