Are today's design students fit for purpose?
Stephen Bell, Coley Porter Bell, 2011
Too many design students are not fit for purpose. The art colleges must do better. As creative director of one of the larger brand design agencies, securing a steady flow of new creative talent is possibly the most important and consistently difficult task I face. Creativity is our core skill. It’s the oxygen of our business, the thing that distinguishes our industry from those of our clients. It’s what gives our firm competitive edge over its rivals. It’s the reason we exist.
That’s why every year as part of our ‘war for talent’ we run a competition called Shine for second year graphics students. The prize is £3,000 to help them through their third year and degree show. After that they receive a three month placement at our central London offices with a view to a full-time job. It works. Over the years it has provided us with a steady stream of fantastically talented designers, several of whom are still with us.
It’s just as well that Shine succeeds, because having scrutinised hundreds of graduate portfolios over the years, I am growing concerned that while the UK has huge reserves of creativity, it is all too often unusable.
The pipeline from the art colleges should be full of high-octane creative talent ready to go. Instead, the portfolios I see on a weekly basis tend to be crude, unrefined and not fit for purpose. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that when it comes to the business of supplying graduates fit for the world of work, many art colleges are simply not doing their job.
By unrefined I don’t mean uncreative. I regularly see fantastic creativity. It’s just that too often the portfolios are a little bit, well, self-absorbed. Far too many of them are all about the student, exploring his or her pet interests, but offering no indication that they can respond effectively to a brief.