From the forest floor

The Lost in the Forest Institute is helping bridge the gap between design education and industry

The Lost in the Forest Institute is a partnership between Stockport College and Manchester-based studio Thoughtful and offers a unique learning environment for the students who enroll. The idea grew out of the Thoughtful 6 experiment, when the design studio embedded itself within the college to work on live briefs with students. ‘Learning by doing’ became the philosophy that the LITFI group adopted and, fittingly, they’re behind the design of this year’s edition of the Graduate Guide.

The LITFI take on design education is to heighten a student’s entrepreneurial skills. “Making something truly relevant is enormously motivating for students,” says James Corazzo, the college’s pathway leader in graphic design. “By relevant we mean real: real outcomes, real clients, real problems and real uncertainty. It awakens the students’ entrepreneurial capacity.” Instead of educating students in the spirit of an employee, the emphasis is on letting them work out how to be their own boss. In 2011, students have more tools at their disposal with which do that (a virtual portfolio, online networking, for example) and so the initiative’s immersive and experiential programme is timely. “It’s part design education theory, part industry savvy and part social concern,” says Corazzo.

The overall aim of this way of teaching is less about the software and technical skills a creative might need to make it in the industry, and more about the confidence, adaptability and self-reliance that is vital to a career, but rarely taught in college. “We don’t claim to be the first to approach design education in this way,” says Thoughtful’s Stuart Price, “though we believe we’re the first in the UK to embed this thinking into an actual degree course. And it might be of interest to other tutors who are wrestling with how to deliver a course fit for the 21st-century.”

One interesting idea is the launch of a new college-based business. “We’ve started thinking about launching our own fashion label from within the college as a way to hone the students’ creative skills and put them into practice for a real client with a real business need,” says Price. “The students we work with also spend a day with 14 year-olds from the creative media diploma course at the college.” This ‘cascade learning’ approach means that while the students receive real-world teaching from Thoughtful, they can then transfer this acquired knowledge to the younger intake. “The students are beginning to see they don’t necessarily need a job in a studio when they leave,” says Price. “They can teach, set up their own studio or business. It’s all about making a job, not taking a job.”

LITFI would like to thank principal Lynn Merilion, Mel Spooner, Gary Spicer and James Corazzo of Stockport College; Jonathan Barnbrook and Dan Streat of Barnbrook; and David Hieatt. Thanks also to John Newton, Chris Shearston and Vicky Carr – good luck with your new studio. See litfi.ac and @litfi

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