Tell us a bit about the transition from the former MA Graphic Design to the new MA Graphic and Media Design.
First of all, I think it’s very important to acknowledge the success that the MA Graphic Design course has had in establishing an amazing history in dealing with the subject and influencing the practice of graphic design. We wish to continue these discussions with our students, colleagues, graduates, external partners and the emerging research community within the Graduate School at LCC.
The MA Graphic and Media Design course is reviewing what’s happening not just within the pedagogic practice – the redevelopments within learning and teaching that are appropriate and interesting at postgraduate level – but the practice locally, nationally and internationally, and also the subject.
What we’re trying to establish is what we’re calling a critical design studio, where the site of engagement and the modes of engagement are just as important as the subject and the practice. So, building an understanding of how you learn as well as what you learn.
A big part of that is because we believe that it’s a very complex, divergent, quick-paced and challenging design climate that our graduates are moving into. So it’s very much about constantly examining how and why in parallel, rather than in sequence.
What do applicants need to know about the content and structure of the new course?
A major change is that it will be a longer study period with the move from a one-year to a four-term model. We’re very pleased about that because it will open up more opportunity for our students to engage in the community that is established within the course and also within the Graduate School.
It will give students more time to operate within that, but also within the community of London, with it being one of the most active design centres in the world.
The first phase of the course, which is called ‘Critical Perspectives and Methodologies’, is where we will work with the students to understand what is critical, and if we’re critical, critical of what? And what does that mean within design practice, and outside of design practice?
We’ll be introducing the students to perspectives that may be a little bit fresh, a little bit challenging, a little bit disrupting to their current perspectives on what graphic design is and what it eventually could be.
We will also introduce and unpick design methodologies associated with the practice of graphic design, offering an important opportunity to the participants to review their established assumptions of the design process itself.
In the second phase there is a collaborative unit, which we are interpreting at the moment as an opportunity for the students to socialise the research they’ve begun to establish.
We imagine the collaborative unit could be developing symposiums, it could be establishing work-in-progress shows, it could be identifying experts that could be relevant to the priorities of the students’ research.
Students also have the opportunity to work across courses in projects that the UAL Chairs establish. Last year there was a project called Module with Fred Deakin; this year there’s a one-year NHS project with Nick Bell looking at what happens when a designer gets involved at the beginning of a project.
All the while in this second phase, the participants will be developing and testing their own design propositions as they craft a self-authored Major Project proposal.
Another key thing to talk about is that the course has done a lot of research into the role of writing at postgraduate level in design.
We’re wondering what happens when a graphic designer writes, and why do we write, and how could we use the MA Graphic and Media Design course to really refocus the idea of writing as a critical visual research tool.
We’re hoping that will then produce a shift in the mindset of the participant. That they would look at writing as an exploratory tool as much as a vehicle to demonstrate or qualify the knowledge they’ve acquired.
An interesting point on the research is that sometimes there’s a perception that it’s quite a passive action, whereas we look at research as a very active, engaged act.
Is that where the term “participant” comes from? We see it used a lot in your course materials…
Yes certainly, I think we want to work with characters who are interested in looking at the blind spots of the subject and moving towards the forefront of the discussion.
As a teaching team, we don’t really perceive that being possible by the traditional perception of the graphic design tutor as the master of knowledge and the student as the empty pool that’s going to be poured into. So we were looking more at the idea of working alongside the students rather than in front of or before.
That’s representative of practice also – graphic design is implicitly a collaborative practice. And I think it’s very important to have that dialogue.
All members of the teaching team are also engaged in practice and research, and I think that provokes this idea of the participant. I never work in isolation, and I think it would be very strange for the students to come along and hear us say, “Work collaboratively but not with us”.
How would you describe the shift from undergraduate to postgraduate study in graphic and media design?
I think what postgraduate study can offer is an open forum for debate and discourse. Not just to talk about what’s existed but maybe look at the production of it.
