Redesigning [Graphic] Design Education

We recently held a Redesigning [Graphic] Design Education day at Derby University. We brought together practitioners, theorists, students and educators for a 7-hour design project: to reshape graphic design education for the 21st century.

Heres what Jottas Design Director, Jane Trustram thought of R[G]DE:

Subjective review is a large part of the assessment of work, in both education and industry, and it’s almost impossible to ignore the fact that one person’s beauty is another person’s beast, and vice versa. Speaker Adrian Shaughnessy’s  provocation that ‘in design, taste is more important than science’ ignited the flame for discussion around the procedures by which work is assessed and what can change to make assessment more productive.

Universities are obsessed with assessment. Why do we spend so much time measuring? Assessment, as it is, with its predefined tick-box structure, creates boundaries and hinders excellence. Students should be set free, encouraged and enable to build dialogue around their projects and allowed to fail.

In the ‘real world’, i.e. industry, there’s no pass or fail. Well there is fail, and that can have serious repercussions, but there’s no pat on the back end of project ‘pass’. It’s expected. Does that have the potential for a new model in education? Fail or nothing. Fail or learn from your experiences in the last project and apply them to the next. Fail or carry on doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway. Fail or continue doing what you love. Because that’s why we all do this, right?

Rebecca Wright, course director of graphic design at Kingston University, asserted that ‘graphic design never exists on its own, it’s always about something’.

Rather than teaching graphic design as a field, should we be teaching ‘intent.’ Self-confessed optimist Wright suggests we reconsider our intentions in design. What are we designing for? Democracy? Emergencies? Regeneration? Fun? What are we designing against? Apathy? Crime? Boredom?

All design has a purpose: students should be encouraged to seek out their orientation in relation to the rest of the world. In discussion, the subject of collaborative communities came up, not just within graphic design education and with the creative industries but students proposed the idea of placements in non-creative businesses, in service industries. How can students identify possibilities for design thinking in the wider world, with the added potential of commercial opportunities?

Frustration was vented at the chameleon-like nature of the term ‘graphic design’ and the frivolous adopting of other disciplines’ critical thinking, rehashing it into a graphic design context.

Colin Davies, head of the School Art and Design at the University of Bedfordshire, lamented the lack of acknowledgement of graphic design history, both from education and from industry and questioned ‘how can we have an identity if we have no history?’ and so, ‘how can we educate people if we have no identity? What are we teaching people?’

Defining the field is a conversation to be had, and an advancement of our position, looking to both the past and the future. It is an opportunity for students and tutors to exchange knowledge and contribute equally to the discussion. Hierarchical barriers should be dissolved and a shared learning experience should emerge.

Finally, design educator and writer John Thackara looked at ‘why things don’t change.’

The world is awash with messages but it is starved of meaning. Graphic design is a process and it is an outcome but the way we can ensure that the product of these two elements is through action.

Advertising does it well, but as a discipline should we encourage more aggravators? Should we be actively teaching how to use modern communication platforms effectively? The Kony video came up as an example of a message inciting action, whether it’s to ‘like’ it on Facebook, donate some money or meet in the dead of night and plaster your city with stickers. Or is that message bigger? Is it to fight for what you believe in? Whichever, it demands action.

The Redesigning [Graphic] Design Education conference came about because the belief in the power of a message to incite an action. The message: graphic design education is at risk of becoming stagnant and irrelevant. Let’s start interrogating it before it gets too late. The action? Fifty course leaders, tutors, students and industry professionals probing, turning established educational models on their heads and suggesting alternatives to collaboratively and effectively lead the way in how positive change can define our industry and drive it forwards by seeding it with well informed, well educated new graphic design recruits.

Jane Trustram — 
Design Director, Jotta

Thanks to conference co-funders Higher Education Academy.Thanks also to Team Leaders: Jane Trustram, Dr. Paul Wilson, Matt Edgar and Jamie Steane.
Finally, thanks to Ross Fletcher, Matt King and Karen for their help and support.

Studio School

With our LITFI hats on, we're part of a team from Stockport College bidding to launch a new Creative & Media Studio School.

