iPads, smartphones, digital watches…the list goes on. Let’s face it, Marty McFly’s experience of the future wasn’t too far off. We live in a world heavily dependent on digital technology, and as design educators it’s our utmost responsibility to keep up to speed with these advancements. So, as we reach 20 years of Shillington, our teaching team reflect on how design has been impacted by digital progression and what this means for the future of Shillington graduates.
When I cast my mind back to when I was studying Graphic Design at university I vividly remember the battles I had with my Mac—the most modern model at the time it was an absolute beast of a thing. I would have to transport it back and forth from campus after each semester and it would fill the entire boot of the car! Waiting for it to start up felt like an eternity. I’d often have numerous pages filled with thumbnails before I’d even heard the hum of the welcome screen. Now everything has slimmed down and sped up—from hard drives that fit in the palm of your hand, to keyboards that are as weightless as the devices they’re attached to.
When I compare what’s in our design tool kit today to what was considered modern even ten years ago I can hardly believe it, things are changing at the speed of light.
During my early days as a designer we used Quark, Freehand and Photoshop—a far cry from the Adobe Creative Cloud package we teach as part of the Shillington curriculum. When InDesign emerged on the scene there was a reluctance within our studio to adopt it as everyday software, it was such a departure from the major player of the time, Quark. However, it wasn’t too long before opinions changed and the industry realised the advantages of progression and embraced it. The integration between the Adobe programmes has made such a difference to our efficiency and process as designers.
Throughout my time as a teacher at Shillington and now as a Director, there has been a rapid increase in students displaying confidence and awareness of technology, alongside an understanding of digital design—it’s become second nature to this present generation of designers. It’s unfathomable to predict what our students will be like twenty years from now.
So, what does this rampant shift in digital technology and design mean for Shillington? Well we’re constantly adapting our course content to ensure we’re pushing forward rather than sitting stagnant. It’s crucial that we consider our students’ education, as we strive to provide them with the most informative and relevant content—inspiring them to challenge convention, remaining curious throughout their careers. Not to dismiss the past, but be aware of advancements and experiment with the ever-growing spectrum of what’s possible.
It’s extremely rewarding to watch our students learn and grow. I recall the inclusion of digital publishing to the course a few years ago. The creation of the tablet spurred a seismic shift in publishing, with readers increasingly accessing their news and choice reading material in digital form rather than forking out for a forest of magazines and newspapers. It was a thrilling addition for the students, using their editorial skills to lay out an article before exporting it—beaming as the scrolling text functions brought their designs to life. Since then we’ve incorporated a multitude of digitally-focused briefs to the course, bringing the digital content to almost half.
One of the most exciting areas we’ve added to our content has undoubtedly been UX/UI. As teachers we’re always ensuring our students are considering their design choices, from concept development all the way through to realisation and conclusion.
Blending software such as InVision and Sketch into the mix is enabling our students to push their ideas even further.
Another way of keeping up to speed with digital strides is to consult our contacts within the design industry. During a recent workshop with Wolff Olins we spoke to Senior Strategist (Brand, UX) Sagarika Sundaram about her thoughts on the growing presence of UX/UI within digital design. Defining UX as ‘the marriage between strategy and design’, Saga believes that UX has always been an important element but now more so than ever as the digital market becomes more populated;
“With so many digital tools out there and voices about how we feel when we use them, brands and products are now more accountable to serve the people they’re designing for. Imagination is an important part of design but creating something within a vacuum is not what UX is about, it’s always contextual.”—Sagarika Sundaram
We’ve seen an enthusiastic response to UX/UI from our students, with some sighting it as their favourite part of the course and an area they’d likely pursue after graduation. During a conversation recently published on our Design Blog with London graduate Tjerk Zumpolle he spoke about ‘Monvelo’ a digital project from his portfolio involving a bike sharing website for the city of Montreal;
“A good user experience can so drastically change the way a user thinks about your brand. It’s an opportunity to win their trust. In general UX/UI design combines the endless possibilities of the digital world with branding. For me, that is where you can make a significant impact and really add value through design. So is this is an area I can see myself working in? Definitely!”—Tjerk Zumpolle
The growing amount of digital related opportunities within the industry has seen an influx of recent graduates secure roles within digital companies following their time at Shillington. It’s always a proud moment seeing hard working students land jobs at companies like Google and Apple where they’re in a position to contribute directly to the digital advancements in our industry.
We’ve come a long way since the days of blocky screens, limiting software and arduous loading times—but what does the future hold? I for one, am incredibly curious.
In a bid to speculate further and discuss the current age of digital, we’ve extended the conversation to our global teaching team.
We query the blur in distinctions between designer and developer with Laura Weldon, take a deeper look into the addition of Sketch to Shillington course content with John Fry, speculate on opportunites for Shillington graduates with Enza Lacherdis and discuss with our resident typography aficionado John Palowski about how revolutionary software FontSelf is changing how we design and develop Typefaces.
John Fry—Head of Digital, Global
Having worked at Shillington since 2000, you’re now Head of Digital. Could you highlight some of the most impactful changes you’ve seen in digital design throughout the past two decades?
