Brighton event tackles state of digital education

‘Are people on courses picking up the right skills? The feedback we get from our portfolio clinics is that 90 per cent of graduates are unemployable,’ says Phil Jones, managing director of Wired Sussex.

Wired Sussex, which works in partnership with the University of Brighton to help Sussex-based digital businesses develop, will host seminar Digital by Design: Create and Debate this week. Regional figureheads from digital industry and education will meet in Brighton and discuss how effective digital design can best be taught.

‘We need to ask if there is anything that can be done between universities and industry to improve employability,’ says Jones.

The event, held tomorrow evening, will see graduates offer their portfolios for advice – a practice that is encouraged by D&AD. Laura Woodroffe, director of education and professional development at D&AD, says, ‘It’s a process that can be good for graduates and practitioners. We work on portfolios with students before they graduate. For creatives it’s a form of professional development.’

She adds, ‘A different level of education is needed for digital portfolios. Often it’s about presenting something they haven’t been able to build yet – telling a narrative and demonstrating usability and how it will work spatially.’

The evening debate will be supported by three pillars of discussion based around education – one being the depth of knowledge required to be an effective digital designer.

‘Digital design is taught incredibly badly,’ says Andy Budd, managing director at Web design consultancy Clearleft and a conference panel member. Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash are taught, Budd says, ‘but we are building a class of designers limited by tools’.

Budd believes courses should be structured around problem-solving and designing for clients. ‘They’re taught to be quite egotistical, putting themselves at the centre, when they should be looking at the relationship between how people relate to each other and spaces.’

Budd sees digital spaces as akin to architectural ones and says websites need page-to-page continuity in the same way buildings need room-to-room continuity. ‘Students aren’t being taught this spatial awareness,’ he says.

The discrepancy between creative and commercial success and whether this is being addressed in digital design education will also be discussed at the conference.

Kirk Woolford, senior lecturer in media practice at the University of Sussex, says, ‘We have a very specific work programme and part of that is how to work for a client, exist within the boundaries of a brief and gauge what the client is asking for.’

Woolford adds, ‘They’re told that absolute creative control can only be maintained if it’s a project where a designer can raise the finances themselves.’

As purveyors of social media, the current generation of graduates are self-taught in the subject and digital growth is largely driven by social networking at the moment.

The conference will look to ask how important professional digital design skills are in a world where this DIY culture dominates. Joshua van der Broek, creative director at Nixon McInnes – a social media-specific consultancy – concedes that effective social media design can be self-taught.

Moreover, he believes that social media is user-centred and that students need to know who they’re designing for. ‘Practitioners carry out research, test and engage emotionally with an audience,’ he says. ‘Students need more involvement with live projects, which is something that has slipped from digital design education.’

Portfolio clinic and panel debate

  • The portfolio clinic will be held from 5-7pm on Thursday 12 November at Brighton’s Corn Exchange, with consultancies including Cogapp, Mind Orchard and Makemedia providing advice
  • Experts at the panel debate chaired by DW editor Lynda Relph-Knight, from 7-9pm, include Karen Norquay, head of the school of arts and media at The University of Brighton; Paul Woodbridge, design director of Relentless Software; and John Davison, director of digital group Kanoti

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