Studio Schools are a game changing new model of teaching and learning for 14 to 19 year-olds. They are small schools — typically with around 300 pupils — delivering mainstream qualifications through project based learning.

Students work with local employers and a personal coach, and follow a curriculum designed to give them the employability skills and qualifications they need in work, or to take up further education.

At the heart of the vision is the insight that a bold new approach to learning can play a central role in tackling youth disengagement and equipping young people with the skills they need to succeed in life and work… we’re all for that.

As part of the bid we got to meet some of the creative industries finest to hear their thoughts on education and industry working closer together.

We’ll know in September if the bid was successful.

Fingers and toes crossed.

**Update — 20.04.12**
We’re thrilled to announce the Creative & Media Studio School bid has made it onto the interview stage of the selection process. Thanks to everyone who has supported the bid.

**Update — 15.05.12**
We've just finished a 90 minute interview with a panel at the Department of Education... They were firm but fair... We should have a decision of the Studio School bid by the end of July... Fingers and toes crossed.



Thoughtful’s Christmas Speech 2011


Hello and Merry Christmas.

It’s exactly five years to the day since Thoughtful was born.

But before I start I need to make an apology to you.

For what felt like the right reasons at the time I never posted our Christmas Speech for 2010.

Looking back, I regret not making that post live because it undermined the very reason we make a Christmas Speech: it might help someone in a similar position.

I had blinked in the face of failure.

If you have the time and are interested, you can read it here.


2011 — Part 1

We’ve been on quite a journey these past 5 years, with the past 2 years being the toughest of our lives in almost every respect.

Like any new thrusting design studio we began our journey looking to conquer the design industry. But soon after we won our first big pitch and cooed over our first foil blocked invite we looked at each and thought: is this the best use of our skills?

We’re hugely grateful for the support we’ve been shown by our clients since we set up but we slowly began to realise that the design business isn’t quite what we imagined it would be.

Just so were being crystal, we’re not complaining about that fact or not that surprised because being in the service of others is largely what the graphic design business is all about. But after 3 years in business our hearts were no longer interested in building a company solely around graphic design — a business of seemingly never ending rounds of free-pitching — that’s where the buzz might be some studios and that’s fine, but for us life’s too short. Not unlike Steve Jobs, we want to put a dent in the universe and we can’t see that ever happening operating as we are inside the graphic design business.

Through meeting lots of fascinating and inspiring people outside of planet graphic design — people like David & Clare Hieatt of the Do Lectures; Tech futurists, Jonathan MacDonald & Alan Moore; Education, creativity and innovation expert Sir Ken Robinson; Architect, designer, and author of cradle-to-cradle, Bill McDonough; Visionary husband and wife team, Bruce Mau & Bisi Willimas and peace campaigner, Jeremy Gilley, (all people who try to bring about positive change on a global scale in one way or another) we’ve become more interested in how things work, rather than how they look.

It’s Darwinian — we’ve simply evolved. Nokia began life on the banks of the Nokianvirta river as paper company and rubber boot empire before being transformed into one of the world’s leading forces in mobile technology. 3M moved from mining to adhesives and Carlsberg is now a coffee company.

One look at who we follow on Twitter is a good indication to what excites us, pioneers in teaching, mobile, science, art and business...very little graphic design.

Now some people will argue that’s what any graphic designer worth his or her salt should be interested in — everything that’s fascinating and magnetic about the world we live in — things that matter: art, science, fashion, technology, politics, security, health, architecture, travel, film, sex etc…but how many graphic designers truly believe that?

And if we’re being brutally honest, we began to look at planet graphic design as being, well, err, kinda dumb...sorry — a strange place where designers win awards for projects theyve designed to win awards. (And yes, we include ourselves in that.)

Add into the mix a couple of nasty car crashes, family bereavements, Chris leaving the company, the longest / deepest recession in living memory and the feeling that sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is actually a train, it’s no surprise we’ve been reflecting (or perhaps even brooding) about what we want to do with the next 20 years of our lives.

