Degree Shows

By The Drum, Administrator

July 8, 2002 | 14 min read

Nicky Regan, Pointsize

Glasgow School of Art Degree Show

What were the students from the School of Visual Communication trying to say this year? Mostly, they were trying to tell us about themselves; their feelings, their thoughts and their troubles.

It is obvious that there is huge talent in this year’s graphics class: drawing, painting, illustration, music, model making, photography and even deft sewing skills were all in abundant evidence. What is not so easy to spot is the ‘graphics’ part. The ‘vividly descriptive’. Typography, for one, seems to have been all but sidelined in the curriculum, in favour of self-expression.

There were some exceptions. Kenneth Johnson’s typographic installation asked corporations to “Think more, say less, but do what you say (and) say it more effectively through better design”. He had reconstructed the famous Mcdonald’s Golden Arches in scribbly monochrome and urged us to believe that his rebrands were now “symbols of truth and integrity”.

Felicity Doyle produced work composed entirely of screaming tabloid covers, which had been stripped of their body copy and images, and replaced them, in turn, with keyline boxes and filled-in traced outlines, which managed to turn the familiar headlines into something new and graphically attention seeking.

Anna Sheard’s main sculptural installation of blue plastic fruit failed to impress. More successful, however, was her beautifully produced hardback book, encased in a blue suede cover, which managed to convey her thoughts on genetically modified foodstuffs clearly and calmly.

David Gilchrist’s bold typographic posters screamed bigotry from the football terraces. He had also thoughtfully included little introductory ‘briefs’ to each project in his portfolio. I, for one, found this useful.

As a whole, this year’s show looked competent, but not groundbreaking. Busy, but not committed. A show with too much emphasis on the ‘visual’ and not enough on the ‘communication’. I saw people thinking, but not paying attention to the detail, which, as all designers know, is where the devil is.

There is much debate in the industry today about where the responsibility for producing the next generation of designers lies and, indeed, whether we are training too many, too little. This year’s students will no doubt find out the answer to these questions for themselves as they venture with their folios out into the industry.

As James Sommerville, CEO at Attik, commented in Design Week, after a tour of UK universities to help students prepare for graduation: “The challenge (to design schools) is to combine that (creative) knowledge with ‘commercialism’ and a clear understanding of what is expected by most employers.”

Only then can we all go home.

David McGilvray, Tic Toc

Glasgow College of Building & Printing

My first thoughts before visiting the exhibition were that cramming all of the above into a two-year course can only result in a very brief overview of all aspects of design, creating a very diluted exhibition. This proved accurate when I found the basis for the majority of the work was stylised design, invariably influenced by current stylings in Creative Review.

The exhibition was housed in a cramped room and hosted work from both the Design for Print/New Media and Illustration courses, adding to my feeling of quantity not quality. Each student is only allowed two boards to display two years’ development, allowing no visual room for projects to be properly displayed or appreciated.

Basic typographical skills were clearly lacking across the board, once again pointing to the lack of time spent focusing on individual elements of design. Having had two work experience students from the college spend time at tictoc, I found they were not taught how to explain their creative thoughts and reasoning or how to present these concepts to potential clients. Two students’ work did, however, stand out: Steve Waldron and Colin Bennet.

One positive aspect of the event was the multimedia presentation in the form of a row of brand new Imacs all running different examples, but this was let down by a lack of explanation of content, giving you no reason to remain.

The only conclusion I can reach from both the exhibition and the students first-hand is that the college focused more on providing graduates who are jacks-of-all-trades but masters of none.

Damian Mullan, Whitespace

Edinburgh College of Art

I recently went to look at the work of illustration graduates for potential use on a current project. On my way out I poked my head around the corner of the small first-floor gallery given over to the 17 graphics graduates. I couldn’t have been there for more than 10 minutes and left without any memorable impressions. Then I got the call to do this piece, so now I faced a dilemma – I hadn’t been impressed by my first visit, so if I was going to give a fair review I would need to go back and invest more time.

