Degree shows, Notebook

Emerging talent 2016. Part one: Coventry / Norwich / Ipswich

Notebook: 6 June 2016 | DEGREE SHOWS

Every June many hundreds of graphic design graduates complete their three years of study at a UK university and the culmination and celebration of all their hard work and talent is the degree ‘show’ in which their designs are displayed for the course examiners to mark and for friends, family and prospective employers to enjoy. It’s a bittersweet time – joy tinged with sadness, but excitement as well – as the students progress out into the big wide world, ready to become the graphic design stars of the future. I’m visiting as many shows as I can fit in and last week I popped into Coventry University, Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) and University Campus Suffolk (UCS) in Ipswich and here’s a very small taster of just a tiny amount of the talent on display. I’m an editorial designer and typographer so much of the work highlighted below has a bias towards these disciplines.

Tuesday 31 May Coventry University BA (Hons) Graphic Design

I have a soft spot for Coventry. I studied at the university myself many years ago when it was still known as Lanchester Polytechnic. I hadn’t stepped foot in the Art and Design faculty since the early 1980s but I still felt the same buzz as I walked through the front door. The course is fairly large with 54 students graduating from the third year. Selected designs were displayed as hanging ‘posters’ and then each student had a numbered desk display that tied in neatly with the show catalogue and made it easy to navigate your way around. Graphic design students at Coventry are encouraged to ‘get their hands dirty’ such as designing a font in Illustrator, using a laser cutter to make the font in wood and then printing it on a 150-year old hand operated press. Effervescent principal lecturer Dr Simon Bell described how, many years ago, he had been encouraged to throw out all the cases of hot metal as the digital age was heralded in – but he’d squirrelled away as much of the old lead type as he could and it’s still there in a basement room for the students to make use of and to give them a good understanding of and sense for typography. The young designers I spoke to had also enjoyed using the screen printing facilities to produce posters and other graphics. They all enthused about their course and the quality of the teaching. Ben Gray‘s The Shoreditch Kitchen menu card showed a real love for, and command of typography and likewise Jo Conway displayed a delicate and sensitive touch in his use of type and image.

Benjamin Gray smaller

Ben Gray, The Shoreditch Kitchen menu card


Jo Conway, Carhartt booklet

I was impressed by Ola Olaide-Abidoye‘s work. Ola has represented recollections of Robert Boyd, (Boyd was a security guard for Martin Luther King on the day of King’s ‘Pass the Bill’ civil rights speech in Washington in 1963) in the form of protestors’ placards. Boyd’s memories of the day are written on each placard using simple 60’s style typography to relay a very strong message. (See below)

ola placards

Tuesday 31 May Norwich University of the Arts BA (Hons) Design for Publishing

Back in Norfolk I headed up to Norwich. A couple of years back, the old School of Art Guntons building was given a makeover and the design studios are now modern, airy and very conducive to creativity. Graphics students at Norwich have a choice of three options after their first year of study. They can chose the straight graphics course (BA Hons Graphic Design) which has always been strong in packaging design; or they can opt for the Graphic Communication route (BA Hons Graphic Communication) which encourages students to solve complex communication problems and push the boundaries of their discipline; or finally, they can take the Design for Publishing course which focuses on editorial design and typography. It was this ‘Publishing’ option that I’d particularly come to see and I believe that this course is the only graphic design course in the UK where a student can specialise in editorial design. The young designers are often encouraged to work in collaborative groups which helps prepare them for life on the outside and I was wowed by designs for a magazine called Bittersweet (pictured top) which had been put together by five students: Tomas Almeida, Clarissa Burridge, Lauren Connolly, Bethany Lall and Sian Osborne. Bittersweet is a collection of articles based on ‘two sides to every story’ with each story being counterbalanced by one of an opposing nature. Much of the typography and use of imagery was exquisite – here was a magazine that needed to be consumed at a slow pace in a comfy chair to enjoy it to its full.

TA Bittersweet  TA Bittersweet2

Bittersweet spreads by Tomas Almeida

BL bittersweet 1  BL Bittersweet 2

Bittersweet spreads by Bethany Lall

CB Bittersweet 1  CB bittersweet 2

Bittersweet spreads by Clarissa Burridge

lauren connoly bittersweet  lauren connelly bittersweet2

Bittersweet spreads by Lauren Connolly

SO bittersweet 1  SO bittersweet2

Bittersweet spreads by Sian Osborne

My eye was also taken by the work of Joana Na and her beautifully crafted typography and book designs for Death of the Author by Roland Barthes. (pictured below)


The NUA Design for Publishing show was a pleasure to walk around: captions carefully explained each piece of work and it was interesting to see the students’ book jacket designs (pictured below) all grouped together in one display which helped show off the richness and diversity of their thinking.

book covers NUA

‘Publishing’ has been an option for graphics students at Norwich for over 20 years now and when I worked as Art Director at the Norwich based publisher/content agency, Archant Dialogue, we regularly employed young graduates from this excellent course.

Thursday 2 June University Campus Suffolk BA (Hons) Graphic Design

On the way back to Norfolk from Liverpool Street, I hopped off the train at Ipswich to take in the graphics show at UCS. The walk from the station takes you along the waterfront – a mixture of old abandoned mills and warehouses brightened up by an excellent PhotoEast exhibition with huge, wonderful pictures adorning the hoardings. The hub of the UCS Department of Arts and Humanities is housed in a bold new waterfront development that provides Suffolk with state-of-the-art education facilities and a stimulating environment for studying in. The graphics course is small (just 12 students graduating this year) but perfectly formed and the standard of work on display was excellent. They have very close ties with industry including BBC Worldwide and TCM who offer internships to final year students. I’m a sucker for anything printed on newsprint and I enjoyed ‘55′, a broadsheet sized collection of ‘artworks’ produced by the students in collaboration with the BA English course – the English students wrote 55 word pieces which the designers illustrated with clever typographic solutions. Student Sean Antonioli had the whole lot printed as a newspaper and his designs are shown below. The words are by English students Roseanne Ganley and Rachael Slattery.

Sean Antonioli 55a  Sean Antonioli On-a-Taxi 3x4

It was clear that Sean and the other students that I chatted to had really enjoyed their course. Other designs that caught my eye were Ed Read’s Dazed and Confused layouts, Conor Julien’s quirky pig illustrations, Billy Fenton’s colourful Amalfi magazine cover and Luke Pyett’s simple but striking designs for AEON – an app that records the time that a person spends on their tablet or phone. (They’re all pictured below)

Ed read Dazed&Confused1  Ed Read Dazed&Confused2

Conor Julien pigs

Billy Fenton Amalfi cover

luke pyett APP IPAD IPHONE

You’ll probably be too late now to catch the Coventry, NUA and UCS shows but there are lots more on throughout the rest of June all across the country and It’s Nice That have compiled a useful list with dates and times.

This week and next, I’m off to Anglia Ruskin, Southampton Solent, Winchester and a couple of London Unis. I’ll report back.