Educating for an uncertain future

Microsoft Word - In the name of graphic design education, final

Left: Mat Heinl Right: Derek Yates

This is a guest post from Derek Yates, Programme Leader of Graphic Arts at Winchester School of Art

Moving Brands CEO Mat Heinl joined author and educator, Derek Yates to deliver a keynote presentation at the bi-annual conference of the Graphic Design Educators Network at Cardiff Metropolitan University in South Wales. The theme of the conference was Exploring Territories. Derek and Mat discussed the benefits of open ended, prototype driven enquiry and why embracing failure could be the real key to survival for today’s creative graduates. This is an expansion of an interview featured in Derek’s book ‘Communication Design Insights from the Creative Industries.’

The presentation kicked off with a screening of Play, a short film that explores Moving Brands’ approach to research, development and problem solving. After the film, Derek and Mat discussed how the company makes space for an expansive and exploratory approach outside of the ‘design friendly’ clients that occupy the cultural sector. This sparked a discussion around the importance of designers being able to articulate ideas ‘beyond the echo chamber’. A case study film of Moving Brands’ work with Hewlett Packard provided the perfect illustration and allowed the discussion to move on to the importance of the iteration process. The development processes within the contemporary communication industries have evolved beyond those necessitated by the limitations of print. Derek described how many digital agencies talk about a minimum viable product and seeking to perfect it in the marketplace while Mat noted that there is an honor in going for perfection and at MB, there is a sense of wanting to get something absolutely right and being prepared to stay until it is.

It was an easy jump then to a discussion about the benefits of embracing failure as a key learning tool in education and design practice. Derek noted that in contemporary higher education, the need for accountability against league tables and performance matrices has created a grade obsessed achievement culture in which embracing failure seems counterintuitive. In this context, open-ended experimentation and risk taking became more difficult to promote. Mat stressed that at MB, risk is deemed inherent to success and maybe focusing on ‘failure’ was not helpful. There is a certainty that a project will be delivered, whatever the ambition. Experience has taught the team not ‘to be framed by their capabilities’ and instead, see each task as an opportunity to extend these capabilities.

Derek and Mat concluded their conversation by discussing the benefits of collaborative, cross-disciplinary enquiry. Derek pointed out that within higher education, institutional pressures related to assessment and a need to differentiate courses against an employment aspiration can obstruct genuine exploration with students from other areas. Mat talked of the need to ‘disrupt the subject silo’ and how designers should not think of themselves a ‘swiss army knife’ of different services. He stressed that at MB, there is a need to differentiate between collaboration and cooperation, they do both and have an understanding when each is appropriate.

Photo credit:  from Creative Review UK

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