Cat Drew – MA Graphic Design

"I’m an experienced civil servant who is interested in how design can be applied to public services and Government policy to help make a better society."

Over the past ten years, I have worked for No.10, the Cabinet Office and the Home Office, where I advised the Prime Minister on criminal justice policy, led multi-organisational teams to deliver national policy and co-designed projects with local communities. I have also worked for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), where I led a qualitative research project to produce the first comprehensive study into British emigration.

My time printmaking in Berlin and studying graphic design at post-graduate level has led me towards a path that now combines my professional and creative backgrounds. My current role is at the Government’s new Policy Lab which promotes the use of design in policymaking. I design and sit on the advisory board for Dalston Bridge: a charity that spreads the benefits of Dalston’s gentrification."

Cat Drew
Cat Drew

Before joining MA Graphic Design you completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Design for Visual Communication (also at LCC). Tell us about what drew you to that course - and what was your experience of it?

While many great graphic designers are self-taught, I felt I wanted the confidence of some practical skills under my belt before going into this new world of work. I ummed and arred for ages about whether to do the PG Certificate or the MA, and it was only when I was right up to the wire that I went for the PG Certificate. And I’m so pleased I did. It was the best year ever; being back in the classroom with an infectious tutor and a load of great fellow students who all had rediscovered the learning bug after a few years of work.

I loved the space for experimentation and developing new practical skills that the course allowed. It was a safe space, which taught me the basics of typography, hierarchy, colour and visual grammar – or at least put some theory around what I instinctively saw.

You can see all my PG Certificate work here: My favourite was a typography project which I slogged away at, iteration after iteration, but finally got right using a combination of digital print, hand rolled letterpress and lazer cutting.

At the end of the year, I wasn’t ready to give that up! At work, time and other constraints mean it is not always possible to be that experimental. I wanted to give myself some more time to freely develop my practice and explore more printmaking techniques. Not only that; gaining these basic skills meant that I could concentrate more on the theoretical and research aspects of the MA.

Cat Drew, MA Graphic Design
Type Fight
Image © Cat Drew

How would you describe the difference in approach to study between your PGCert and MA?

The PG Cert is a much more practical course that gives those who may not have come from a graphic design background the fundamental skills needed to make the transition over to design. The course is incredibly fast paced but it leaves you with about 6-8 beautifully finished outcomes which will make up a core portfolio for you to use to start looking for work.

The MA is much more theoretical and research focussed. You are expected to self-direct your visual experimentation far more, and develop your brief yourself. The course is helpfully broken down into modules, but there is more focus on developing in a smaller number of outcomes in a more in depth way. This is a great opportunity to really delve deep into an area that fascinates you.

List highs/lows of your time at LCC:

I’m an ideas person. So my lows are always when I come up with a bunch of ideas and know that I will not have time to pursue all of them. I write them down so that they are they if I ever find a place to incorporate them into another project in the future.

I’m also quite a quick person. I have an idea and move on. The biggest learning curve for me was the need to constantly iterate and develop an idea past my initial lightbulb moment. I remember one point in my Type Fight brief where I was on iteration 19, and it was still not right. I could have cried. But I kept on going, and in the end, an accident with a roller led me to my final outcome.

But this low has over time turned into a high. I’ve learned to love learning by doing. I’m a big fan of prototyping. It has been really great to just design something, make it quite simply, try it out with real people and get great feedback. I did that with a crowdsourcing prototype - a load of labels which I got people to write what Dalston had given them and what they would give back to Dalston. Not only did we get some great responses (including a 13 year old boy who promised not to drop his cigarettes on the floor), but great feedback too. The streetdrinkers in the square where the labels were hung up actually complained when I was cutting them down at the end of the weekend.

Can you explain, in summary, the focus of your research at present?

I am interested in how design can involve Dalston residents in promoting and creating connections, as the area becomes more gentrified. Dalston has always been a hugely diverse place, and gentrification means people from different socio-economic backgrounds are moving in. Dalston Bridge is a hyperlocal fundraising campaign to try to spread the benefits of Dalston’s gentrification to those who have not benefitted. My project is seeing how design can promote these – plus other non-financial - connections.

Cat Drew
Dalston Bridge project
Cat Drew

Where do you see progress and/or decline in the study/practice of graphic design?

I’m really excited about how graphic design is becoming a multi-disciplinary practice, and how people are moving into the profession from a range of different professions. This can only bring a new and fresh perspective to communication problems and can manifest itself in different ways. Within graphic design, letterpress is being worked on digitally and typography is being explored using projection. Outside the field, data visualization is becoming important as the private sector and Governments perform data analytics projects to create insight to better serve customers or the public. And outside the professional world, the rise of open source and prosumerism means that everyone really can be a designer, and use graphic tools in their own worlds.

What three words would you use to best describe LCC?

Life-changing, Inspiring, Practical

Cat Drew
Cat Drew

What piece of advice would you give to applicants considering postgraduate study?

Do it! It changed my life, and has put me on the career course that I’ve always wanted to be on but never knew existed. Studying at post-graduate level with some years in the world of work behind you is incredibly fulfilling. Suddenly you are no longer simply summarising other people’s views, but you are able to critique the world from your own experience and viewpoint.

The MA is your big chance to spend a year or two creating a body of work that totally represents you and where you want your career to go. Think about where you want to be five or ten years in the future, and then work back from that point to think about what your research focus might be.

What's next for you after graduation?

Continuing to work for Policy Lab and bringing more design – whether that is graphic design or user-centred service design – into Government policymaking.