So to cut a long (and perhaps tedious) story short, we’ve been struggling to find our place in the world for quite some time now. But fortunately for us a chance meeting gave us a new purpose… 


2011 — Part 2

We have seen the future of design.

It is dressed in black, has a big smile and a wicked laugh.

I’m referring to the visionary, innovator, designer, and author, Bruce Mau.

If we’re being honest, prior to meeting Bruce Mau we just thought of him as an accomplished book designer, creator of the Incomplete Manifesto for Growth and Creative Director of Bruce Mau Design — that’s it. So to hear he was making a presentation over 3,500 miles away from his studio in Toronto at a business event in Liverpool was a bit surprising.

But his presence in Liverpool wasn’t just a surprise, it was a revelation.

He began his presentation by saying he no longer views design as being about ‘the object’ — design doesn’t even have to be visual. Rather it’s about outcomes, which can relate to anything — health, happiness or prosperity. 

He spoke about a world which has become so complex and so threatened by environmental apocalypse that we have no choice but to design nature itself. This he stressed isn’t megalomania or arrogance but rather an obligation.

“Living in a designed world isn’t about control” said Mau “it’s about responsibility.”

And it’s this responsibility which will shape design and design education in the 21st century because it’s not enough for a designer to create an idea, product or service just to look good because if its not fundamentally intelligent we’re only making matters worse for society and the planet.

But if we can’t make that idea, product or service desirable no-one knows about it, no-one wants it, no-one wants to change their life to live that way.

Watch this short film about a floating garbage patch in the central North Pacific Ocean that is twice the size of Texas. Garbage Island (as it’s known) contains 6 times as much plastic as plankton, which begs the question: If the food we’re eating is becoming polluted with the stuff we throw away, where exactly is away?

Even if you’re not a hippy designer, it has to be hard to watch that film and not feel some sense of responsibility?

If we want to have a chance of getting out of the economic, social or environmentally mess we find ourselves in, designers need to be generating ideas, products and services which are (in the words of Bruce Mau) both ‘smart’ and ‘sexy’.

Smart = sustainable, innovative, compelling story. Where all design problems are approached with a ‘cradle-to-cradle’ mind-set. And all components that make up a product are endlessly recycled or upcycled without waste.

Sexy = looks great.

Bruce Mau was like a lightning rod for all ideas and thoughts wed been having for some time but couldn’t quite articulate.

Listening to Bruce Mau changed everything.

I’m sure the cynics out there will have lost the belief that design can save the world, or even wonder why it should — Bruce Mau would argue we cannot afford the luxury of cynicism.


2011 — Part 3

What I’m describing here isn’t just the stuff of thinktanks or utopian dreamers, it’s happening.

Last year, Alex Bogusky, dubbed the Elvis of advertising, left one of the world’s most famous ad agencies — Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, in a storm of publicity to set up a new venture called COMMON.

It might be Alex Bogusky has found a new passion in life? or it might be, as one CPB executive said: “I think he’s doing his penance for selling shit all these years”. Whatever the reason, Alex Bogusky’s timing is perfect and takes full advantage of a cultural moment.

He’s sensed the need for a dramatic shift in the way business is done towards more transparency, more collaboration, more equality, more ethics, more sustainability and ultimately more value.

Now, COMMON is a really interesting concept. It’s a collaborative community brand that works for society not shareholders.

It’s mission is to re-invent capitalism so that it spreads love and prosperity to all stakeholders and not just a few. I know, that sounds a bit vague, so here’s Alex Bogusky talking about COMMON.

One of COMMONs start-ups is COMMON CYCLES — a bike company that uses Alabamboo, a new bamboo cash crop that is being developed in Alabama. The grand goal is to create the most accessible, renewable, sustainable bicycle on the market — as Bamboo sequesters carbon at a higher rate than any other biomass.

COMMON CYCLES is also situated in Hale County which is the poorest county in America, with 24 percent of the population living below the poverty line. So this is a business which has also been created to bring in industry and employment into the area.

Imagine 100, 1,000 or a 1000,000 companies each with a story as compelling as COMMON CYCLES all living under 1 umbrella brand with a shared set of values and a commitment to spreading love and’s the stuff of revolutions.

