Friday, 31 October 2014
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A future model for design education?

Fabrica, which unveiled its new management structure this week, did so with some rather ambitious language, suggesting that the institution ‘intends to consolidate its role as an international cultural centre’.

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One thing the appointment of Dan Hill as managing director - and more so Royal College of Art rector Paul Thompson – does achieve is much a closer link with formal academia.

As such the reading of Fabrica as a potential model for higher education institutions, often mooted before, becomes even more compelling.

Italy-based Fabrica is a notoriously difficult proposition to pin down. Benetton Group, which owns and funds it, describes it as ‘an applied creativity laboratory, a talent incubator’. It could also be seen as a research lab, an education institution, and Benetton’s in-house creative hub.

The library at the Tadao Ando Fabrica campus

The library at the Tadao Ando Fabrica campus

‘Fabricanti’, as Fabrica attendees are referred to, come from around the world and are offered a year-long bursary to develop work in fields including graphics, editorial design (through Colors magazine) and interactive design.

Around 30 Fabricanti are accepted each year, and work on live, conceptual, and frequently commercial projects. A lot of the work Fabrica produces, unsurprisingly, ends up being used by Benetton – for example as ad campaigns or interactive retail installations.

So while the Fabricanti get a subsidised year of working on innovative projects, with a reasonable level of creative freedom and a wealth of resources, the pay-off for Benetton is that they have access to a free thinktank of creativity across advertising, interactive, graphics and retail design.

Fabrica's Erik Ravelo making the Unhate Dove in Tripoli, Libya

Fabrica’s Erik Ravelo making the Unhate Dove in Tripoli, Libya

So, while obviously commercial, in many ways the Fabrica model addresses two of the main problems facing design education at the moment – the prohibitive cost to students, and gripes from the industry of a lack of skills among graduates.

Fabricanti not only receive a free year-long intensive training course – which focuses heavily on concept as opposed to execution (ideas rather than CAD skills) – they also come out of Fabrica both fizzing with inspiration but also incredibly comfortable working with big brands. A good situation for a budding commercial designer to be in.

It’s nearly impossible not to feel squeamish about this harnessing of big business to education, but looking at the obvious flaws in an expensive, often unsatisfactory UK higher education system, models like Fabrica suddenly start to look like compelling alternative.

The Lana Sutra work, created by Erik Ravelo at Fabrica and displayed in Benetton stores

The Lana Sutra work, created by Erik Ravelo at Fabrica and displayed in Benetton stores

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