We graduated in 2007 and over the years of running our studio we’ve been involved in our old course at Norton College as well as the Hallam course at the SIA. Setting briefs, viewing portfolios and doing workshops/talks. Interestingly, not a great deal has changed at Uni in those 10 years, yet the world does not stand still. In particular, there’s 2 things that bug us…
Every year in June, we receive numerous invites in the post and by email, to visit the industry opening of this year’s degree shows. Each year it’s exactly the same, and each year we make the same comments to each other. The Uni course churns out 30-60 designers, and the culmination of their 3 year journey is a 3x1 metre board where they stick 3 images, a sketchbook on a table in the middle of the room, and a boxed-up portfolio which is usually relegated to an un-welcoming back corner. When we graduated, the industry night was built up as a pivotal moment, a chance for ‘real’ designers to come and see our work and maybe even offer us a placement/job. In reality, there’s so much going on at them that it’s hard for potential employers to focus. I feel sorry for the students.
This isn’t just our take on it. We popped up to a show recently, after the industry night, on a weekday when it was quiet so we could have a proper look. There was 1 female student who popped in and chatted to us for 5 minutes who voiced a similar concern. She showed us some of her work on a bookcase, which we’d never have looked at if we weren’t prompted as it didn’t look part of the show, and she told us how not everyones work get’s chosen for the ‘special table’ in the middle. This sort of curation doesn’t seem fair, not when everyone is paying the same fees?
Intrigued, we asked our followers on Instagram for their opinions on degree shows. The 2 quotes below are from recently graduated students:
“I didn’t think a lot of the work had been explained clearly enough. The photos of the work didn’t always do the work justice.”
“It seemed as though it was going to be a bigger deal than it was. Unfortunately it felt more like an alumni event for the tutors. I think I definitely would have portfolios next to the banners so all the work is together. Maybe a setup like a craft show would work better, with each student having a small stand with their banner behind”.
The next 2 quotes were from fellow creatives who’d gone to shows searching for talent.
“The design one was the most disappointing, I didn’t think enough of the work had been explained clearly enough. When I sat with them at portfolio review I was super-impressed, but the show didn’t do their work justice.”
“It seemed such an anti-climax. It didn’t seem like a part of the actual course, more of a last-minute add-on that the tutors had forgotten to work into the curriculum. To say it was a design course, the space just wasn’t designed well.”
We would have put some positive quotes up as well to provide some balance. Unfortunately we didn’t receive any. Awkward.
When we graduated we had zero teaching on the absolute basics of business. Baring in mind, design is an industry inundated with small studios and freelancers, chances are you’re going to be dipping your toe into the big world of business at some point. Fast forward to today and how much teaching on business are students graduating with? Sweet fuck all. Again, this is what students are telling us, this isn’t just an observation. No one is expecting a Harvard Business School education, but why is there such a lack of education on real life skills that designers need? I’m not even talking about the specifics of “how much should I charge for an identity”, I mean as basic as how to discuss money and budget with a client before beginning work. Things which seem obvious, but they’re only obvious if you know the answer.
A simple module to go over the basics could be all that’s needed to provide a much needed insight into not only best practice in the industry, but to also protect yourself. Alas, this isn’t happening, and it then falls at the feet of the industry to provide this education. We can't help feel students are being dealt a short hand.
What does this mean for University? Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results. Make the show an experience to view great work easily, not by trying to decipher if the portfolio on room 3 is the same work as the illustrator you spotted when you arrived. It’s not the Crystal Maze, make it easy for us. You’re designers after all, design it well!
Use social better - get the students on IGTV and let them explain their work and show their personality. Let them design the area that is showing off their work. Who said it’s a good idea to have an obscure angled photo of a brochure you’ve designed stuck on a wall, rather than the actual brochure. The same people who keep telling students to add those sodding bar charts to their CVs.
Teach the students about the fundamentals of designing for a living. The pitfalls, the warning signs, the best way to do things. Granted, a lot of this needs to be learnt on the job, but the gap between education and industry seems to be widening every year, so why don’t we try and make it a bit smaller?
Are you a student, a graduate, a studio owner, a tutor? Drop us an email with your positive/negative Uni experiences, because unless we feed these issues back to the Universities, things won’t change.