In short, what Alex Bogusky is doing with COMMON is a re-interpretation or re-purposing of Ken Garland’s 1964 First Things First Manifesto — Alex Bogusky is making cat food, stomach powders, detergent etc. the tools for change rather than criticism.

According to ‘optimistic doomer’, John Thackara, were no longer in recession — this is permanent. And with less and less work around and tighter and tighter budgets I can see a growing desire among designers to bring their curiosity, strategic vision, iterative methodologies and divergent thinking to launching their own brands and it promises to be transformative and explosive for the discipline of design. It also offers creative control, shows a potential client you ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to selling creativity as a transformative business tool and potentially a better chance of a financial return than free-pitching.

But this Designer Entrepreneur is not a new idea, its a revolutionary idea but not a new one...

It goes back to the the late 19th Century, and really started with William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, where artisans and designers produced typefaces and books and much more for the marketplace. It was also one of the foundations of the Bauhaus and the inventions of the faculty’s and students are still in the marketplace today. And what began as an exploration of how Art and Industry could benefit from each other, has evolved into common practise.

And of course there’s Charles and Ray Eames in the middle of the 20th Century, who were multi-disciplinary designers and entrepreneurs. They created everything from furniture to exhibitions to packaging to films and videos. Their work really changed the face of design in America.

What they did so successfully (and which is a hallmark of the entrepreneur) was to see a need in the marketplace for a variety of products that reflected the public mood of the time. Just like Alex Bogusky.


2011 — Part 4

Okay, let’s bring it back to Thoughtful for this last bit.

I mentioned earlier we had found a new purpose. And that new purpose involves design education.

We think the future demands a new breed of design student. A design student that isnt just visual but also written and verbal. A design student that is the synthesis of artist & inventor, thinker & doer, adaptability & self-reliance and empathy & entrepreneur.

A design student whose future isnt solely tied to just selling more stuff to more people — its also about understanding their potential as problem-finders and problem-solvers who can design better systems and services and maybe even happiness and prosperity? (As well as stuff ;-)

Which is why we’re going to be dedicating our time to helping re-design design education. 

Along with client work were going to focus as much time as we can on our own design school and look to partner with like-minded tutors, students, designers, businesses and institutions — you can see our fledging effort here:

For better or for worse Thoughtful has always had a strong streak of idealism running through it, and it now feels as if we’ve found a way of putting that at the heart of what we do. We don’t pretend to have all the answers or that it will be easy, either — weve so much to learn from other people, which is why co-operation, collaboration and dialogue will be the only way of making progress.

We’re not planning for failure, either but if we do it will be doing something we’re passionate about, which I guess is more than most people will achieve in their lives.

I sincerely hope this years speech doesnt sound like a rant — it isnt. Or that we hate design — we dont. Or that we’re having a premature mid-life crisis — were not. We’re massively excited about the future because after being lost in the forest for 2 long, and at times painful and humbling years weve found our way out, and it feels good to have the sun on our faces again.

Thanks for taking the time to read this years Christmas Speech — we wish you the very best of luck for 2012.


ps We’d love to hear from any like-minded designers or tutors who would like to get involved with LITFI. Please e-mail stuart

Teams win.


Chris Cunningham

Last night we went to see the amazing Chris Cunningham Live at the Roundhouse – it was awesome. If you get a chance to see him, take it.


What Design Can Do!

We spent a few days last week in Amsterdam at the What Design Can Do! conference which brought together creatives thinking about design as a mindset for addressing social issues.

What Design Can Do! was an ambitious and well organised event, with lots of provocative speakers. One speaker that made a big impact on the conference was iconic photographer, Oliviero Toscani.

Toscani has been behind some of the most controversial campaigns to hit the public eye such as the Benetton campaign and Lolita clothing.

Listening to Toscani speak was like listening to someone who in many ways has lost faith in the designers that now take the industry by storm. Fearless in his commitment that design is about taking risks and having the courage to do those things that normally wouldn’t be done, he said that those who talk about their creativity have failed to be creative.

