• Main
Graphic Design

Shillington College teachers talk us through their design education approach

Sponsored Article,

In our first feature on Shillington College we looked at why its founder was compelled to create a new kind of graphic design education to better prepare graduates for the working world. But how does the college pursue this aim in practical everyday terms, achieving what can take several years into other institutions in a matter of mere months? To find out we asked the people who make it happen– the teachers themselves. So we quizzed US director Holly Karlsson, Melbourne lecturer Carlos Chavez, Manchester lecturer Jeffrey Bowman and senior London lecturer Corrie Anderson. Here’s what they had to say…

Can you sum up in a couple of sentences the Shillington approach to teaching graphic design? 

Carlos Chavez: Our approach is centred around pragmatism and a practical approach to creative problems. Right from the word go we focus on solving problems creatively in a hands-on way.

Jeffrey Bowman: We approach teaching in a real time kind of way. It’s got the dynamics of being in a studio while formalising design theory and building on a students practical skills through briefs. It’s open, honest and always really fun. 

Corrie Anderson: We work in the classroom similar to how a Creative Director would work with juniors in a studio. Teaching practical skills of course, but encouraging the students to present their ideas and working with them to push their ideas further. 

  • Carlos

    Carlos Chavez

  • Holly

    Holly Karlsson

Apart from time, what are the main differences between studying at Shillington and studying graphic design at art school or university?

Holly Karlsson: Shillington is run like a studio; you are given industry recognised deadlines and work to a brief with specific sets of specifications and target demographics.

Carlos: While university courses do a fabulous job at immersing a student in the history of design, and allowing them to conceptually gestate for three years or more, our focus is on producing industry-ready graduates with matching portfolios.

I’ve worked with many interns and juniors that might have been conceptually brilliant, yet technically under-prepared. It’s a huge problem that universities have been avoiding since I’ve been in this industry. Most graduates aren’t awarded positions where they are able to work on large conceptual projects on their own, hence the need for a high degree of technical proficiency. A graduate that hasn’t been suitably prepared for this will find it difficult to compete.

Since running my own studio, I’ve received a lot of folios from university students where an idea has not been executed as well as it could have, or lacks a certain professionalism. This is why, with my students, I stress the need for both concept and execution in equal amounts.

Corrie: I have experienced both angles of education, being an ex-student from Shillington and also studying at design school in Sydney. I found the Shillington approach was more practical and holistic. We do teach design theory, but we don’t separate for example learning the wonders of typography and the practical application of it. I found that was one of my struggles when at design school; I was learning all these wonderful things about colour and typography but not totally understanding how to apply those skills practically into my layouts with all of the confusion of what Quark (shudder) was.

“Most design businesses don’t have the luxury of having several weeks to develop a single concept. In my opinion, this is something most tertiary institutions are yet to catch up to.”

Carlos Chavez

How do you prepare students for the real demands of working as a designer?

Holly: We ensure that every minute of a working day is jam packed with briefings, technical demonstrations, critiques, lectures and of course designing. With the tight deadlines, and focused designing we prepare junior designers to what is expected in the industry.

Carlos: A lot of people only think of design as the realm of creating aesthetically-pleasing work. Design – and visual communications as a whole – is about the art of conveying meaning or ideas.

Every single brief we deliver to our students is looked at in this fashion to ensure that our student creates work that answers to the needs of the project. Creativity is about enabling, or increasing the effectiveness of communication, not supplanting it. 

Jeffrey: We cultivate a studio environment throughout a student’s time here. We try to replicate the timescale of a brief, working to deadlines from two hours to two and a half days. We start at 8am and finish at 5pm, so the rhythm of a working day is pretty similar to that of a studio which I think sets them up really well; it’s no big shock when they land their first job.

Corrie: From the second day of the course we’re briefing our students in the same way they would be briefed by an account manager or a client. We encourage our students to draw all of the information out from us and ask as many questions as possible. Nothing in the design process is missed — our students are critiqued on their research, brainstorming and thumbnails (or scamps) before they start getting things roaring on the mac.

