‘Our aim is not to make a good show, but to have taught students how to think,’ says Geoff Fowle, MA Communication Design course director at Central St Martins College of Art and Design, emphatically.
This week the curtain goes up on the MA students’ final projects. Encompassing four pathways – graphic design, illustration, photography and digital media – the course is one of the London institution’s calling cards and a major source of graduates for the industry. Students weave between disciplines and, crucially, are driven to develop their intellectual and spiritual rigour.
According to Fowle, who has played teacher and mentor to many in the UK graphic design community, and who recently moved from the BA course to lead the MA programme, there is a vast chasm between the idea of ‘education’ and ‘training’ in design. ‘Too much teaching of graphic design is merely training. It doesn’t go into the syntax of persuasion. Design shouldn’t be clean – it should be sharp, vulgar and inquisitive. It must have something in common with good comedy: an ability to deal with difficult subjects. We shouldn’t just be teaching students to adopt the strictures of the Western communication system, but to look at the roots of communication.’ Of these criticisms, he says, the Royal College of Art’s graphics programme, his nearest competitor, stands accused. ‘What they do is nice, domestic, Western replication. It doesn’t get into new territory,’ he says.
There’s little doubt that Central St Martins’ philosophy will stand its alumni in good stead long after the transition into professional practice. With this in mind, here are some of the results.
Central St Martins College of Art and Design’s MACD degree show opens with a private view on 14 June from 6-9pm, then is open until 21 June at the Mall Galleries, 17 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1
Astrid Kogler chose to investigate death through a clinical survey of different outcomes that befall the bodies of dead pigs. Comprising three books, posters and photographs, The Pig Trilogy is a thorough examination of the fate of a pig carcass, be it food, a medical dissection or a collection of bones. The images alone are fascinating visual material, while the method of presentation is effectively ambivalent, emulating the scientific study of a morally complex subject.
Graphic design/information design
Chris Campbell adopted the use of newspaper registration marks to develop a notation system for recording media coverage of global conflicts from 2000-2005. This visual language uses size variation within the coloured dots to map the changing media output as events happen. For data, Campbell analysed 15 000 articles published by the Daily Mail, The Sun and The Guardian. Presented as a broadsheet-sized book, Campbell’s War Report is an ambitious inquiry into the relationship between political action and press coverage, tackling an axis of 21st-century power that has been fraught with controversy.
Although she is foremost a student of illustration, Emma Reynard’s final project looks at the process of dealing with the experience of child abuse, using mainly medium-format photography. She assembles tableaux of wrestling toys and dolls into distressing scenes: one, photographed in a doll’s house, is blown up to human scale. Another work shows a screen-printed fabric sheet, backlit to create shadows, with the silhouette of a real child projected through it. Reynard powerfully conveys the distinction between nostalgic reflection and psychological recovery.
Lamya Hussain Gargash
Working on sites across the United Arab Emirates in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman, Lamya Hussain Gargash records the prevalence of a bygone identity within abandoned houses. The work – entitled Presence – references a period 30 years ago, immediately after the oil boom, when youth culture blossomed and the Middle East experienced profound social and demographic changes. Today, the relevance is potent, with the threat of what Gargash calls ‘cultural extinction’ as a new identity smothers the past.
Peter Leontiades created his final animation using several techniques: model-making, animation, real-time footage, motion graphics and photography. He found a derelict building in east London and created a fictional narrative around it, anchored in Victorian times, the era that the building dates from. The work deals with sound experimentation and architectural space, which are both influenced by human intervention from five characters, and recreates an aesthetic of magic associated with the period.
Learning the professional ropes
Wile higher education exists partly to nurture creative ability without commercial constraints, professional practice elements are playing an increasingly important role in final-year timetables. Two projects recently put students in the same shoes as a design group responding to a live brief set by a client.
London Metropolitan University/Latimer Films
Latimer Films worked with BA Design students from London Metropolitan University on a rebranding project that goes live over the next month.
‘We make films with hard-to-reach young people, giving them a voice and helping them to get into the industry, so when we decided to rebrand, we wanted to see who it could benefit in the same way,’ says Jack Woodcraft, a director of Latimer Films.
Through its final term, the class organised itself into a design group, named Grimey 9, and began the design process with its new client, which involved fortnightly meetings and a final presentation pitch of new brand identities. ‘Once we were both pleased with a specific brand, we filtered this into a website. We think the outcomes are a breath of fresh air and our clients were very happy,’ says student Sam Janar, who took on the role of Grimey 9’s project manager. ‘I can’t believe that other courses don’t run live projects, especially on the management side of design. I think they are essential,’ says student Sally Richards.
It has been a success for both parties. ‘I now feel confident to meet clients, work with a group of designers and handle a high-profile project,’ says Janar.
‘There were moments of incredible professionalism, and others when we realised they were still learning,’ says Woodcraft. ‘We had to take our role seriously and act like real clients, telling them when something wasn’t good enough, to help them improve.’
Royal College of Art and Imperial College/Umbro
This is the first year that Umbro has run its Future Heritage project with students from the RCA’s Design Products course and Imperial College London’s Materials Science course, in conjunction with RCA fashion and textiles students, who have previously competed for the prize.
Umbro asked six mixed-discipline teams to devise concepts for the future of the brand.
According to Colin Henry, Umbro’s senior vice-president for global products and marketing, ‘It was a risk to bring this multidisciplinary aspect to the project this year, and we were surprised and impressed by the results. We are in talks with the college about doing something with a slightly more commercial outcome next year.’
The winning team of So Hyun Kim from the RCA’s Design Products course – Liam Jackson, Sara Li Ratcliffe, Lisa Hjelm and Ella Jade – came up with the idea of making the diamond shape synonymous with Umbro, so that whenever these forms are seen – from the Gherkin to dot-to-dot games – they would sell the brand. ‘It was really helpful to work with fashion people, and to think about the whole process without making any distinction,’ says So Hyun Kim. The team’s proposals included a playground.
The project, says Henry, brings ‘intangible’ inspiration to Umbro’s design team as well as offering invaluable training. ‘This team won on presentation strength as well as content, and while the college gives these skills, we can help to develop them. If you can’t articulate ideas, even the best design skills can end up in the bottom drawer.’