The 7th time I’m moving, I think I’m getting the hang of this #packing (Taken with Instagram at 1 Emslie Road)
I have spent so much time on the train in the last two weeks, you could think I’m working as a train conductor. After returning from DIBI I had a short break at #digpen, the 3rd South West Web Unconference, before heading off to London for a week.
I attended the D&AD Awards ceremony on Thursday, where I achieved a commendation (that’s a fancy word for “good, but not good enough”). On Friday I attended the awards ceremony of the International Society of Typographic Designers, where my official membership certificate was handed to me by the living design legend Erik Spiekermann. Aside from the ceremonial aspect, both events were very enjoyable get-togethers of creative talent. For me personally they were also a perfect replacement for the official graduation ceremony which, annoyingly, is going to take place in September. I’m more than happy to skip this event now, having done all the dressing up, receiving certificates, being photographed and getting drunk already.
I’m now waiting for my results tomorrow and I have to say I’m excited about it. Not because I’m dying to know how I performed on the standardised scale of academic box-ticking, but rather because this officially marks the end of it for me. Regardless of the result, I know what I’ve learnt, I know where I was right and where I was wrong. I know that learning doesn’t stop here but also that learning didn’t start with my degree either – and I’m certain that I’ve learnt the most valuable lessons despite going to university, not because of it. I don’t care if it will be a 1st or a pass – even if it’s going to be a fail grade – nobody actually gives a damn, apart from your parents (which incidentally make up 90% of the degree show visitors).
So, if I click on the university website tomorrow and identify the results corresponding to my student ID number, I’ll be very happy for my mum and dad. And I’ll raise my glass to my newly won freedom to create good work that perhaps will be judged by its actual success and not arbitrary box-ticking and tutor favouritism – and yes, I think this totally applies to most awards too, including the ones I did and didn’t win). Cheers!
I’ve just come back from an amazing few days in Newcastle where I attended DIBI the two track “design it/build it” conference. It was a very inspiring event with many great speakers and a good crowd of geeks.
The talks that resonated with me the most were by Brian Suda, who spoke about some techniques useful to have in your data visualisation toolkit and urged us to use them wisely. His advise was also to choose one story and execute it well rather than trying to visualise everything you can squeeze out of a data set. The mantra “just enough is more” rings true once again.
Jeremy Keith used his slot for a good old rant about responsible responsive design, working with known unknowns, why ‘context first’ is not an excuse for pissing all over your website or serving a dumbed down mobile site, and why ‘mobile first’ really means thinking about content before thinking about media queries. There is no mobile web, there’s only one web.
Usability legend Jared Spool delivered a very engaging and entertaining presentation that had everyone laughing about his examples of some very obscure albeit not all too uncommon usability fails. He talked about intuitive design and why it is so difficult to achieve. Intuitive design is invisible, technically a great designer has nothing to put in his portfolio (except perhaps the things he would’ve done if he was a not so great designer). He demonstrated how every innovation follows the same pattern from the focus on technology, to features, to experience. Intuitive design happens at the experience stage. When it comes to adding features and keeping the product updated, we need to design for embraceable change or otherwise we risk losing our users along the way. This means favouring small, incremental changes over disruptive major updates. We need to manage the knowledge gap on the “knowledge escalator”, by moving current knowledge (bottom of the escalator) and target knowledge (top of the escalator) closer together.
Jeffrey Zeldman, dubbed the godfather of the Internet, delivered his keynote speech about What Every Web Designer Should Know. He seemed to go off on tangents quite a bit, which was mostly funny (just like we know and love him from the Big Web Show), and skipped a large chunk of his presentation in order to allow some time for questions. I thought the Q&A was where the real Zeldman came through, entertaining, knowledgable and genuine. The bottom line was: we all have so much to learn, it’s a good thing when you feel like the dumbest guy in the room. Our industry is moving fast and we have to constantly learn from each other. It’s why most people in this industry are very humble and always happy to help and why this design community is so great.
I thoroughly enjoyed those few days in the beautiful city with the weird architectural landmarks (the event was held in a building that looks like a giant slug near a bridge that looks like a giant egg slicer). I was also very lucky to meet and socialise with some extremely smart, talented, inspiring and amazing people. Shout-out to Harry (CSS Wizardry), Jeremy (@adactio), Owain (@owzzz), Freddy, Sam (Nocturnal Monkey), Ashley (@dragongraphics), Darren (@madeinthenorth), Gavin (@gavinelliott) and everyone else I bumped into, shook hands with, chatted to or had a beer with but forgot to mention here – I really enjoyed your company.
This is it. My final year work is handed in for assessment and mounted in my exhibition space ready for the final show.
It’s the end of a five year journey in formal design education through four courses in three countries. What was meant to be a straightforward path to gain access to a vocation—with curriculum controlled waypoints, a reward currency in the form of credit points and rules to follow—turned out to be a roller coaster ride and a journey of self-discovery. I hacked the system. I made up my own rules. I went to university because I wanted a degree but I studied because I wanted to learn. I learnt plenty: I discovered what I’m good at, I found out what I suck at. And I learnt how to become good with the things that I suck at. University provided the framework, mainly the reason to be in a particular place for a certain time, an excuse not be too serious about everything I do (perhaps call it the safety to take risks—if that wasn’t such a terrible oxymoron) and eligibility to get free government money. I had to do the learning and source the teaching myself. It was a “bring your own education” party. I made a lot of contacts and friends along the way and I was inspired by many people—even educators. I didn’t stick to the syllabus, I challenged the conventions. I spent the most part of my formal design education questioning the relevance of formal design education. I refused to graduate into a never-ending sofa-surfing internship cycle where I don’t know what I want to do or where I want to be. I wanted to be ready for—and bloody damn excited about—working in the design industry when I graduate. Nobody can possibly estimate where their particular path of education is going to take them when they initially flick through prospectuses trying to compare features of the hundreds of design courses in the UK alone. It doesn’t matter where you go to university or whether you go at all. Design school has its advantages (access to facilities, networking opportunities, free money, something to do, …) but if you’re not willing to challenge the system and build your own personal curriculum of learning opportunities, you’re probably wasting your time. I’m now a graduant, awaiting my degree—essentially an attendance record that certifies my three year commitment to handing in work on time and paying my library fines. What it doesn’t certify is the skills I can contribute to the workplace, my readiness to take on the complex problems of a postmodern world, and my enthusiasm to help shaping the future. That, I hope, is evident in everything I do, not just in my portfolio. Design education isn’t all about ideas and it shouldn’t just be about a slick portfolio. You can have ideas anywhere, with anyone, anytime. Design education should be about finding out what you love, why you love it and how you can make a living of it. This may mean that you have to turn your standard three year degree into a five year educational journey around Europe. When I receive this official piece of paper, I know that this is only the beginning of a much longer journey. But I feel ready now to make a living with what I love doing. And gosh am I excited about it!