Students that put their skills into practice will stand out

May is proving to be the month of e-mails from panicking students desperate for information to complete their dissertations ‘by the end of the week’. It’s amazing what a motivator a looming deadline can be. But while we all understand the plight of stressed students, it’s as much a part of the creative learning curve to put yourself in a pressured position at a time when it counts.

What is of more concern are some of the subjects these young hopefuls are proposing. Their questions are either too broad – ‘Do you know anything about packaging?’ – or too predictable – ‘What’s your view of women in design?’ – and too few take the trouble to find out the name of the person they’re addressing. ‘Dear sir/madam’ will not do if they expect their requests to be taken seriously.

All credit though to those who approach consultancies or magazines like Design Week to help them with their research. What better way to tap into the latest information. But it would be great to see them tackling subjects more pertinent to society today. A couple of years ago it might have been ways design can boost tourism in the UK after the foot-and-mouth epidemic or to reassure the public about safe air travel. Now it might build on initiatives to improve the school experience or those related to healthcare. New issues emerge all the time and it is refreshing when a student looks beyond set pieces to identify something of direct relevance.

Evidence of a broad outlook is more likely to get you a job or win an award than a grim adherence to the obvious solutions, however beautifully executed. We look to the tutors to give guidance on this, but with focus now on design in secondary schools, thanks to organisations like the Design Council and the Audi Design Foundation, we can expect degree students to become more challenging in their coursework.

It is a bit early for the full impact of schools initiatives to manifest on the degree shows. But judging by last year’s output, young designers are already more confident than their predecessors and more adept at communicating their ideas.

Only the best of them are likely to get jobs as designers in the short-term, as the industry slowly works its way towards economic recovery. But others might find rewarding careers in design-related areas where problem-solving and communication skills are key, within consultancies or on the client side.

The important thing for students is to show their individuality without being pushy. Beleaguered consultancy heads might not be hiring now, but as recovery speeds up they might need to staff up – and the sharper ones will be checking out the talent of the future.

Lynda Relph-Knight

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