by Mark North
A while ago I went to a graphic design degree show in the hope of spotting a potential junior designer. One problem, there wasn’t much on display that I would classify as graphic design. There were definitely some interesting images and objects, but most of it was highly personal, with little attempt at problem-solving or graphic communication (as I understood it). So what happened to graphic education between 1983 when I graduated and now?
In hindsight, my design training provided few real surprises. The foundation year provided basic instruction in photography, sculpture, printmaking and so on (but I was always going to study graphic design). The degree course itself had a strong focus on graphic skills and technique; we learned the logic and lore of typography and layout (Swiss, thank you very much), and there seemed to be a lot of time spent fiddling about with Rotring pens, Letraset and airbrushes. We were definitely taught the value of logical design and the power of strong graphic ideas. The visiting lecturers themselves were good value; Alan Fletcher, Gert Dumbar and Henrion were all heroes of mine. We were certainly work-ready, but was it a better education?
Not necessarily. Both of my sons recently studied on the Graphic Design BA (Hons) course at Kingston University, which has a strong reputation for being conceptually challenging. This has given me a greater insight and understanding in progressive design education. The focus isn’t necessarily on graphic skills; students are expected to largely acquire these themselves. If you want to learn technique, I strongly recommend you study somewhere else. There is obviously still a place for designers with a more traditional, ‘vocational’ education, but at Kingston the emphasis is on developing original ideas and expressing them in unexpected ways. The student experience, in terms of education, is challenging, pushing them to experiment, sometimes with uncomfortable and surprising results. As a result graduates find jobs in some of the most creative studios – they still have a lot to learn, but didn’t we all?
One thing still puzzles me. I don’t understand why the course is still titled ‘Graphic Design’. Surely ‘Creative Thinking’ would be more appropriate? Judge for yourself, here is some of their student work . . .
Mark North is an independent brand consultant.