'I’m afraid of people with ideas,' he said and added that he can have thousands of ideas at any moment, but that doesn’t mean he’s creative. For Toscani, creativity isn’t about coming up with the idea; it’s about constantly creating because what’s the point of having ideas if you never do anything with them?

One of the shortfalls of designers these days is that a programme on some computer can do everything. He explains it by saying that technology justifies designers’ creative inertia. That technology creates lazy designers. Quite a remark when considering some of the speakers before him had said how technology, particularly those programmes, had created more opportunities for designers in taking what they do to greater heights.

But Toscani was having none of it and even went as far as critiscising the 'people who tell you what to design'. 'I’m a art director,' he said incredulously as if not even sure what that means. To Toscani, art is the highest form of communication so how can he or anyone else possibly tell people how to create art? There is no doubt that this design great got a few people talking and some maybe even a little rattled, but you have to give credit to a man that is able to tell designers they are mediocre and still get a rousing applause at the end.


News from the forest


Our new design school, Lost in the Forest Institute (LITFI), has got off to a great start. In just a few short weeks we’ve been shortlisted in the PSFK-UNICEF Future of Mobile Tagging competition, worked with Jonathan Barnbrook and Dan Streat from BARNBROOK on the LITFI identity; arranged, promoted and organised first D&AD North Lecture with Greg Quinton from THE PARTNERS and started designing Creative Review’s 2011 Graduate Guide.

But before we go any further there’s a few people we need to thank for helping us to get LITFI off the ground.

Thoughtful thanks to Principal Lynn Merilion, Mel Spooner, Gary Spicer and James Corazzo from Stockport College, for their continued support and appetite for innovation and rule breaking.

DAVID HIEATT for taking time out of his busy schedule to write LITFI’s values.

Adrian Shaughnessy for his advice, encouragement and for being a constant source of inspiration.

Jonathan Barnbrook and Dan Streat for their enthusiasm, flexibility and straight-talking approach.

And finally, Bruce Mau, for showing us graphic design has changed but graphic designers haven’t and for allowing us to adopt the LITFI name.


InterSections 11

Thoughtful took a trip to Cornwall for INTERSECTIONS 2011 – a fantastic two-day conference at the Eden Project.

We were treated to over 45 experts, mavericks, entrepreneurs and thought leaders speaking about emerging trends driving business change and new opportunities for design practice.

The day started with NICK JANKEL talking about the virtues and vices of private, public and third sectors, in a very, very good analysis of what was good and bad about each and how great collaboration across the sectors could, for example, marry the speed of companies with the scale of governments and the compassion and citizenship of charities.

Know your purpose said Nick and we think that advice resonated right through the event.

Tom Hulme from IDEO gave a great case study on OPEN IDEO as a global online innovation network community, reminding us that we must all avoid vanity metrics. He also told us that if you ask a person a bad question, you get a bad answer.

From journalist and self taught data visualiser DAVID McCANDLESS, we learnt that the figure 100million is not actually a big number, it’s the figure that governments, banks and big corporations pluck out when they want to fudge something. We think his visualisations were quite revelatory. He showed diagrammatically who is suing who in the telecoms industry and the graphic pattern when you took all the information away revealed that the biggest players who are currently losing revenue, they’re the ones who are the most litigious – it’s all in the graphics, stunning stuff.

David Rowan of WIRED MAGAZINE took us into a world of online sharing networks, couch surfing, car sharing and crowd sourcing and so on, and democratic user driven product design using 3D printing and other technologies.

The big take out for us here was if the crowd is modifying the product design, who owns the IP? And concepts of ownership in design are shifting all the time. So are concepts of sustainability, to judge by the afternoon panel, the debate led by Anne Chick of Kingston University. What struck us here was the idea that we are currently asset stripping our natural and human capital to feed the machines we like, to stoke up manufacturing and financial capital. When we really should be doing the opposite, directing financial capital to enhance and grow our natural capital. It's all the wrong way round.

