Dave Cuvelot

Graphic Designer

The Price of D&AD New Blood

dave-cuvelot-dandad-new-blood-2009

I’ve been to a few design exhibitions and lectures in my time, not many, but enough to have an idea of what goes on at these types of events, as a spectator. To date, my only taste as a contributor came from exhibiting at D&AD New Blood at London’s Old Billingsgate Market earlier this year.

As a design graduate, New Blood certainly appears to be a great way to extend yourself into the design world, pitching to offer opportunities to not only meet other design students, but more importantly to meet Designers (with a capital D) – the intent being that those all-important connections will land you, the graduate, ‘a job’.

Design events such as D&AD New Blood are often the only time where design students and graduates have the real world (non digital) chance to collectively gather and share understandings of their discipline and practice, reflect on their education and look forward to their career, in an environment that supplements and encourages discussion face to face, eyeball to eyeball.

dave-cuvelot-csad-2009

On reflection, being a part of such a large collective of creative minds was an invaluable experience that in fact showed me how difficult and near impossible it can be to get noticed, let alone guided (or dare I say it, employed).

The problem I feel with this kind of event is the sheer volume of design graduates who exhibit. Thousands upon thousands of ‘us’, all in University themed cubicles, stand in line, waiting to be spotted. Oh and we attempt to communicate what we think, feel and are interested in -mostly via a poster on a wall, which for many gets them noticed, especially if its a big poster. But often, those of us who spent many long hours designing intricate and intimate pieces of design, we often get overlooked. So does this format really work? Is this really the way graduate designers should market themselves?

The volume of graduates who participate at D&AD New Blood in fact reduces the chances for the majority to gain those all-important discussions between graduate and design practitioner from ever happening.

Following my experience of New Blood I’ve been wondering about the true value of design exhibitions and conferences for design graduates. Doing some research recently, I discovered Design Conferences: Isn’t it time we demanded more? – an article written in 2008 by design critic Rick Poynor. According to him;

design-conferences-CR-08

“Too many “major” conferences do nothing more ambitious than offer a line-up of star speakers who are simply expected to say whatever they like about their own work.”

This says a lot. If our top-level conferences are ‘just’ lining up celebrity designers to show off their own work, then is that what graduate showcases are setting us up for – to become the celebrity? With such significant influence and positioning in the design industry, I’d like to think design ‘celebrities’ could not better use their time in the public eye and communicate the power of design to other areas of society, maybe they could share what they have learnt about design, share issues which matter to us all and fight to change the discourse away from stardom, and back to a discourse focused on where design is going and more importantly how it can be used to better society.

According to an MA graduate from London College of Communication, conference organisers should be focused with the idea that, “Finding original thinkers to speak, rather than famous person­ages, should be the main concern…” as is evident with the quality and depth of discussion that comes out of TED, where current issues are debated in conjunction with developments in practice that can benefit us all.

So, one year on from Poynor’s article, how has the format of such events evolved and where will they go from here? D&AD New Blood certainly still exists as the filter from graphic design degrees to the industry, but there must be a better way of filtering graduate designers into the industry they so desperately want to be apart of.

Design events should be focused on inspiring their attendees, capturing their minds and encouraging them to push their own boundaries further than they believe possible. Design offers us a way of changing society in a myriad of ways, for too long, we in the design community have focussed on getting the most for ourselves, what is important now is how much we can do for society and finding new ways to better it.

Further Reading:
Tom Harle: D&AD New Blood 2009

Kate Andrews: Design Conferences = Overblown and Conceptually Thin
David Bushell: Is New Blood a recruitment fair
Steve Price: Do you consider yourself an Interactive Designer?

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Filed under: Design Conferences, Design Graduates, Design Students, Graphic Design, , , , , , , , ,

5 Responses

  1. New Blood is an anachronism in the modern age – there are far better ways to get noticed, and cheaper ones too. Colleges claim New Blood is good publicity, but I’ve never known anything come of it. One year, after expressing concerns about the cost of going to New Blood I was told it was worth it because three students got interviews, and one got an internship.
    Wooo! Way to spend money. (although as that particular institution made the students pay, maybe that’s not so much of a concern.)
    Why London? Why so expensive? What does it actually achieve? No one who exhibits seems to review their participation objectively, and D&AD don’t seem to do any follow-up research. I’ve been meaning to do some of my own. Maybe I should get on to that.

