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Homepage / A sit down with Paul Lighterness as he shares his career journey as well as advice to the leaving class of 2020

A sit down with Paul Lighterness as he shares his career journey as well as advice to the leaving class of 2020


“Design has introduced me to many new and exciting opportunities on an international platform, and my eyes continue to be opened by new and exciting things, but it is the people that I come into contact with who truly inspire.” 

Paul Lighterness

What was your career journey after you finished your Postgraduate degree?   

Initially I wanted to follow the route of starting up my own business. I explored a number of options and at the same time I saw a few of my friends working in teaching. This allowed them to be designing and developing whilst working with companies but at the same time also delivering on their courses. I thought that sounded quite an interesting exercise and I did the same thing. I contacted a university and got some part-time teaching work teaching design, CAD, drawing, model making and continued with the commercial work in parallel with both academia and industry. 

I have worked on a variety of projects for established international organisations as well as a variety of small to medium sized enterprises. My work has taken me around the world and I have exhibited in Milan, Paris, Tokyo, London, New York and delivered design workshops in South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand.

I have always been aware of the international success of the Cranfield Centre for Competitive Creative Design (C4D) and was very keen to join an exciting team of staff! I was keen to work with a variety of organisations and industry partners in leading research, innovation and design development, on both UK and international platforms. 

What is your area of focus and why were you interested in this area? 

I have worked as a designer for the past 18 years developing a variety of projects with social, environmental and technological innovations. I was very keen to continue to explore and push the boundaries of what can be developed. Leading the Breakthrough Innovation Community of Practice further supports my desire to explore new opportunities and push boundaries in partnership with the other communities and staff.  

An important and exciting part of working as a designer is bringing new innovations and products to market that have a major impact in the way people live their lives.   

What does a typical day at Cranfield look like for you?  

Working at Cranfield presents new and exciting opportunities every day, whether it is running a workshop, meeting industry partners, developing new links, or meeting new colleagues from other departments within the university that I have not yet had the opportunity to work with. It is possible to develop a great working relationship across themes, therefore forever being presented with new and exciting opportunities, and it is great to see the response. 

What is your favourite Cranfield memory? 

It is always great to see students with their families at graduation, celebrating the completion of their studies. This is always a real celebration of every student’s hard work, and the fact that their families can celebrate their achievements with them. 

What do you like most about working at Cranfield University? Are there any challenges? 

The best bit of working at Cranfield has to be the community of people, both students and staff. Everyone works together to explore the exciting opportunities, and everyone is keen to push the boundaries of what is achievable with new design and technology. 

The most challenging part is to not get distracted by all the other exciting projects going on within C4D! 

What does Cranfield mean to you? 

I think the way that Cranfield deals with projects and academia. As it is industry driven, all the projects we get are new, exciting, challenging and everybody is able to learn and benefit from undertaking these tasks. At the same time, we can learn from the students as well and they bring in some interesting and exciting new ideas especially as it is such an international group. 

How have you found your experience as a Cranfield academic so far?  

Cranfield students are keen to take on new challenges and explore new methodologies and approaches to learning, sometimes taking themselves way out of their own comfort zones to explore new processes, activities, and skills. Balanced with exciting high-level design projects is, in my opinion, the best of academic and practice. 

What have been some of your teaching highlights this year been? 

Teaching highlights would have to be speaking to the students, getting exciting responses back from discussions and development to their thesis. Hearing about them taking their projects to the next level, engaging with business, engaging with users, engaging with experts within specialist fields and really taking on their own initiatives to push their projects forward.   

Do you have any advice for current students as they prepare to graduate? 

It is challenging at the best of times but even more so now. I think if you take on board the key points of being driven, exploring every opportunity that comes your way, being passionate about what you are doing, be prepared to explore things that are perhaps slightly outside of your normal comfort zone. For example if you are a product design focused individual then consider graphics interior architectural work, anything and everything that comes your way! Because it just broadens your portfolio skills and makes it more exciting! 

Do you have any words of wisdom for students?  

Push the boundaries. Think outside the box. Explore all methods and tools that are available to you whether it is drawing, making in 3D, talking to people that is the most important thing! Actually understanding what the user wants and what the user demands and enjoying what you do even at the most challenging times. 

If you were in the same position as the students leaving this year, would you do anything differently? 

I would probably look at seeing how I would market myself as a design entity, as a service. What are the skills, what are the unique selling points that I am able to offer and think of what those skills are in the most diverse and broad scale, because then that opens up the doors for you to apply yourself to quite a number of different roles. 

Why is now the best time to study Design Thinking? 

The answer is in the title, Design Thinking. We have been presented with lots of challenges recently and design thinking is a responsive way for individuals and business to try new things, develop new methods, explore new ideas which are able to react and respond to the structure, and the circumstances, and so it is very reactive. This means that designers are quite flexible in their way of working and are very quick to adapt and help to solve and come up with answers to various problems and to generate new opportunities. 

What advice would you give to someone thinking of studying Design at Cranfield University?  

Be open-minded and prepared to explore opportunities. Seize every opportunity and make the most of the connections and links with students, colleagues, and industry every day. 

Alice Kirkaldy

Written By: Cranfield University

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