At open days we often get asked how ‘digital’ the course is and of course these days students do need to graduate with a range of technical skills that will allow them to resolve their ideas in an appropriate and professional way. Technology isn’t going away and is probably developing faster than at any point previously. Predicting what new programme or App might emerge next is probably impossible, and sometimes things appear and disappear very quickly. Look at Vine—the short video sharing app—it was only launched in 2012 and yet has already been shut down four years later. So, as young creatives in turbulent digital times, students have to develop a proactive, agile attitude that will enable them to confidently engage with new technologies as they develop. However, what doesn’t ever change is the importance of the idea or story that drives a piece of work.
When we talk to our industry partners, they say the same—you can teach a graduate to use a particular new piece of software, but you can’t teach them to have great ideas, and that is what is really sought after. The concept is still king, and the initial development for that starts in a sketchbook. The Canadian designer Bruce Mau, in his Incomplete Manifesto for Growth, has written a series of quirky mantras for designers and several apply to this approach to idea development:
Process is more important than outcome. When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.
The computer sets you up with a series of defaults which immediately restrict your decision making. By starting in the sketchbook, you remove these constraints. Letting your ideas develop from your research, your understanding of audience, and the inspiration from the world around you is far more likely to lead to an unexpected outcome.
Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child). Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.
Often students worry about getting things wrong, but all designers need to act as ‘reflective practitioners’, which means being able to stand back and assess the work in order to see where things could be changed. In that respect you can often learn a lot more from a ‘failure’ as you can identify what needs to be changed and why. Quick idea generation in the sketchbook is a key part of this experimental attitude and process.
Avoid software. The problem with software is that everyone has it.
Well, don’t avoid it completely, but don’t expect it to necessarily give you something different. No matter how cool that Photoshop filter looks, everyone has access to it and everyone can apply it with one click of a mouse.
Think with your mind. Forget technology. Creativity is not device–dependent.
The software can’t generate the idea or story, and that is usually where the difference lies. Powering up your Mac offers you an amazing tool to generate beautiful end products, but powering up your mind is always the starting point. So, sketchbooks will always be important to build the bridges between the brief and outcome and whilst our graduates will ultimately resolve their ideas digitally, the development always starts on paper.