Art School Degree shows: Showing off

By The Drum, Administrator

May 17, 2007 | 10 min read

Degree shows are the bridge into the creative sector and new graduates are part of an employment trend with more and more people earning their living using their creative assets. Degree shows also provide a preview of the latest ideas and innovations.

It is believed that we are moving into an era in which creativity could become a mass activity not just an elite one. The iPod generation don’t just want to watch and listen, they want to create and contribute.

More than 1bn people and rising now have the capacity to become mini-media producers. They are linked by MySpace, Second Life and Wikipedia. This revolution is not simply about inventing new markets, it is opening up freedoms of expression and creativity and heightening identity.

Art schools and their graduates are right in there, helping to shape and expand our notion of contemporary culture. Degree shows offer us an unequalled insight into that world.

Stuart MacDonald, head of Gray’s School of Art,

The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen


The annual summer Degree Show frenzy is approaching – feeding time for hungry creative agencies looking to snap up the top new talent.

Scotland’s art schools and colleges aim to provide the creative industries with a constant stream of fresh talent, and the degree shows attract a crowd of creatives from throughout the industry to discover the next new talent to come through the system.

New ideas, new styles, new ways of thinking and new forms of execution – the ideas behind the individual shows, as well as the individual students’ work, are vital.

But what is it that Scotland’s creative directors are looking for from the cream of the student bodies?

The Drum speaks to a trio of senior design figures from the industry to explore just what it is that attracts – or dispels – them from the talent on display.

Lesley Dougall, head of design, Frame

Degree shows hold benefits for both students and creative agencies. For students, it sets the goal of completing the best of their work to a polished state for a specific date, and in doing so affords them perhaps the closest insight they’re likely to get into the demands and pace of our industry. Importantly, it also gives students the chance to print and display their work in a controlled manner to an audience receptive to viewing it – preferable, surely, to emailing an unsolicited PDF folio, with no way of telling whether it’ll arrive at a good or bad time in the creative director’s day.

For creative agencies, Degree shows offer an opportunity to assess a number of up and coming candidates in one quick and easy hit. No CVs. No selling-myself-hard covering letters. Just the bread and butter proof of students’ styles and levels of working, with the added bonus of an informal introduction – should you wish – to establish personality ‘fit’.

Vaughan Yates, design director, Contagious

There's always a sense of anticipation when I go to a degree show. New work, raw energy, attitude, youth, naivety, hope and the memories of being there and experiencing the show as a student. But now I'm looking at how designers approach a project, their thinking, the results of their creativity and how they deliver a project and present the work. There's an abundance of good thinking at a degree show, that's why we go to art college, to be visually trained, to look at life differently to our peers, to think differently. The ideas that stand out and are executed well will attract my attention.

I enjoy talking to the students about their work, their final year, their expectations (which are often high) and how they have considered the projects displayed in their degree show. I'll learn about their experiences and how they solve problems they have encountered. It gives me a better understanding of the type of person they are or might become and whether they are willing to learn or take advice. Most of the creativity on show is created in a three or four year vacuum, where there is little exposure to real projects, so the students that have made the extra effort, or have been lucky enough to have a project printed will be worth another look. There are more people looking for work than there are jobs available in the design industry in Scotland. The larger agencies may take a student direct from college and give them the training they need, the smaller agencies need experience to generate income, so they are unlikely to take on a graduate. The few that make it to become designers will need to impress, be persistent and believe in themselves and their abilities, and with a bit of luck they'll succeed.

Kenny Allan, creative director, The Hub

As another year of graduating designers approach I look forward, as I do every year, with anticipation to the creative output, not only from the art schools in Scotland but from all over Britain and Europe. It is always interesting to witness which institutes stress more importance on certain design disciplines and who work hard in educating designers to step from the safety of art school into the demanding world of the commercial industry. With this in mind I not only look for creative excellence but for an exceptional understanding, knowledge and awareness of the design process too. Typographic understanding and execution is paramount for any designer entering the design business. A sound, strong realisation of typography can turn around the simplest of projects to a work of art. We don't have to look any further than the Swiss (Basel Art School) and northern European institutes to illustrate the importance of this discipline. At the Hub we have two designers who graduated last year, one from Dundee and one from Glasgow Art School, and, it is their typographic knowledge, attention to detail and ability to explore new avenues which made them stand out in a crowded exhibition.

