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.
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;
“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.
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?