    The Poynor article is particularly odd. I agree with him, and make a point of avoiding that sort of conference (there are many more that are discursive than the jerk circles he seems to get invited to), but shortly after writing it he wrote a contradictory and bonkers article damning strategic design for ID magazine, and then wrote a pretty odd review for Eye of New Views 2, a graphic design conference held in London that was one of the best I’ve ever been to. He seemed to be lamenting the lack of worship of lovely lovely stuff and the people that make it.

  2. Tom Harle says:

    I think you and Jonathan are right – there are much better and cheaper ways to get noticed, but I don’t think that means that events like New Blood are completely redundant.

    The main lesson for me, which I wrote in my blog a few months ago (and thanks for linking to it!), was that a number of students were completely unprepared for the scale of the event. Also, I felt that people were so overwhelmed by it all that they weren’t able to make the most of the massive number of connections that could have been made there. On top of that there were a number of break-out sessions that weren’t focussed on enough.

    Essentially, it’s probably about the focus of the event and the preparations leading up to it. I don’t really think it’s helpful to make it all about getting placements and jobs, but it’s made to be that way because of its placement in the student calendar and the way our degrees are set up.

    We’ve been studying at a really odd juncture where student design blogging and collaborative working have been incidental at best. But I think over the next few years, as students start connecting with each other and the design community in advance of these events, hopefully their focus will shift.

    In a funny way, this shift should also aid the jobs thing, because as disciplines become more and more interdependent there will be a demand for students like yourself who are able to maintain meaningful working relationships based not on college name, workplace or placement, but on shared interest and passion.

    So in short I don’t think it’s just the responsibility of the organisers to make these events work, it’s as much about us as participants helping them be as effective as possible by using the opportunities presented to their fullest.
    :)

  3. davecuvelot says:

    Let me begin by thanking you both for your interesting and differing opinions. Firstly it’s great to have the opinion of another recently graduated student responding to this post and I think what you say is entirely correct. I think however we should include the lecturers as well when we say, “a number of students were completely unprepared for the scale of the event”. For me at least, I felt that the lecturers who helped to organise and design our exhibit at this year’s New Blood were still unaware of the events scale, and its usefulness beyond that of just the exhibition of work.

    I feel that the event was almost under appreciated for its possible significance to my fellow students and the institution itself, the lack of enthusiasm and participation from the department meant that resources were stretched to their limits and the organisation was left to the 11th hour. I must note the senior lecturer in charge of organising our participation, aided by the students who attended, did a really fantastic job considering the lack of specific resources and limited time we had available to us.

    It was clear from attending the show that a number institutions spent a lot of time preparing for New Blood and it would seem to form a valued part of the final junction in higher education for their attending students – the organisation and management of the exhibition space of many of these institutions clearly expressed this.

    It might be worth noting those students who weren’t chosen to attend – lest we forget them. What happens to those who weren’t ‘good’ enough to exhibit along side so many?

    The event, I feel, is a purposefully designed hub to build connections as much for the represented institutions as it is for students who exhibit. I believe that lecturers should also take this opportunity as a way of understanding the filtering system that occurs from degree level students to working practitioners and how events such as these affluence it.

    It seems that some institutions decide they have done enough for their students once all the work is in and moderation has begun. Perhaps if institutions were further actively involved in the post degree process they would better understand the difficulty many graduates have after leaving the institutional security and how the only way forward for many is to trail through Google and apply to as many design studios desperately asking for a placement or internship – I will refer you to Jonathan’s insightful article “Interns – Something needs to be done” and Internocracy.org regarding this other matter.

    By being a part of this process, institutions would be able to understand some of the other obstacles, which will hinder their future graduates and will be able to filter this down to them, allowing them more time to prepare for this train wreck of a situation.

    Undeniably you are correct, Tom, in saying that it is also the participants who have as much responsibility of making such events work. Without their contributions they would cease to have a reason to exist. However, I believe the organisers of events, where students and graduates are involved, have a duty to ensure they are not exploitative simply because of the ‘possible’ platform it ‘may’ offer to ‘some’ students.

    The purpose of this blog was to add my opinions to the many subjects of discourse that the design profession offers and to encourage others to offer up their opinions. So I am very thankful to you both for offering up your unique insights to this particular discourse.