The Graduate’s view:

Kulbir Gharra, junior graphic design 999 Design

Graduated 2005 from Napier University’s school of Design and Media Arts

Not only is the degree show a chance for a student to stand back and really look at their achievements over the four years of their academic life but also a chance for them to exhibit to future employers.

Luckily for me, my degree show bought about a lot of media attention that lead to articles in national newspapers and invitations to be part of other exhibitions all over the UK, such as New Designers in London, Ideal Homes Exhibition (UK-wide) and The Noise Festival in Manchester. Participating in these exhibitions makes you aware of just how much competition is out there, but also gives you that advantage of getting the public attention. However, simply just exhibiting work is not enough, you need to be proactive! At this point students should have an idea of who they want to work for. You then need to invite that individual or company to come and see your exhibition.

Many universities and colleges do invite high-profile people from the ‘design world’ to their degree shows, but unfortunately some don’t. That is why greater importance must be placed on the education system to build greater links with the design industry. After all, “today’s juniors are tomorrow’s creative directors�?.

Diary of Scottish Degree Shows and Final year creative courses:

Glasgow School of Art

16 June – 23 June

Taking place on the main campus, the Degree Show will feature graduating students work in fields such as fine art, product design, textiles, architecture and visual communication.

Caledonian University –

Caledonian Creates

19 June – 24 June, The Saltire Centre

This will showcase all of the creative activities at Glasgow Caledonian University, including work from product design, audio technology, marketing , fashion, graphic design, digital media, gaming, interior design and media & journalism.

Edinburgh College of Art

16 June -26 June

Edinburgh College of Art will present works by over 400 students across 23 art, design and architecture specialisms on display throughout the college, which is temporarily transformed into an enormous exhibition space. The show provides an ideal opportunity to view, buy or commission the original and often unconventional work of the artists and designers of the future.

Visit for further information

Lauder College –

Summer Arts Fest 2007

5 June – 9 June, Halbeath Campus

The show will feature a range of creative work by students from the college, including art and design, fabric and costume design, graphic design, digital media and animation.

Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design Show

9 May -26 May

Students from various disciplines, including fine art, animation, architecture, illustration, jewellrey, textile design and interactive media, will have their work on display. Exhibitions will also be included from time-based art, graphic design, interior and environmental design and product design.

Cardonald College

6-7 June – Design and Fashion 2007

The display of work will take place in its main building, including graphic design, applied arts, jewellry, 3D design, portfolio preparation, textiles, city and guilds work. Meanwhile, the advanced diploma exhibition will be held in the Mitchell Library from 5 June – 15 June.

Gray’s School of Art Degree Show

16 June – 23 June

Gray’s Degree Show will feature painting, printmaking, sculpture, 3D design, textiles, visual communication, digital media and product design. A preview night will be held on 15 June before opening to the public.

For more information see :

Reid Kerr College

30 April – 15 June

Pentagon Centre, Glasgow

HNC Fine Art Environmental students along with NQ Portfolio Preparation students have already launched their end of year show which incorporates an urban theme, comprising location-based architectural studies and developments, together with a selection of life drawings and other pieces.

Dundee College, May 25 – May 29

Graham Street Campus

The end of year exhibition at Dundee College will display a range of work from departments such as fine art, folio preparation, graphic design, illustration, digital publishing, fashion, textiles, interior design, photography and creative learning.

Napier University

Design and Photography Showcase

14 June – 17 June

Manfield Traquair Centre, Edinburgh

The showcase will present the work of the university’s graduating students, while an evening of show reels by its graduating film students will be presented at The Film House in Edinburgh on 14 June between 6pm and 8pm.

Metropolitan College –

Bags of Talent

4 June – 8 June

There are a variety of exhibitions being displayed across the college’s city campuses, with students and staff on hand to answer any questions which visitors may have. Exhibitions running will include graphic design, visual information: design and illustration, product design, multimedia/ICT, printing, photography and fine art.

For further details on the exhibitions, including the locations of exhibitions, visit


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