Food for thought

In a unique role reversal, design studio Thoughtful is undertaking a placement within Stockport college

It’s a common complaint that just as graduates don’t feel they receive enough ‘real world’ experience while at college, studios and agencies often voice concerns that their intake of new talent is inhibited by young creatives’ lack of practical knowledge. Three years of honing your artistic skills is all well and good but if you’re unable to apply them professionally, then it’s likely that you might find youself reconsidering your career options.

This is where work placements come in. They’re a vital link between academia and business. Two weeks in a real studio environment can teach students more about the day-to-day job of being a designer, an illustrator, or any creative profession, than they can learn from within a college course.

A lot of companies offer some sort of placement scheme but earlier this year, Manchester-based studio Thoughtful decided to try something a little different. Instead of bringing students on board for placements within their studio, they agreed that, in a unique collaboration with Stockport College, they would move their office into the school’s design department and work alongside six second-year students. And not just for two weeks – for a whole six months.

The initial idea (now a Greater Manchester Strategic Alliance-funded project) has been up and running since January this year and has already generated some impressive results for the six students involved, not to mention the studio itself. As a team they’ve created some great work for Thoughtful clients like howies and Tate Liverpool (a selection shown above) but it’s been the ability to experience daily studio life that should prove most valuable for the Thoughtful Six.

“What’s particularly interesting about this collaboration is seeing what happens when you have a commercial design practice functioning in an educational setting,” says Stockport College graphic design tutor James Corazzo, who came up with the idea of housing a working studio within the college’s design department after being frustrated at the lack of dialogue between design educators and the industry.

“The day-to-day workings of education and the design profession rub right up against each other, we’re learning from each other,” he says, “so there is a healthy dialogue emerging about 21st century design practice. There are frictions, too, but the flexibility that Thoughtful bring to their practice has already influenced our broader design curriculum”.

For the six design students the project has brought them first-hand experience of pitching and making presentations, while also offering up a chance to handle project budgets of varying sizes, the ins and outs of VAT and how to establish and maintain relationships with clients. It’s been an opportunity to learn about the business side of design or, as Thoughtful put it, “the good, the bad and the downright ugly”.

So how have the Thoughtful Six found the experience? “I’m working on a project for howies [shown above] helping to build a new business website and the branding for it,” says Chris Shearston. “I’ve worked on the project from the start so I’ve been able to see how a project comes into a studio, how it develops – with its twists and turns – and see the job delivered on time and on budget. The whole experience has been a real eye- opener.” Lauren Pennington admits that her time-management has also improved. “I’ve learned that if I don’t put enough time and the effort into my part, it isn’t just me who suffers, it’s the team,” she says. “That’s something you don’t realise when you’re working on college projects by yourself.”

In light of these reactions, shouldn’t more studios and agencies be looking to get involved in this kind of project? It seems that the benefits are many: the students gain invaluable experience and are undoubtedly more prepared for working life as they leave college, while the participating studios no doubt get some fresh ideas and, potentially, a new graduate intake.

“In his recent D&AD lecture, Peter Saville referred to the problem that design education has in keeping up-to-date with the very industry that it’s preparing its students for,” says Corazzo, and it’s through initiatives like the one Stockport College has embarked upon that educators can try to bridge this gap. Corazzo is keen that others take the concept further so that this isn’t simply a one-off experiment.

“We hope its success will encourage the industry and also the education system to repeat what we’ve done,” he says. “We’re testing the idea really. The more people that can see it working and can then improve upon it the better.”

The Thoughtful Six’s blog is at thethoughtfulsix.squarespace.com, where Michael Johnson of johnson banks and the LCC’s Sarah Temple also offer advice on placements and employment.

stockport.ac.uk, wearethoughtful.com

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