Paul Drake: “There is hope for young designers in all this uncertainty”

D&AD foundations director Paul Drake advises design graduates and those studying to make the most of the current spirit of “generosity” in the industry.

Whenever there is an economic shock it feels like the risk for creativity is disproportionate; both educationally and economically.

Despite D&AD’s 40th year of the New Blood Awards being as remarkable as ever, the new generation of global talent ready to take their next step into the creative industry are facing great uncertainty. Instead of being able to pick the most exciting opportunities, backed up by networking, practical workshops and face-to-face opportunities provided by universities, many are facing an employment landscape that looks more like a desert.

But despite this, there are several reasons to be optimistic.

We recently delivered our New Blood Festival digitally and were blown away by our audiences’ continued appetite for insight and learning. Rather than being downbeat they were positively responding to the challenge and we, like many within the industry, will continue to provide the support this generation needs.

The recent announcement from Government to support the UK’s cultural and creative sector is also welcome. And the education minister Gavin Williamson has stated that a full and broad curriculum will continue in September – I use the word broad loosely – to calm fears that teaching in some creative subjects could be scaled back.

Develop a clear perspective on work you want to make

On the employment front, while it is still difficult to predict the parts of the economy that will bounce back first, at some point jobs will return and in the meantime design graduates can do much to get themselves into a position to grab the opportunities when they do arise.

We’re encouraging emerging design talent to keep learning and making; to develop a clearer perspective about the type of work they want to make and the type they don’t; to act on the current generosity and good-will of the industry and hunt out mentors; keep their curiosity; get feedback; and to develop a point of view.

Be prepared to repackage your skills

Depending on when and how the economy does bounce back, design graduates may need to adapt their thinking about what their next step might be. Part of this may require them to package their skills in ways that are as appealing to those in the creative economy as those who are not but who would benefit from a designer’s attributes.

Could policy makers be understanding the value of design?

Within industry there are countless reports heralding the importance of creativity within boardrooms while AI continues to disrupt creativity and problem solving is becoming uniquely irreplaceable. And who would have thought that the head of Google’s Creative Lab would now be Chief Creative Officer for Greece and at the heart of policy helping to lead a country through their own crisis?

Perhaps the fact that creativity and design has seeped into so many parts of the economy has finally strengthened its value in the minds of policy makers and I think can also be a cause for optimism for graduates. If ever there was a need for creativity to fuel innovation it is now and maybe a designer’s toolkit is just what our economies and employers need.

Rethinking design education

However, this is all pretty short-term and perhaps there are more fundamental changes we can make to the way people access education, skills and employment so that we are more robust in future years. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve recently heard the phrase – don’t waste a crisis – and screamed, but maybe that time is now for higher education.

While it’s been encouraging to see a considered approach to blended and restructured learning for the new Academic year from universities perhaps now is also the time to revisit the largely set-in-stone nature of a fixed cost, fixed discipline, fixed location, fixed duration degree course to ensure that learning is fit for future generations and the creative economy.

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