It’s an open arena where the participant establishes or constructs the parameters of their own research agendas. There is an inherent complexity involved in the pursuit of an MA that will push the participant towards a more sensitive, informed and in-depth understanding of their approach as they move forward with their practice.
We’re thinking about postgraduate study as a site of production, as much as reflection. Students can sharpen their critical framework, and work alongside leading and highly engaged participants from all over the world.
These are things that you will maybe experience in some places at undergraduate level but in a more pressured, contained and challenging scenario on the MA.
What the postgraduate community also offers in MA Graphic and Media Design are two modes of study: full-time and part-time.
We really acknowledge contemporary practices and contemporary approaches to lifelong learning and we’ve a great history in working with people from a range of fields and levels of experience.
It’s crucially important for applicants to understand that the MA shouldn’t be seen as a finishing school for their technical or formal failings. There will be opportunities to refine and broaden your skill-set – we believe the crafting and making is crucial – but this is managed independently by the participant themselves.
Tell us a bit more about the kinds of students you have on this course.
There is quite a fascinating range. We’ve worked with many tutors from other institutions that come and study for two years, taking back to their student bodies the fruits of their research and their outcomes, but also their methodologies and these critical, sharpened, attuned perspectives.
We’re very proud of the fact that we can see what happens in the studio here at LCC go out and influence a lot of what happens with undergraduates throughout the country.
We have people coming from other fields; at the minute we’ve got a participant who is appointed as a civil servant in the Policy Lab in government, and she’s looking at how she could use design to benefit and enable the ethics of data, amongst a range of other things. We’ve been able to introduce her to ideas of critical design that she’s now taking forward into strategies within government.
We’ve had people who are essentially already embedded within London, and to have those people within your student body is of great benefit for everyone.
It can open opportunities, they can share practices, they can identify the blind spots it might take people a while to identify otherwise. We have people from all over Europe, people of different ages and expectations. So I think coming to the postgraduate arena, that’s quite an amazing opportunity.
It’s simple. LCC is the home of graphic design and what LCC can offer, which is very unusual, is a trajectory right up to PhD level. It has the staff, the students and the expertise across all of those areas.
There are amazing technicians to facilitate new advances, and very high quality practice-based practitioners. The College is very good at resourcing innovation.
LCC has also undergone a lot of change in the last few years and has developed a formal research community.
One of the MA Graphic Design full-time tutors is also a PhD supervisor, so there’s a very clear opportunity to discuss moving forward with those ideas. There’s a range of research hubs developing and that’s very symptomatic of what’s emerging in the field.
It’s not just graphic design that LCC has got a great history in, we’ve got great neighbours in illustration, service design, interaction design, branding, photography, journalism – all of these people will be operating within the LCC Graduate School which runs events to mentor, socialise and educate our students.
So whilst you might arrive here as a postgraduate student, you’re actually becoming a student within the School of Design, which is a very powerful force within the practice of design.
What can students expect after graduating from this course?
Our strategy in teaching the course is moving towards negotiation and participation. We talk a lot about learning how you do it as well as what you do, and that’s really to prepare our students for a very challenging design field.
We’ve seen our students go on to many great things, working in publishing houses, smaller specialised studios, institutions nationally and internationally in places like India, Lebanon, America, Ireland – all over.
We’ve seen a growing interest in graduates establishing their own studios – rather than depending on existing opportunities, actually cultivating their own.
It’s something that we’re very interested in supporting more – and actually through opportunities like SEE, we’re building more of those entrepreneurial skills into the graduating students.
Quite often our graduates go on to engage with design education as Associate Lecturers, Lead Tutors and Course Directors. We also have a healthy history of graduates moving forward with PhD study, which is an exciting contribution to the fields of design research and practice.
We see students also challenge the idea of what a graphic designer is and what it could do, so some students move into fields of performance, installation, self-publishing or authoring.
We acknowledge the student’s character, and look at where their practice could go. Like a review and a preview, if you like: Where have you been before you got here, and where would you like to go?