D&AD’s Shifters show that creative education has room to change

CR catches up with some of the grads from D&AD’s Shift night school programme to find that, for some young creatives, university degrees are no longer adding up

At present, a three-year university degree in the UK could set a student back almost £28k in tuition fees alone, and that’s before paying for accommodation or any other living costs. For Kev(in) Audience (Ishimwe), a recent graduate of D&AD Shift with Google, “the ROI, with visual arts, didn’t make sense”. “If I wanted to be a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer, you need to get the accreditation, but I’m a photographer,” he tells CR. “Is it really worth me going to study this?”

Audience was part-way through a degree studying graphic design and art direction when he decided to break out of traditional education and apply for D&AD’s Shift with Google programme – a free, five-month-long night school that introduces aspiring creatives to the industry. Shifters work on briefs set by real brands, meet studios, agencies and industry figures, and are supported in networking and finding jobs.

“These alternative routes into education are of paramount importance,” says Audience, who’s currently completing several other courses, including one in commercial photography. “They should be championed for a lot of different people. If you go to uni that’s £10k on tuition, £10k on maintenance for three or four years, and you graduate and have to start at ground zero and learn about so many things. Or you can do something like this for free that helps you burst through, and talk to all these different people. I think this is, at minimum, on par with accredited university degrees.”

Top image by Lyla Johnston; Above: photos by Kev(in) Audience

It’s not just the cost that can make the traditional educational route off-putting. Lyla Johnston, another Shifter, says she decided to skip academia after an experience of being discriminated against at college. “I felt academia, from here on in, would be a repeat of being turned down and not respected, just because I’m autistic,” she says.

“I decided I didn’t want to go down that more traditional path, and just forge my own destiny … I really want to work more with more neurodivergent creatives. I’m not the only neurodivergent person in my class. I feel like the whole blend of neurodivergency and creativity can work for really good results, because we don’t see things in a normal way, and in this creative realm that’s terrific.”

Johnston and Audience – and several of the people featured in CR’s recent New Talent issue – are part of what feels like a new wave of creatives, finding their own way into the creative world away from art or ad school degrees. Both of them praise Shift’s hands-on approach, as well as the way it offers an alternative experience of the creative industry.

Photos by Lyla Johnston

“I know people who studied photography, but they had to do it themselves [once they graduated] and learn all these things,” says Audince. “They met so many amazing people and developed networks and portfolios, so it wasn’t a waste of time, but a lot of them are saying, ‘If I could go back, I probably wouldn’t’. Uni doesn’t teach you some of these core principles, like client acquisition.”

Paul Drake, foundation director at D&AD, says the creative industry needs a multiplicity of educational routes, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. “I’ve never really been able to understand why every subject or industry can be served by the same three-year system,” he tells CR. “So with that thought, why don’t we test something different?” He says Shift’s aim is to challenge the assumption about where talent is, as well as who it is. And the programme is successful, with D&AD reporting that 75% of Shifters get a job in a relevant creative field after the programme.

However Drake emphasises that Shift is less of a competitor for universities and more of a “companion”. He’s hopeful that it demonstrates how a different kind of learning environment can help people succeed. “If people don’t flourish in traditional education, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a huge amount to offer creatively, it means the system isn’t right,” he explains. “We should be here as a helpful challenge to the education system to say there are different routes we can go down, different models we can deploy, and we’re more than happy to share or make accessible things we do.

“There is an honest conversation to be had about how we can create more routes into the industry for people with different backgrounds, who see the world in different ways, and if we don’t do that, the work will be poorer.”

Work by this year’s D&AD Shift with Google cohort can be viewed here