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Year One

May 26, 2010

Having just about come to the end of my first academic year in graphic design, this would be a good point to take stock, sum-up what I’ve learnt and not learnt, consider the successes and otherwise. Perhaps a good way to start would be to look at the advice given by 5 professionals in a talk earlier this week. Matthew Wilson of web-solutions experts and designers’ best friends With Associates championed the benefits of collaborative ventures, while Sion Whellan of design and print cooperative Calverts took things a step further with a surely-its-too-good-to-be-true-? vision of harmony in the cooperative workplace. Sam Arthur of independent arts publisher Nobrow, and Kate Higginsonn of Dalston’s best screenprinting studio The Print Club and illustration agents Higginsonhurst, both agreed that its better to take a risk on setting up your own business instead of working or Coca-Cola, while Rob Perkins of global advertising heavyweights Weiden & Kennedy managed to make working for a advertising agency sound like a lot of fun, though a little bit sleazy (perhaps that’s just my preconceptions talking). What’s the conclusion? That graphic design is a broad profession, and the type of career designer has depends upon where they work and the choices they make about the kind of work they pursue.

Throughout the year I’ve done my best to keep up with various design commentators, leeching insights from Ben Terrett and Michael Johnson, enjoying amusing rants from Erik Spiekermann, and marvelling at the steady stream of excellent contemporary design selected by Alex and Will of It’s Nice That. My own blog has been invaluable as a way of prompting myself to keep looking for new stuff, and to have a proper think about that new stuff once I’ve found it.

Still, I’ve spent the last 8 months working non-stop, and have been surprised by how much I’ve managed to not learn yet. Web design seems just to be a case of applying familiar layout techniques to a different format, but until I’ve got beyond page 1 of the Dreamweaver manual I’ll remain blissfully ignorant of how much more I’m sure there is to it. Processing presents some exciting possibilities, but seems like a mountain worth climbing only once I’ve become comfortable with more fundamental aspects of the profession. While I feel confident with blogging now, there are many other online resources I’ve barely had a chance to glance at. Issuu, Blurb, and Fontifier remain in my to do file, while my Twitter account has been sadly neglected from day one.

Where I’ve perhaps not yet got to grips with the available online tools, I. Making type from polystyrene, ketchup, paint, glue has been a lot of fun, and has generally worked out pretty well (though I still need to get a real camera and learn to photograph work properly). I’ve learnt the importance of getting out from behind the laptop – to make stuff for real, see how things look printed-out, take a camera and go for a walk… I’ve been really surprised and a little intimidated at times by the high standard of work by other students on the course and elsewhere. I’ll make an effort to see all the degree shows this year, no excuses. I’ve learnt that working in a group can be difficult (you really have to trust your colleagues), but rewarding, and ultimately the only way to be successful.

I’m aware that the VCT content of the course hasn’t been everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve found that researching into the history and contextual writing about graphic design, particularly critical debate since the late 80s, has opened my eyes to many issues I was simply unaware of before. Last term’s timeline on Deconstructivist typography and the surrounding debate about the debasement of Modernist design values gave me a new appreciation of the work and designers from an era that I had previously dismissed for its nowadays unfashionable and dated aesthetic.

The picture above, by the way, is the first thing I ever posted on my old Blogger account, at the start of this wild adventure…

So, more yet to do. Here are some lists:

Projects in my to do list:
++ Design a proper font
++ Make a newspaper
++ Design some exhibition signage
++ Make more books

And things to investigate next year:
++ Creative processes and idea generation techniques
++ Processing, web design (all that stuff…)
++ Machine printing techniques and paper stock
++ Handprinting techniques – letterpress, screenprinting, lino, solar plate etc.

Personal goals:
++ cycle to Paris (or get further than I did last time – Brighton)
++ Learn to drive
++ Bake more

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