How can we establish dialogues across disciplines and fields of research when it comes to addressing the critical matters of environmental deterioration, social injustice and political unrest that plague the contemporary world? Falmouth University’s MA Communication Design course responds to the urgent need for meaningful conversations around these issues to incite real change: “We live in complex times. Our rapidly advancing technological capabilities are complicit in the challenges we are facing today: global warming; shadow wars; nationalism; a widening of inequalities, and so on. We need to understand the interrelationship between systems – political, social and economic – and challenge the inherent limitations of single solutions from siloed disciplines.”
With an emphasis on multimodal forms of engagement and analysis, the course promises to “provoke the development of an individual voice and identity in the practice and business of communication design”. The MA seeks to recruit a global and interdisciplinary mix of students; previous enrollees have backgrounds in graphic design, English literature, media studies, bio science, photography, advertising, theatre, interior design and journalism. Incorporating practical teaching alongside lectures which focus on “The Human Condition”, the course encourages its cohort to collaborate in a close studio environment. Ultimately, students work towards final projects that respond to real-world problems, such as the creation of concepts for utilities and products, extended research reports, programmes for social and creative development and new media platforms. Some equally use the opportunity as a springboard for the launch of their own studio or as an opportunity to refresh and reignite their own professional development.
The notion of “provocation” provides the central ethos of the course, promoting the participation of distinctive voices in discussions around contemporary global issues: “Education, and thus interdisciplinary research, forms a fundamental backbone to course, and students are encouraged to challenge existing hegemonic frameworks and knowledge structures.” One way in which the course cultivates this approach is by engaging with “provocateurs” through seminar sessions, critiques, lectures and projects. These are leading figures from the world of design, as well as musicians, architects, artists and scientists, whose work is highly attentive to process, collaboration and problem-solving.
With an emphasis on collaborative practice, the course aims to be “transformative” in challenging its students to “go above knowledge acquisition, towards the mobilisation of their skills, attitudes and values”. This innovative approach to communication design manifests as “developing creative solutions to complex problems that cannot be resolved by using a single disciplinary approach.” We are experiencing a time, course coordinator Robyn Cook states, at which “the creative industries are becoming less siloed, and the course reflects this move towards inter and transdisciplinary design.”
The course’s most recent graduates recently took part in the annual D&AD New Blood Festival at London’s Old Truman Brewery, a design industry showcase that Falmouth University’s MA Communication Design treats as an annual live brief for its students. As Robyn tells us: “We use the project as a way of engaging with and, more importantly, challenging, the design industry and design education. As an MA, we want to lead the debate in the field, and we use the festival as a means to stimulate dialogue and discourse. Sometimes, this is necessarily provocative and adversarial.”
This year’s budding provocateurs responded to the perpetual flux of media that dominates our world by holding live “confessions” – complete with an appropriately “provocative” confessional – that prompted the festival’s visitors to reflect on their apprehensions and aspirations for the design industry and for our lives more generally. To facilitate discussion and urge the flow of ideas, the walls surrounding the confession box were printed with industry concerns, such as “Should freelance designers unionise?”, “Are universities failing young designers?”, “Why are design schools so much more diverse than the profession at large?”, and “Current ideology has encouraged us to think of competition as natural and emphasise growth at all costs. What damage has this done to creativity?”
Although the ornate, two-compartment wooden box might have seemed somewhat incongruous in the context of the modern creative industry, the repurposing of a religious setting to provide a forum for addressing students’ and practitioners’ concerns certainly made for a conspiratorial atmosphere and provoked necessary debate angled towards improving the industry. Confessions continue to be uploaded to confessnewblood.com. The installation went onto receive the award for “best stand in show” at this globally recognised student showcase. Beyond the festival, the project forms the basis of “ongoing action research” into the key challenges facing the design industry.
In summation of the course’s aims and its boundary-defying attitude, Robyn states: “The deleterious effects of human activity on the environment, regarded by many as a core challenge of our age, are inextricably linked to an overdependence on existing socio-economic and technological systems. In order to address these complex issues, progressive action is needed across multiple levels and sectors, including that of higher education. That is, design education can no longer take a ‘business as usual approach’ to teaching and learning. Rather, for substantive change to occur, there needs to be a recognition of its participation in naturalising and abetting the current crisis, and perhaps most urgently, the development of valid and imaginative alternatives to address the insufficiencies of current structures.”
“We would like to continue gathering insights,” says Robyn, speaking of the need for industry reform from a new generation of creative practitioners. The MA Communication Design invites you to confess your unspoken fears, hopes, and concerns impacting our lives, our practice, and our industry.
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