In early 2000 I think we probably only had the students design a desktop website and maybe a banner ad. Digital was a module in the course like packaging or magazine layout. Jump to 2016 and digital is woven throughout the course, with lots of different touchpoints. Nowadays our students are designing responsive websites or apps (which didn’t even exist as an option in 2000), considering user journeys or personas as part of their process, or jumping into a tool like InVision to prototype their project.
Web fonts have revolutionised the way we design for web.
Forget Arial or Georgia as your main choices *suppresses a slight shudder* in favour of beautiful and accessible fonts from services like Typekit or Google Fonts. The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad after that ushered in an era of Responsive Design—meaning your design could appear on lots of different devices, so you better have a flexible, modular design that adapts to suit this new device landscape.
Sketch is really a product of changing needs in the industry. Gone are the days of super detailed Photoshop mockups of a website or app. Instead these have been replaced with quick iterations of multiple pages/views that are then taken into some sort of prototyping tool. From here your aim is to test out the project with real users as soon as possible. Thanks to the popularity of User Experience (UX) thinking this has become best practice when it comes to digital design. Tools like Sketch really facilitate this new workflow. Also, I think students really enjoy jumping into another piece of software other than Adobe.
What I’m excited about now is the potential for designing interfaces for Virtual Reality. What the hell will that look like? Or what does wearable technology mean for your client’s communication needs? Services like the various app stores have put the tools and market in the hands of pretty much anyone interested in creating an app. Who wouldn’t want to be a digital designer in this day and age?
John Palowski—Full Time Teacher, UK
As a keen typographer, how do you feel about the repercussions digital evolution has had on creating typefaces?
The creation of typefaces, historically and still to this day, should always begin on paper. Whether the designer has undergone thorough training with a pen, or not, the basis of a typeface should be nutted out before moving it to a digital representation. This is where the strongest ideas and the individual differences of a typeface’s personality begins to take shape. Things can get tricky when it comes to moving ideas across to a digital platform as there are now many options on the market—depending on your level of expertise, what the brief requires and what budget you have.
FontLab still has its 20-ish year stronghold as the professional font creation software choice. However at $649, it isn’t a viable option for many, although they do offer a number of other products that offer a more entry level route into the field. Glyphs (at half the price) and Glyphs Mini (at a price of a few rounds on a Friday night) are relatively new to the field, with the latter being a very easy tool to pick up for those with experience in Adobe Illustrator.
As designers working in education we’re always on the lookout for software improvements which can aid our students’ development.
I was recently introduced to Illustrator plug-in, FontSelf by my colleague from Shillington New York. FontSelf allows instant testing, installation and exporting of fonts—which has made the testing and refinement process just as enjoyable as the design process. There are some limitations to the software, but for an insight into the world of typeface design and seeing results within a matter of seconds, it’s a fantastic program to share with our students curious about creating their own typefaces.
In an industry where clients are constantly demanding more bespoke deliverables—it’s tools such as FontSelf that put these skills within reach and can elevate any given branding or campaign-based project.
Laura Weldon—Head of Part Time, UK
What do you think is the most exciting change in how we teach the digital aspects of design at Shillington. How do you see things advancing in the future?
Definitely the introduction of Sketch to the course.
We are training the students to challenge what is traditional and keep up to speed with how things are progressing in industry.
We are introducing them to the broader spectrum of possibilities by encouraging self learning as we’re all too aware that technology is changing all the time.
Alongside teaching you’re a freelance designer. Do you think the advancements in digital software are starting to blur distinctions between designers and developers?
In my experience I think there’s still a definite difference between the job of a designer and a developer. However it’s absolutely the job of a designer to educate the client about this when they take on new projects. What used to be considered a ‘traditional designer’ has evolved, with the definition, expanding yet still remaining a separate entity from that of a developer. As part of a design team a studio will expect a designer to be immersed in the overall process as a whole and be able to understand the language which links together designing and developing. At Shillington it is through our inclusion of programmes such as Sketch and InVision which involve UX/UI properties that enable today’s designer to have a broader understanding of digital design, so they leave as a well rounded designer.
Enza Lacherdis—Director, US
Do you think our close alignment to industry standard in graphic design makes our graduates more employable, especially regarding the digital side of our education?
Having such a short course gives us the luxury of being able to make adaptations to the content as soon as it happens in industry to ensure our students are receiving the most relevant and accurate training possible. Given that our teaching staff are all still active within the industry, we have a direct connection to extract the current requirements of a graphic designer. In my five years teaching at Shillington, I’ve taught in both Sydney and New York. Within this time I’ve watched things change dramatically. We’ve introduced elements such as designing for tablets, responsive websites, mobile apps, UX/UI and more.
Alongside our awareness of industry, it’s perhaps the actual process we teach the students that makes them more employable.
Processes play a huge part in employability within industry. When employers see not only what our students are producing but the method in which they’re doing so, they can appreciate how we teach at Shillington and ultimately how equipped our graduates are as a result. As wonderful as it is to hear about students getting jobs, it’s even more rewarding to hear from the employers about how the addition of our graduate helps with the efficiency of their studios. Jobs in digital are ever growing so we’re finding more and more students working in digital roles.
Illustrations by part-time Manchester teacher Steve Waring.