But there is hope in what JOHN THACKARA described as new enterprises and emerging experiments which provide forms of restorative, not disruptive economy. Many of those experiments have been catalysed by Dott in Gateshead and in Cornwall and these were explored in a panel debate at the end of the day. And indeed you could say the Eden project is very much part of that sense of optimism. 

We were also treated to DAVID KESTER’s Nudge theory of design, a great project on a better beer glass and reducing ‘glassing’ admissions on NHS hospital wards.

One of InterSections big stand out moments was a set of full and stunning case studies of social and ethical enterprise, making a difference in Cornwall: FRUGI, Fresk, FIFTEEN and SHELTERBOX.

ShelterBox was particularly impressive as was ShelterBox’s Founder and CEO, Tom Henderson OBE.

ShelterBox is a disaster relief organisation which has helped over 1 million people in 57 different countries, over a 10 year period. And for a conference which debated lots of complex themes and technologies the most inspiring message of the two days was simple and human. When asked about what made ShelterBox so successful and effective at saving lives, Tom Henderson’s answer was: Keep it simple. Do it now.

We suppose that could be a motto for all of us.


Massive Change Network

Thoughtful attended the launch of Bruce Mau’s MASSIVE CHANGE NETWORK (MCN) in Liverpool.

MCN is a global design learning network. Co-founded by Bruce Mau and Bisi Williams, and is committed to inspiring, connecting and empowering a new generation of designers to develop a more equitable, abundant, sustainable world through learning programs and collaboration.

According to MCN co-founder Bisi Williams, the Massive Change Network provides a purpose driven experience and interaction. “We’re working together to empower each other to solve and affect real problems and challenges. Our primary purpose is to facilitate and accelerate positive change in the world,” says Williams.

As part of the launch we watched the inspiring Swedish documentary – THE PLAN – a film about global sustainability, featuring change-makers from across the world. As well as taking part in a global debate with other 10 cities, spanning five continents via a live link up.

It was a hugely inspiring evening which ended with Bruce Mau asking 3 questions of everyone...


Bruce Mau asked:-

  1. How can we get the power of design into the hands of the 99% who have not had access to higher education?

  2. How do we break through the noise, and make the best of human culture the most visible?

  3. What can we do to accelerate the best (and stop the rest)?






Mobile World Congress 11

Just got back from an awesome few days at the MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS in Barcelona, where (ironically) I lost my phone. Thanks to COCOATE for the shots.

Sad day

Sad day.

The Thoughtful car has finally been sent to the scrap yard in the sky.

Here's two shots from the 2008 accident:

And here's a shot from today's accident:

If anyone knows a male driver of a silver Vauxhall Vectra Saloon with a bit of damage to the front near side of the car, who would have been on the M62 at 11.30am, driving from Manchester to Liverpool, please let them know we'd like a word (as would the Police).

Hey, let's be careful out there.


Can’t see the wood for the trees

Our new design school has now been open for a few weeks. You're very welcome to drop by LITFI.AC

Thanks to HOWIES and photographer PAUL BLISS for the shot.


Daniel Eatock’s interactive discussion


Last night we went to see DANIEL EATOCK (via SKYPE) in an exciting interactive discussion involving his website that was led by allowing the audience to pick the projects at random using a wireless mouse. It worked well.

The venue was the SOUP KITCHEN and the hosts GENERAL INTEREST.



Chris and Vicky from the LOST IN THE FOREST INSTITUTE.


London College of Communication

Poster design by RANDY YEO.

We were asked by LCC graduate, LUCY BROWN, to give a talk today.

Each term, LCC’s Faculty of Design invites practitioners and theorists who have exemplary practices and /or processes to share their perspectives on the challenges, capacities and contexts of graphic design. The Autumn 2010 lecture programme contemplated the question ‘What is Graphic Design?’ to discover a diverse and open range of definitions. In Spring 2011, the conversations continue; this time, asking ‘Where is Graphic Design?’ through a series of dialogues with alumni and other practitioners about the constanty shape-shifting whereabouts of graphic design within contemporary culture.

We were joined on stage by the LOST IN THE FOREST INSTITUTE, well done guys.