On my second visit I spent a couple of hours going through all the work on show, which, to be honest, I found a pretty laborious affair, not because of the work, but rather the poor layout and bad use of space allocated to the exhibition. Each student, with a couple of exceptions, had only a single board arranged flat around the room – a totally inadequate amount of space on which to present their favoured work. All the supporting folios resided on a central island that also housed a single computer for the viewing of all multimedia work. This culminated in a very disjointed show, exacerbated even further by poor labelling of the boards and folios, and almost no introduction or explanation of what was actually on view.

All of this was in marked contrast to the Illustration show I mentioned earlier, which had ample space for each person to display a number of projects, along with folios, sketchbooks and numerous support material. Individuals who caught my eye were Charlotte Gilhooley, Scott Seaton, Digby Washer and Staffan Gnosspelius. Check them out for yourselves at www.

Now, not being privy to the constraints placed upon students and course leaders by the resources of the college, my review of the graphics show may come across as being very negative, so I’ll finish by mentioning a few students who, despite the odds, caught my attention. I was intrigued by Gayle Renton’s work explaining the effects of autism and by Pamela Graham’s use of illustration and texture on her main piece, but for me the star of the show was Sonoko Suzuki’s illustrated passport, a simple idea and beautifully executed.

Finally, however, I must mention Ross Thompson, who could easily carve out a career as an exhibition designer with his clever use of space planning and the provision for oodles of material in support of his main display, including a Mac for his multimedia work and an ingenious hanging system for his roughs. Perhaps ECA will employ his services for next year’s show?

Dawn Boyce, Donaldson Boyce

Telford College

So, I’m in Ocean Terminal, hungover and scribbling in my sketchbook, when two students accost me and demand to know what I’m doing there. I tell them I’m writing a review for The Drum. They’re visibly relieved. “We thought you were stealing our ideas,” they reply.

Yeah, right. If there actually were any.

As a designer who likes a bit of substance along with my style, I found the show disappointing. One positive, though, was how the show was set up, particularly as the students pasted a rationale up alongside their work – good practice, as most young designers struggle to justify what they’ve done. The projects set were also interesting; a good range of advertising, identity and general design. But there was too much borrowing of trendy motifs for me. I mean - please - horizontal stripes - spare me. And something even more scary – a rash of shiny silver paper. Any former design student can picture the scene: a desperate individual sinks the rest of their student loan into the college shop, believing shiny means good design. Back in the studio, panic breaks out - so three or four others go and do the same. This was something that pervaded the entire show – nobody was brave enough to stand out and be truly original.

Where there were gems of ideas (and there were many), they either collapsed into cringing puns or didn’t go far enough, which was a shame. They didn’t understand that good design was neither vulgar nor smart-arsed, but intelligent and considered. However, despite a lacklustre show, the work of three or four of these students showed potential to be very good - and not a bit of silver paper in sight.

Emma Little, Georgeson

Gray’s School of Art

People will argue when I say this, but Robert Gordon University has the closest links with business of any Scottish university. No apologies; it’s true.

This was hugely apparent at this year’s degree show at Gray’s School of Art, neighbouring the new state-of-the-art Business School campus.

Traditionally, Gray’s has had a strong reputation for painting and this year’s degree show provided a refreshing amount of interaction between the traditional art and design disciplines and high-quality new media production.

Tommy Perman’s work typified this, showing that design companies should look further than pure design disciplines for new talent. Having graduated in Painting, his work spanned a variety of applications, from stylised linear urbanscape compositions to his own music mixology.

Douglas Walker’s moving series of digitally created films stood out as an intelligent exploration of the aesthetic, without the confinements of a conventional formal brief. “Scenes in Time” used repetitive and evocative imagery to engage the viewer into his childhood memories. Walker’s work would not look out of place in advert slots amidst any cool Channel 4 programme and I’d be surprised if he’s not snapped up before the end of the summer.

Christopher Bain’s presentation showed a real understanding of public demand, where his computer skills helped him to show his interactive portfolio through Mac display. His award-winning “Schizophrenia” piece explored the boundaries of computer-generated imagery to represent experiences.

One of the most striking things was that this year it was possible to create a virtual degree show experience.

The throwaway postcards previously used to advertise work had been replaced with interactive CD-ROMs, meaning visitors could further explore the degree show experience in the comfort of their own home.

