Creative Pool – Speakers corner


26th February 2013

Better late than never but with the relaunch of Creative Pool we realised that we hadn’t posted the speakers corners talk that our Creative Director Alan Long done in 2012. His talk reflected on the state of digital teaching amongst university design courses in the UK….

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For my final major project at uni I created a flash based website as we hadn’t really covered digital much and I liked the idea of a website. Although at the time “web” was the last place I wanted to end up as a designer.

After showing at D&AD & Freerange I was asked for a few interviews and the piece of work they were most interested in was the website.

I remember leaving an interview after being offered the job and seriously thinking whether I should accept as I really didn’t want to be seen as a web designer.

My general feeling was that web designers were ex-business consultants that had learnt to code in their spare time, that worked from a spare room in a semi-detached house in Bedfordshire, and now called themselves “web designers”.

I hadn’t really thought about these stigmas much after taking the job until recently when as a potential employer I started to visit the D&AD regularly with the view of hiring some young digital talent. Combine this with placing a recent job advert for a junior/entry level web designer really opened my eyes and made me realise that views have not really changed that much in 10 years.

This year when walking around the D&AD I over heard a student say to a friend “Everyone keeps asking me about digital” to which his mate replied “well if it gets you a job” – I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation as I passed out from the heat.

But is seems that amongst creative students, digital design is still seen as the runt of the litter, similar to being:

  • The goalkeeper in the football team
  • The drummer in the band
  • A geologist amongst scientists

So is digital an area of design that people actually head into or is it more something that you accidentally fall into for whatever reason?.

When interviewing we found that lots of universities still focus a lot on the print side and that applicants either had very little digital design or had only initiated it after leaving the courses, when they realised that this was a big gap in their skill set.

So we started to wonder why this is the case:

  • Could it be lack of role model?
    I asked a selection of creatives I know to quickly name 5 famous creative agencies, 5 famous designers and also 5 famous web designers and I’m sure you can gather the outcome. The first 10 they could rattle off easy, without much thought needed for the designers or companies but when it came to 5 famous digital designers they really struggled – How many Famous web designers can you name?
  • Another could be the limitations the medium appears to have at first glance, small images, limited set of fonts and file size limitations?
    All of which are becoming less of an issue with web fonts, modern browsers etc. and much more flexible layouts that adjust to the devices they are viewed on – aren’t much more than any design brief.
  • That most people don’t feel they can just be a digital designer but they also need to be able to code as well?
    This seemed odd as you wouldn’t expect a designer who created some branding to actually print the stationary themselves, or someone creating packaging for Waitrose to print, cut and fold thousands of boxes. But the general response when I asked “do you have any more digital work or have you done much”, most people tended to respond with a similar answer that ended in “…but I am trying to learn some coding and have started to build a portfolio site”.
  • Or could it be dare I say that lecturers generally don’t have the experience of digital they have with other areas?
    on this one I’m not sure!

One thing that seems to be changing the amount of interest in digital is the all powerful iPad. Lots of the digital design I’ve seen recently has been aimed more at the iPad, either websites shown on them or more often apps being designed, which seems even more of a niche than web design, and that is software design.

But is this amazing format helping to bring designers into digital? It’s something they can understand and feel, they interact with it on a beautiful device knowing that whatever they create it will always looks the same and be packaged in the same experience, and they don’t think they would be expected to code the apps. Whereas a site everyman and his dog can build they should have to.

It means that the amount of people that have digital work in their portfolios is a lot less than print, making it much harder to find good entry level digital designers.

We found that it makes deciding on a new employee harder and have had to start to set more digital briefs to really sort out those that can translate their design skills into digital.

There is a campaign from the tech community to get more coding taught in schools to help inspire more to enter the coding profession. I wonder if this will help to encourage a new generation of web designers, that will be needed to create the front-end of these websites coded by a new generation.

So how do we change the stigmas of digital design, well I think we need to encourage young creatives to look past the stereotypes by making them realise the potential and possibilities that the digital formats can open for design.

We have just launched a new campaign called creative swap – it’s a project to get design companies to swap members of their staff for 1 week. It was an idea that we wanted to turn around and launch as quickly as possible and the web allowed this – within 1 day of the idea forming we had a site up, registration form and everything in place.

These are the sort of projects that could really only happen online and we need to make students realise the power and somewhat limitless scope digital has.

So lets get them excited and proud to go into digital!