  • Corrie

    Corrie Anderson

  • Jeffrey-bowman-%e2%80%93-by-anki-grothe-

    Jeffrey Bowman (Photo by Anki Grothe)

How is the teaching tailored to the current design marketplace and how do you keep up with what those demands are?

Holly: We are consistently consulting with the industry to ensure that what we are teaching is current and expected. The digital components of the course have increased exponentially in accordance with what employers and the industry and clients are expecting from designers.

Carlos: Now more than ever do studios need to turn over work quickly to meet market needs and to order to run viable businesses. Designers who can think on their feet, manage their time effectively and are technically-proficient are highly sought-after.

Most design businesses don’t have the luxury of having several weeks to develop a single concept. In my opinion, this is something most tertiary institutions are yet to catch up to.

Jeffrey: We are always in communication with the industry across all the colleges; we regularly invite them in to speak to the students, run briefs and give us critical feedback on the course and experience of the students they may have employed. Because the course is three months long we can tweak and implement small changes per course to keep up with the pace the design industry moves, but always with an overview of the bigger picture – to ensure quality design education.

Corrie: We’re constantly in touch with the industry, asking what they need in junior designers. As a private college we are constantly updating the course and tailoring it to industry needs. I have taught ten courses now and not one has been the same! It keeps me on my toes and the students’ work fresh.

The focus is on practical relevant design skills but how much design thinking, design history, concept creation etc is taught?  Do you agree that well-rounded designers need both these skill sets?

Holly: We totally agree that a designer needs to be able to have these fundamental attributes within their arsenal of skills to be able to create unique work that is commercially viable. At Shillington we do not accept “I chose this colour/typeface because I liked it” – either it is answering a brief and targeted at a demographic or the client won’t accept it.

Carlos: Absolutely. This could not be more important to me as a working creative and as a teacher. The fast-paced nature of the course necessitates a lot of hands-on work, but we make sure to provide a solid knowledge and skills base to our students.

Jeffrey: It runs parallel. We introduce the practical part of the course at the same time as the history, idea generation and concept development. We can do this because the briefs are where they run. I completely agree that a well-rounded designer should have both practical and conceptual skills, because the students leave here functioning at quite a high level practically, this gives them the freedom and time to develop even further their creative side when they are in a studio environment. 

Nice_bigger

Sponsored Article

It’s Nice That works with selected brands to create and deliver bespoke content solutions. To find out more about these sponsored articles or to request a media pack, contact our sales team using the address below.

Most Recent: Graphic Design View Archive

  1. List

    There’s something about the painstaking perfectionism of type design that doesn’t scream fun and frolics, but Commercial Type’s new webfont showcase is ready to prove me wrong. The New York and London based type studio run by Christian Schwartz and Paul Barnes is widely-regarded as one of the best around, but the pair have struggled sometimes to communicate the personality of their fonts. Enter the Commercial Type Showcase which they built with Wael Morcos to show off the lighter side of 16 of their creations by way of 16 microsites, ranging from poetry and poster generators to a train schedule board and even a digital therapist.

  2. List

    Lotta Nieminen is one of those graphic designers who is able to creating a lasting impression with her work in spite of it often being incredibly subtle in its approach. In my opinion this goes above and beyond her colour palettes, though they often combine pastel shades with serene muted tones; rather her projects seem to be finished with a kind of nuanced subtlety that resonates long after you first see it.

  3. Main2

    Not much makes us as happy as a brilliant studio churning out spectacular work, but to find out each member is a fantastic designer in their own right is even better. Diogo Potes just got in touch to show us some of his personal work away from his day-to-day collaborative venture, Portuguese design studio Alva Alva. Diogo’s solo work boasts all of the vibrancy, sense of humour and love of hand-drawn elements that Alva Alva has, but also contains a good dollop of personal style. For me, I think his work is strongest when he incorporates photography into his designs – something about choosing off-the-wall shots and enveloping them in rich colours and bold typography is very, very pleasing. Nice work Diogo, keep it up!