Michelle Goring and Evelyn Hardie, The Puffin Room

Fife College HND Graphic Design

The show, called Fife College Evolve, was held in the Oriel Campus in Kirkcaldy. The building is a bit away from the main building, in the centre of Kirkcaldy, and really is the ‘poor relative’ in looks and situation. I have seen displays in the foyer of the main building and it is a far superior exhibition space.

The show was a mixture of graphic design for print, web design and multimedia. There were also areas showing Fine Art design, furniture design and interior design.

We were quite impressed with Ryan Seymour’s film posters and Alan Wright’s “Greenpeace – Game Almost Over”.

Steven Beveridge had a very nice magazine layout called “Confused and Dazed”, using very striking colours.

We felt the best overall item was the Greenpeace poster by David Wood, closely followed by Vicki Rodger’s posters, which were intriguing because of the use of negative images of people.

The course includes an extra year where the students are let loose on web and multimedia design. We watched a small selection of this work and were impressed with the creativity of the presentations.

The standard of work was very good, but it would benefit immeasurably from a better venue.

Vicki Marshall, Blue Square Design

Duncan of Jordanstone Degree Show

This year’s degree show at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design proved once again that Dundee’s up-and-coming young designers have what it takes to make the grade. The execution and presentation of the graduates’ work would impress anyone visiting the show. Their commercial awareness and consistently high level of creativity has been rewarded with no less than five students being awarded membership of the International Society of Typographic Designers.

Four talented students also picked up prizes at this year’s D&AD awards.

Graeme Haig won first prize in Multimedia, with his colleague Edward Walker picking up second place in the same category; Stephen Kane took second place in Interactive Design; and Natalie Cowx received a commendation in the TV Titles category. Edward Walker also won a WPP Bursary for £5,000, plus a three-month paid placement with Lambie Nairn.

A further four students, Jung Won Kim, Ellen Kirkhope, Andrew Robertson and John Donachie, have had their work included within the Student Awards Annual.

Overall, the standard of work exhibited was extremely high. Multimedia design provided a very distinctive and interesting feature of the Graphic Design Department’s portfolio. Centrepiece of the graduates’ show was a large-format TV displaying a loop presentation of their animated screensavers and title sequences – which provided compelling viewing to all attendees.

Some exhibits worth mentioning were Ellen Kirkhope’s quirky website “Big Fish Small Fry” for a virtual recruitment agency; Keith Arnott’s inspired Science Museum concertina video wall; Gemma Dominick’s delightful interactive kiddies’ story book, “Jack Wouldn’t Wash”; Edward Walker’s James Bond themed screensaver/typographic masterpiece and Natalie Cowx’s contemporary TV title sequence “Real Cold Feet”.

An impressive show by Dundee’s 2002 graduates.

Mark Noë, Third Eye Design

Cardonald College Advance Diploma

The last two graduates we have employed have both been from European art schools, in Switzerland and Denmark. This has been solely down to the fact that much of the Scottish graduate work that we have been presented with over recent years has been very predictable and failed to push the boundaries. I went to the Cardonald Review hoping then to be pleasantly surprised.

A show of maybe 20 students, the work on offer was based around half-a-dozen design briefs, each student interpreting the brief in their own way. Unfortunately, the predictability factor kicked in fairly early on, with obvious solutions becoming prevalent.

However, there were a couple of solutions and students who clearly had developed their ideas much further. I like to be challenged by a brief and it was clear in the work of Gary McKay, for example, that he had some fun with his ideas and, as important, executed them with style and professionalism. His work for the Ministry of Sound, Wrangler and T-26 were particularly strong.

Good design is about looking at things from a different perspective, making the piece interesting and interactive. One brief was to design an education pack for a theatre group. Nicola McMillan and Nadine Foster explored different packaging and finishing techniques, which made the job so much more interesting in terms of the use of materials and attention to details.

As employers of design graduates, we want to see a thought process and an understanding of effective design in a student’s work and I’m afraid that much of the work on show was reliant on ‘easy’ options. I don’t know if I blame the lecturers, who can’t even spot a ‘widow’ on a job, or an overall industry lack of awareness of what effective design is, but until that changes I, unfortunately, will be forced to consider graduates outwith Scotland for the very best work.

Overall marks for the Cardonald College show: 4.5/10.


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