Online networking can’t replace real-world contact

Lynda Relph-Knight

Any regular on the degree show circuit will have noticed a welcome change in attitude among graduating students in recent years. Not long ago the walls of the gallery would be lined by young people, sitting on the floor and trying not to associate themselves with the work on view. Then we hit a pushy phase, characterised by young men in ill-fitting suits ‘selling’ themselves to anyone who would listen.

Now, though, we have highly intelligent graduates on hand to explain work that shows an active interest, not just in style aspects of design, but in social concerns, and a deep commitment to sustainability. There is a knowledge, too, of working overseas or manufacturing in, say, China or India.

This attitude is epitomised by Max Frommeld, the Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication graduate named New Designer of the Year at New Designers earlier this month (see profile, Sustainability supplement, DW 12 June). Frommeld will succeed through the quality and sensitivity of his work, his quiet charm and ability to articulate his ideas.

It was surprising this week, therefore, to see ten graduates honoured for a very different reason. It was their ability to notch up online contacts that won them the accolades in a contest organised by a social network provider, rather than the quality of the work.

Fortunately for the organiser, these were not second-rate students academically, and one in particular stood out as highly deserving of the place at the Royal College of Art she has secured. But it will be a sad day for design if creating online networks without building deeper relationships becomes a key indicator of success.

We constantly urge graduates to take every opportunity they can to promote themselves to would-be employers and clients, and play an active part in the design community. Online networks can be part of that, but on their own they are a poor substitute for quality work and strong relationships. Better a handful of the right contacts than 1000 you have never met.

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