  4. List

    Like their counterparts over at Unit Editions, the Viction:ary team has an unerring eye for putting together graphic design books that are a cut above the competition. This stems from their ability to select a theme that is relevant and interesting and (crucially) identify the right creatives to showcase in exploring that subject.

  5. Wadelist

    When showing off a new typeface, most designers opt for the go-to panagram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” On one of the promotional posters for his new font Hardy, Wade Jeffree has plumped for “It’s too easy being a c**t.” In other words, this is a typeface with attitude.

  6. List

    20 years ago in 1994, little known designer Eike König set up his “graphic design playground” Hort, creating a community in the centre of Berlin where creatives could collaborate on ideas and client briefs side by side. Nowadays, the playground is slightly bigger, undertaking work for Nike, The New York Times and Walt Disney among others, but the underlying emphasis on collaboration and experimentation remains exactly the same.

  7. Main

    Political, powerful and poignant (although not always all at the same time), Abram Games’ work earned him a place as one of the 20th Century’s most iconic and influential graphic designers. Notoriously, one of his posters was banned by Churchill in post-war Britain and, although he crafted advertising for the Times, Transport for London and Guinness, his most impactful work was created for noble causes. During the Second World War he designed hundreds of recruitment posters and images discouraging waste, with slogans like “Use Spades, Not Ships” and bold dynamic graphics.

  8. Andrealist

    Sometimes the simplest things can be the hardest to pull off, but that is precisely what Andrea Evangelista’s graphic design achieves with quiet aplomb. I imagine most young creatives would quail at the notion of designing a book titled Trafficking Survivor Care Standards, but Andrea’s work is confident and careful, lending the text the clarity it demands. He lets the content sit in plenty of white space inside its buttercup cover, resisting the temptation to chuck in a bunch of pretty images.

  9. List

    As newspapers change, so the meaning, placement and purpose of their mastheads change too. This archive of Indian newspaper nameplates is therefore a celebration of the beauty and communicative skill that goes into them, and a snapshot of the contemporary news media in the sub-continent – see how the odd editorial email address crops up alongside some pretty historic type treatments. The collection has been compiled by Pooja Saxena, a Bangalore-based type designer who previously worked in Apple’s font team and studied at Reading University’s world-leading Type Design and Graphic Communication school.

  10. List

    Here at It’s Nice That we’re very aware of how often we cover certain creatives on the site, and we constantly make time to search out talented practitioners we don’t know as well as feting the latest work of those we do.

  11. List

    Every year during graduate season we sift our way through an enormous number of grad show identities. It’s arguably one of the trickiest briefs for a young student; creating a comprehensive identity for a showcase of upwards of 100 creatives’ work – all of them with different styles and concerns. Some of what we see is excellent, but many seem to struggle under the pressure of pleasing their peers.

  12. List

    Creating a visual identity to capture an aural experience seems like a near impossible task, let alone when the music is as lustrous and strange as Amy Kohn’s, but Non-Format have succeeded gracefully with their work for her new album PlexiLusso. The USA and Oslo-based team manipulated original photography by Merri Cyr to recreate the ethereal quality of her music, conjuring up a glass-like aesthetic with a hint of abstract surrealism in the form of floating boulders and rippling waves. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is all conceptual nonsense though; they’ve also made an original typeface to mimic the sonorous melodies, using disconnected arcs which resemble the notation of quavers and clefs laid out on the stave, as in sheet music. It’s an oddly alluring combination which creates an impression of Amy’s music before you’ve even pressed play.

  13. List

    Some cracking work here from our friends at Studio Makgill with this beautiful Specials Applied book for our other pals at G . F Smith. The paper company has an unerring knack of working with some of the best design studios around – whether that’s Hamish and his team or the ongoing partnership with Made Thought – and the quality of their promotional material is testament to the importance of creative, collaborative working relationships. This book showcases G . F Smith’s more unusual stocks and through a clever use of cut-outs we’re taken on a journey through a selection of interesting samples.