Central Saint Martins’ BA Graphic Design has always been a versatile course, covering different media, concepts, outcomes and disciplines by utilising a variety of print and digital media – such as illustration, typography, photography and video. In the realms of contemporary publishing, the graphic design field is facing some major questions and reconsiderations over the practice’s intention and purpose in relation to presenting digital design. As the printing press comes up against the iPad, how does Central Saint Martins prepare its students for a rapidly evolving industry, whist simultaneously staying ahead of the game?
Cath Caldwell is the year one leader on the BA Graphic Design course and has been challenging her first year students to consider how to present content for both print and digital purposes. With an extensive background in editorial design, Caldwell is currently writing a book about new forms of publishing – for Laurence King due out in 2014. When asked how the industry is shifting, she explains that “Everything we knew about print design is being changed by things like Flipboard, RSS feeds and aggregated content, and we’re now trying to prepare the BA Graphic Design students to think about the publishing world in new and experimental ways.”
What has been described as the attention economics of digital publishing; new design factors such as aggregated feeds, self-curated content and new forms of publishing content, means that magazines are no longer competing with each other at the newsstands. Now publishers deliver their editorial content online, which means they’re competing with other apps, games, movies, music etc.
The app, as a publishing model, has taken the magazine industry by storm; in 2009 51% of American publishers had formatted their content for mobile devices, by 2013 the figure shot up to 100%. However, that’s not to say digital formats cannot coexist alongside traditional modes of publishing. With the industry is a constant state of flux, how does the curriculum connect students to industry? One way is to have an on-going dialogue with the people at the heart of business.
“Industry cannot find enough people to hire” explains Cath, who is currently in conversations with well known global editorial publishers about what industry desires of students and how the college can fulfil certain requirements without compromising the learning experience. The paradox of teaching students specific technical skills, such as coding, alongside nurturing the more innovative aspects characteristic of art college, can be a fine balance. Unless you’re teaching on a set degree, like a programming course, there are no immediate requirements for the students to have a defined understanding of specific technologies. But in a diverse environment such as BA Graphic Design with numerous pathways, students can find themselves working across a range of media and projects, meaning it becomes nearly impossible to instil each individual with a fully comprehensive knowledge of every area of the subject.”
As industries change, so do the specific skills required of graduates when entering the workplace. Central Saint Martins prides itself on producing innovative, cutting edge individuals, so surely the college needs to be one step ahead of the game? If iPads are no longer the future but the present, what will be the next step in publishing?
Cath reiterates the Central Saint Martins’ ethos of independent learning and the importance of teaching students how to teach themselves; a mind-set that will no doubt stay with students throughout their creative careers. Alumni from the BA Graphic Design course are already at the forefront of their fields. Art Directors at Net-A-Porter, Wallpaper* and Vogue, a lineage that tutors both recognise and consistently make use of in relation to their current undergraduates.
Digital design doesn’t just extend to the students wishing to carve themselves a career in the world of web 2.0. One universal, and crucial feature of graphic students entering the workplace is their portfolio. “All the Graphic Design students start at Central Saint Martins by experimenting with moving image, interactive design, letterpress, illustration, bit of branding, a bit of advertising, 4D digital skills, silk-screening and photography, so they become very well skilled because in the future they don’t know which method they’ll use at any time.” As the image of newly graduated students lugging A3 folders around the studios of Soho wanes, the importance of self-promotion via digital platforms is becoming increasingly important. The broad disciplinary skill-set developed by students, means they have the advantage of utilising the core principles from typographic and print heritage, and an equal, if not greater, measure of digital fearlessness.
The project that Cath is currently working on with her students, is to explore the question: ‘What can the print version do that the digital version can’t – and vice versa?’ It helps student to investigate and explore the potential for both platforms whilst reinforcing innate differences and characterises between the two.
In digital content, the editorial challenge is branding. When producing content, it’s easy for students to go off on tangents and attempt to create everything themselves, but in a diverse environment such as an art and design college, there’s always the potential for students to pair off with other practices; as new technologies often bring about the potential for new interdisciplinary actives. As technological advancements pave the way for future conceptual innovations, students must have a thorough grasp of their practice. Before they can reinvent the page, they must first understand how it came to be that way.