As the academic year ends, design courses gear up for the next batch of students. Recruitment becomes their primary business as promotion and marketing strategies are activated, in an attempt to lure the best and the most applications from around the world. Although design courses’ validity centres around content and structure, more often for students, it’s the presentation that counts. Prospectuses and promotional material have to stand out with glossy layouts, clarity of type and captivating images. For websites, easy navigation and a continuity of look and feel with the print material is paramount. For summer degree show catalogues, it’s the prospective clients and employers that need captivating.
Unlike other universities, the promotional literature of design colleges is catering for a very particular audience, one that already owns some design knowledge, but is looking at that institution to acquire more of it. Not surprisingly then, design becomes the marketing tool, which can influence a student’s decision to apply to a certain course. Yet, as Dani Salvatore, Central St Martins College of Art and Design college business manager explains, “What graphic designers and fashion designers want to see in a prospectus can be very different. It’s important to strike a balance.”
Budget can be a constraining element, especially for design departments outside London, which depend financially on universities. London-based Bark Design Solutions, which designed the prospectus for Portsmouth School of Art, Design and Media, admits it was a labour of love rather than a profit-making job. To make the print run more economical it produced a prospectus that runs from 2000 until the 2002 academic year. Glasgow School of Art now produces all its promotional literature in-house, as outsourcing is expensive.
For London colleges, it helps having a reservoir of local talent and a pool of alumni on which to draw upon. Central St Martins’ last prospectus was designed by typographer Phil Baines, while design group GR/DD has just redesigned the literature for the Development Unit and the Postgraduate degrees and research courses. The Royal College of Art has in the past employed groups such as Graphic Thought Facility (for its 1998-1999 prospectus) and Deepend for its website (soon to be reviewed). All are ex-students. GTF also designed the London College of Printing’s 2000-2001 and the 2001-2002 prospectus, while Nick Bell at Una London will design the 2002-2003 one. RCA publishing manager Will Dallimore explains his process of commissioning.
“I’ll ask Dan Fern (RCA head of School of Communications) for a list of five or six ex-RCA graphic design students he knows and feels are suitable, but I’ll also get a list of non-RCA designers,” he says. Most importantly for Dallimore is that the literature embodies the core values of the college. It happens that those who went there seem to grasp them best.