Notebook: 4 July 2016 | DEGREE SHOWS
With the annual summer graphic design degree shows almost over for another year, here’s my third and final review that takes in my visits over the last fortnight. You can read my two earlier reviews here and here. I’ve managed to squeeze in 11 very different shows – some good, some great – and there is a summary of all my visits at the end together with a few thoughts on what makes a good show.
Tuesday 21 June De Montfort University, Leicester BA (Hons) Graphic Design and Illustration
De Montfort university has a buzzy campus right on the edge of the vibrant city of Leicester and I tracked down the graphics show which was housed in the students’ airy studios. Amongst the assortment of packaging and branding design projects, it was the quality of the illustration that popped out at me and in particular, the lively and colourful drawings and hand lettering of Amy Austick, Danielle Wetton, Amy Lesko and Jack Tite – all pictured below in order.
My need for strong editorial design and bold photography was satisfied by Rafaella Zachariadou’s major project, ‘The Green Line’ – a collection of photos and essays based on the UN buffer zone set up in Cyprus after the Turkish invasion in 1974 – and Cleopatra Demetriou’s photo book ‘Memories in a Foreign Land’ that recounts the personal stories of members of the Leicester Greek Cypriot community’s migration to the UK. Both publications are sensitive and simple book designs with arresting photography.
Rafaella Zachariadou‘s, ‘The Green Line’
Cleopatra Demetriou’s book ‘Memories in a Foreign Land’
Thursday 23 June London College of Communication (LCC), University of the Arts London BA (Hons) Graphic and Media Design
On the morning of the Euro elections I found myself at the Elephant and Castle in south London. I hadn’t set foot in the LCC or the LCP (London College of Printing) as it used to be known, since the show in 1979 when I think, Neville Brody graduated amongst others. The Elephant used to be pretty desolate but it’s had a makeover and is much more pedestrian friendly. The graphics show (branded Salon XVI) was held in the main foyer of the college where each wall was covered with the students’ designs or ‘outcomes’, and the end wall given over to banks of monitors showing moving images and more stills. It was an impressive and captivating display and was arranged on a grid with exhibits identified by a key. Not all students like to have their work mixed up in this way, but I loved it despite some neck-craning. In a side room were the students ‘process’ books – a collection of their rough designs all carefully assembled to demonstrate their thinking. My overriding impression of the exhibition was of more experimental typography and design sitting happily alongside a pared-back, cool Swiss style aesthetic. Whose work stood out for me? There were Farzana Ahmed, Christian Schmitz and Joey Lim’s Samuel Beckett posters, Joey Lim’s typeface designs, Emily Jane Todd’s Ghost Shop book layouts, Giorgio Marani’s research documents and Christian Schmitz’s A Window to the City photographic study plus his series of posters and booklets offering mentoring for young prison offenders. They are all shown in order below.
Thursday 23 June Central Saint Martins (CSM), University of the Arts London BA (Hons) Graphic Design
Buoyed by the quality of work on display at LCC, I made my way back across the Thames and up to Kings Cross to Central Saint Martins. The graphic design course at CSM is huge and there were over 150 graphics students displaying their work which was curated into big and ambitious but rather wooly themes. It was all beautifully presented with excellent captions explaining each project but there was a huge amount to take in and it all became a bit of a rich feast and would have been easier to digest in two sittings. Graphic design has always been about problem solving and communicating an idea and at CSM, students are encouraged to have wide open minds and to come up with solutions that may not necessarily be print or even digital based. So for instance, Iara Monaco and Olga Carpenco collaborated together on a series of kinetic sculptures that moved every time the words money, sex and party were tweeted in real time (shown top and below) – and understandably the sculptures were in constant motion! This project was the very clever answer to a brief, that called for the obsessions of a generation of young people brought up on a materialistic internet culture, to be highlighted in some way.
Jasmine Parker’s Poetry Machine randomly generated poems and pictures at the touch of a button – who makes the best art – man or machine? (See below)
Koa Nguyen had chosen to chronicle the life of Muhammad Ali with a print solution – via a series of posters designed in traditional boxing poster style and typeset in the US by the one remaining letterpress boxing poster printer still in production. Ali’s recent death makes Koa Nguyen’s posters even more poignant. (See below)
What did I learn?
I packed in 11 different graphic design degree shows spread across East Anglia, The Midlands, London and the South. I’ve reviewed nine of them (I also visited, but haven’t reviewed the MA Visual Communication course at the RCA and the BA (Hons) Graphic Design course at The Cass at London Met’ Uni’). I’ve had a taster of just a small amount of the fantastic talent that continues to pour out of the UK’s art colleges each year despite cuts to education and the crippling increase in students’ fees that was introduced a couple of years back.
I’m a magazine and newspaper designer so I was drawn to the work of those students who had focused more on typography and editorial design – which I found at the excellent shows at LCC, Southampton Solent and the specialist Design for Publishing course at NUA in Norwich.
Show organisers need to make it easy for visitors to digest the work on display – every design needs to have a simple caption and the exhibition space should be airy and free flowing. Prospective employers need contact details for each student and these are best provided by a show guide or brochure as well as a website rather than business cards that can quickly run out. Employers also need to see a range of work rather than just one piece on display and this can be provided by additional work being available to view on a show website, or better still, a portfolio or book of additional work as part of the exhibition. Ideally the work needs to be a mix of projects that demonstrate more experimental creative thinking alongside a design that shows that the student is ‘industry ready’. Some shows (NUA and LCC) chose to split up students’ work and this can help the visitor make a comparison between project types – but then it’s important that the exhibition organisers make sure that it’s easy for the visitor to locate the rest of a student’s work. Many of the shows were very well designed with accompanying posters, printed guides and websites and I was impressed by the branding for the Royal college of Art designed by ex RCA students Antonio Bertossi and Esa Mantinvesi (shown below).
Most of the degree shows are now over for another year although you may still have time to visit some of the group shows such as the New Designers show at the Business Design Centre in London. Other non-London based universities, such as Winchester and Norwich Schools of Art, take their shows up to London to exhibit to a wider audience. The WSA show, A Sum of Parts is on at The Archivist’s Gallery in Hackney from 5-10 July. The Norwich (NUA) show is on at D&AD New Blood in Shoreditch on 6-7 July.
Good luck to all the students.