“It’s very common for design graduates to enter the workplace without any real experience of the timescales involved, how self-starting they need to be, or experience of collaborating with people with very different skillsets”, says Fred Deakin, professor for interactive digital arts at University of Arts London.
“It’s always been this way”, he adds, “It’s the way education has worked for a long time. But following the digital paradigm shift that has taken place over the past ten years it has become even more important and urgent that graduates have those skills.”
Deakin joined UAL in 2014 as one of nine new cross-university heads. Previously he had co-run consultancy Airside for 14 years, until its closure in 2014, and operated as one half of band Lemon Jelly.
One of the initiatives Deakin has led at UAL is the Collabology project, which aims to promote the kind of collaborative and real-world skills he says many graduates are lacking.
Collabology is a two-week workshop which sees students work together in groups to tackle briefs based around creating “positive change”, using digital collaborative tools. They are mentored through the process by a number of practising designers, including former Airside partner Nat Hunter, Gethin Lewis of Hellicar & Lewis and Andy Huntington, formerly of Berg.
The pilot Collabology scheme launched last year at Mother, and this year’s cohort are currently ensconsed at the Makerversity premises in London’s Somerset House. The students on-site are joined in a digital link-up with other students from Falmouth School of Art and Manchester School of Art.
Deakin says the aim of the project is all about giving students a taste of real life. He says: “The reason we run it as such an intense process is that this is exactly what happens in the real world. When I was running Airside we would get phoned up on Monday morning and the client would say: ‘Oh, we’ve got this project, can you get back to us tomorrow?” I don’t think students really get that that is the speed of things.”
He adds: “Anyone who’s been out in the industry knows that what we’re doing here isn’t particularly extreme, but the students don’t know that and that can be a bit of a shock.
“But then there’s something that happens when they all get together and commit to a project – they feel the power. It’s the same force I remember from running a studio. Somehow this isn’t something that traditional education finds it easy to give to undergraduates as a tangible experience.”
With this year’s digital tie-ups with Manchester and Falmouth, Deakin says he is exploring potential to develop the concept in different ways, but the key thing, he says, is that it benefits both students and the design industry as a whole.
Describing his work as “an undercover educational guerrilla cell at UAL”, Deakin says he hopes the influence of Collabollogy and other projects can spread throughout education and industry.
Deakin says: “I think UAL was very perceptive in that they commissioned me from industry rather than someone from academia and then let me experiment and liaise with industry. If I can be a bridge between students and the design industry then that would be a job done as far as I’m concerned.”
He adds: “There is a big shift in traditional education at the moment – because of fees and the wider economy. There is a growth in new small-scale initiatives and I think that the design community is increasingly seeing how they could own a piece of this and help to train the graduates that they need.”