How to build bridges between the design industry and education

Emily Penny, co-founder of Colourful Design Strategy and visiting lecturer at The Cass, looks at how the design industry and creative education can build links with each other.


At this time of year it’s inspiring to visit the degree shows. For me, just the smell of an art school is an exciting blast from the past: the craft, the creativity, the raw potential of creative people on the brink of starting their careers.

Dialogue between education and industry is a must. Graduates from creative art and design courses are less likely to go into employment than graduates from many other courses, and many practicing designers don’t hold a degree. While the design industry has expanded and earnings have increased, the same is not necessarily true for graduate employment.

First of all, it’s important for design educators to recognise how hard it is to make that transition from student to designer. Young designers are likely to be unaware of the realities of design as business, or even the breadth of roles open to them in industry. At the same time, employers are looking for recruits with the right attitude and skills. The design industry is changing fast, driven by new technologies and ways of thinking. Many employers want multi-disciplinary designers who can work collaboratively. How can design schools and students ensure they’re up to speed?

A number of recent projects have started to build bridges.

Fred Deakin at University of the Arts London (UAL) and Derek Yates at Winchester School of Art are leading in collaborative curriculum development. Deakin maintains that by partnering with industry leaders we can ensure that the creative community is enriched by talented graduates who bring with them a natural affinity with the digital world.

Last year, UAL created ‘Modual’, a pop-up design studio hosted by creative agency Mother, where students from courses across UAL could experience a taste of a more innovative way of working. This year the initiative has expanded into the Collabology residency at Makerversity.

This week, at the Cass Summer Show, Cass Hothouse opens with a “live design and editorial studio” telling the story of the team’s dialogue with industry. Over the last few weeks, students from the BA Illustration and BA Graphic Design courses ventured out to observe four leading design studios in London: Colophon Foundry/The Entente, Kin, Nous Vous and SomeOne.

Susanna Edwards, Head of Cass Visual Communication, has spearheaded the project. She says: “We’re bringing students face to face with leading practitioners, and enabling them to ask questions and experience the diversity of design in practice.”

The Cass Hothouse seeks to expose the students to diverse and innovative models of working. Nous Vous is an illustration collective. Illustrator William Edmonds shared their philosophy with the students: “Collaboration works for us as it helps us to achieve things which would be difficult independently, it provides some healthy competition and a sounding board.”

The initiative has even given rise to a live brief whereby students are working on a project for SomeOne client Cancer Research UK. Simon Manchipp, co-founder of SomeOne, says: “The ivory towers of traditional ad agencies and design companies are well known for their reliance on new creative talent with more radical mindsets, but what do they do to nurture it?

“This sort of endeavour benefits the industry as a whole, we’re feeding commercial creativity’s fire by getting more involved in education.”

First-year student Andrew Sosnowski is studying illustration. He says: “Being part of the Hothouse and meeting these designers has shown me how important multi-disciplinary practice is in today’s industry.

“A can-do attitude and a flexibility in the tools and processes we use will hopefully lead to success down the line.”

The group is documenting its experience on a blog and within the live working space. The project will be open to the public, who can sign up for live workshops led by industry experts in the space throughout the Cass show.

The Cass Hothouse team
The Cass Hothouse team working in the Nous Vous studio
The Cass Hothouse team working in the Nous Vous studio


Cass Hothouse is open daily from 10am Friday 12 – Saturday 20 June 2015 at Central House, third floor, 59-63 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7PF. Find out more at casshothouse.tumblr.comLive Hothouse workshops are free and open to the public. They run from 1pm-5 pm each day. Register for workshops here

Emily Penny is co-founder of Colourful Design Strategy and visiting lecturer at The Cass.

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