    Further Reading:

    “Interns – Something needs to be done” –

    http://jonathanbaldwin.blogspot.com/2009/08/interns-something-needs-to-be-done.html

  4. [...] Posted in Design ‘No. I’m an art director and designer, regardless of medium.’ was my response to a friends question recently. I went on to bore her for a little longer (she regretted asking the question) about how design was a discipline that you could choose specialise in one area, or many. I preferred the ‘many’ option. Whenever I air this I always have my friend Mark’s voice popping up in my head saying like ‘It’s like a piece of wood; you can either choose to shave across the entire length, or choose one bit and drill down’. He was actually talking about the purpose of an MA, but his metaphor is true of life and your chosen profession too. This question slots in with the others I’ve recently been charged with asking myself and raises my insecurity about whether, like my hair line, I’ve spread myself too thin. This can be traced back to the nurturing of my skills at University. There-in lies the clue, ‘University’ – which were then and certainly are now revenue driven, administratively run institutions which are ultimately damaging the design hopefuls that graduate each year. Of which there are simply too many and this is unsustainable, as I am sure many found out graduating in the year of a deep recession. Instead of an emphasis on skills and talent our design education system is structured to favour the masses and their wallets without a thought for how these will be replenished after their time at University. I started out on a BTEC Foundation course at The Kent Institute in Maidstone. I then went on to Nottingham Trent University, where I received a very formal training. I protested at the time but my first two years of my BA was spent doing lots of life drawing, months spent hand-rendering pages of 8pt/12pt Times New Roman. Learning about Pica’s, leading, kerning, but not by the click of a mouse, by using a pencil a rubber and a lot of swearing. Why? Because for the first two years we were banned from using computers and whilst these weren’t the all singing, all dancing Apple Mac’s that we have today, they were nonetheless a tool that made (and makes) the art of design a faster, more rapid and arguably easier process to manufacturer. We feel compelled to pigeon hole everything, it is a social-culture thing, it allows us to have a baring on everything else. If a new sounding genre of musician comes out we are immediately asking who he/she/they sound like and what kind of music it is? I remember being asked in my interview for my BA who my favourite graphic designer was. Why? What does that matter? Was I deemed less talented, aware or creative if I didn’t have one? I recall taking the decision to be honest. ‘I don’t have one.’ I continued, ‘My interest in graphic design is not something I can easily explain, but I do love it and I don’t want to be influenced too much by what has been done before.’ I still feel this way. I rarely buy Creative Review or Grafik for these reasons. Although David Carson and Tomato did become influences on my work without a doubt. When I started my final year on BA it was suggested that we should choose which area of design we wanted to focus on for our final projects/end of year exhibitions. Pigeon holing, again. I refused. I rejected most of the briefs they set all nintey-six of us with the reasoning that ‘There’s only a number of ways you can polish a turd’. I was (and still am to many) seen as arrogant. I preferred the word ‘confident’. I set about working on producing an entire magazine, a video for a local bar (with fellow student Si Mellor), titles for a film, a brand campaign, collection T-shirts and cans for Pepsi, a calendar that was based on an essay that I’d spent thirteen of the fourteen day project writing. For me to be focus on one area was like being in a sweet shop and only eating midget-gems. But let’s say that you do follow the briefs, you conform to the curriculum along with all your contemporaries… Let’s think about that… There is the final degree show, perhaps the chance to show at New Designers, or even the D&AD’s New Blood. How are you going to set yourself apart if you do the same briefs as your fellow students? The D&AD New Blood scheme is a great one, but even that has become burdened with the weight of graduates. ‘The problem I feel with this kind of event is the sheer volume of design graduates who exhibit. Thousands upon thousands of ‘us’, all in University themed cubicles, stand in line, waiting to be spotted.’ Dave Cuvelot [...]

  5. Peter Su-Graphic Designer says:

    Hi
    Interesting article, i was fortunate enough to exhibit at this years D&AD New Blood 2010. Did you attend? it was ridiculously HoT!! in there! worst place ever but don’t get me wrong i do feel honoured having the chance to exhibit there.

    Even though these post were discussing the problem of Last year’s D&AD New Blood, the same problem still exists. I was so unprepared to see the sheeeer volume of students being there.

    Sadly I hate to say I didn’t get any offers or jobs,it went on for like 5 days. I don’t feel this system is fair/good enough, yes it’s a place where you can take a a chance to see, because you never know what happens. But i just feel..it needs something more…

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