RCA has the chance to push graphics forward

The Royal College of Art is believed to have chosen the new professor of graphics – a key appointment if the college’s graphics department is to kindle the same interest the 3D courses have enjoyed since Ron Arad and Nigel Coates took over the industrial design and furniture and architecture courses respectively. But colleges being what they are, we’ll probably have to wait until autumn to learn who it is.

The person who will serve alongside the incumbent professor, celebrated illustrator Dan Fern, will surely bear much of the responsibility for broadening the graphics course from the current “arty” stance evident at the past few years’ degree shows to take more account of the needs of commercial communications. To achieve the balance required by today’s employers – and clients – RCA graduates need to have more commercial nous and a much more ideas-led, strategic approach to design.

Visual arts such as illustration, photography – and, indeed, fine art – have a fantastic role to play in the communications mix of international business. Would that more designers were aware of the strength an illustrator or photographer can bring to their overall message and how much can be gained through close collaboration.

But such arts don’t easily stand alone these days, when the demands of branding and complex communications campaigns suggest a quick-witted, integrated approach. That rigour is more likely to come from a broader awareness of graphics than through a specialised route – or, even better, from working as a multi-talented team. Let’s hope, therefore, that the RCA’s choice brings a strong flavour of contemporary practice at the top end of the business, as a foil to Fern’s highly cultured approach.

Graphics isn’t the only area of design undergoing rapid change. Take product design. The thorny debate led by conventional engineering-led designers against their more entrepreneurial colleagues reached new heights this year with the formation of a splinter group. Hopefully, the balance will be redressed in the autumn when British Design and Art Direction president Richard Seymour leads initiatives, including a book written for D&AD by cultural historian Catherine McDermott, pointing up the leadership role product designers can take.

Design is changing fast, with designers more equipped than ever before to help steer the course of business success. This happy situation gives greater scope for a diversity of approach and talent. Let’s hope the RCA, like D&AD, seizes the opportunity with both hands.

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