Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Quest University, Canada – An Approach to Interdisciplinary Education

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Dr. David J. Helfand, President, Quest University Canada:

Labor market analysts predict that university graduates today will have at least three careers—not three different jobs, but three quite distinct careers—in their working lifetimes. Why, then, should a university “education” take place in “programs” with a specific focus and culminate in a “major” defined by a departmental silo holding the prescribed knowledge of a single discipline? It is, no doubt, of some value to study a subject deeply, but should this be the approach to an undergraduate education—those precious four years when, for once in a lifetime, one is free to do nothing but learn?

We too often confuse education with training. The Latin, educare —to rear —stems from educere—to lead forth. To stride out into the world and to grow. Not to jump over hurdles, carefully spaced at equal intervals on a circumscribed track.

Now, I am all in favor of training. When I pick a surgeon, I want one who has done the operation I require a thousand times. The same with a car mechanic. And, yes, when I am looking at applications to my PhD program in astrophysics, I want potential students to have some training in the techniques of physics, computer programming, and mathematics. But most of all, I want students who are curious, who can make unexpected connections, who are passionate about learning more — who are educated, preferably in an interdisciplinary way.

Why don’t most universities work this way? Because it is hard and discomforting and time-consuming and disruptive. Most university faculty are the ultimate in specialization; they have spent ten or more years to earn a PhD, progressing along a path which inevitably leads them to learn more and more about less and less (with the obvious accompanying danger that they might end up knowing everything about nothing). Universities are structured in a manner that reinforces the worst aspects of this training, setting up narrowly focused departments to compete against each other for resources and prestige. The unsurprising result is that efforts to reach across disciplinary boundaries —to mount joint courses, start trans-disciplinary programs, foster inter-departmental research projects — are often discouraged or even punished.

At Quest University Canada, the country’s newest university, we have made a conscious effort to remove these barriers to interdisciplinary education. We have no departments, just a faculty devoted to educating (rather than training) curious and passionate undergraduates. We also have no majors.

More at What are the benefits of interdisciplinary education? | Erudito.

Interns – something needs to be done

Friday, August 14th, 2009

I’m getting more and more angry about the subject of design internships and the bizarre excuses that many in industry and, let’s be honest, education, use to excuse the practice.

Internships, also known as placements, are “opportunities” for graduates to get experience of “real world work” which apparently makes CVs look better and increases your chance of getting a job.

The trouble is, the likelihood of getting a job is much reduced as a fair proportion of work is being done by interns working for free!
Or as Tory MP Philip Hammond recently told a constituent after being asked why he doesn’t pay his own interns: “I would regard it as an abuse of taxpayer funding to pay for something that is available for nothing”1. This, unfortunately is the endless loop we find ourselves in: many people agree that internships are bad, however there are many people wanting to do them, therefore you either stick to your principles and miss out on all that lovely “experience”, or you give in.

Internships strike me as evidence firstly that the design industry doesn’t rate qualifications much, and secondly that it certainly doesn’t think “outsiders” (i.e. design educators) should be the ones to judge who’s good enough to work among its number2. To support the first argument we can point out that the majority of designers don’t have degrees – it’s not a “degree-level position” and many degree-holding designers work at the same level, for the same “salary”, as non-degree holders. In that sense, design is meritocratic – you’re valued on how good you are, not on how qualified you are.
I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is undervaluing graduates. Other sectors don’t do it – law, retail, medicine, architecture, teaching. What sets these apart is that either they recruit graduates in to well-paid jobs with responsibility and then train them, or they require a period of high-level apprenticeship which is highly structured and leads to a well-paid career at the end of it.

The argument that graduates shouldn’t be paid because they are not experienced enough is, quite frankly, one of the most stupid fucking arguments I’ve ever heard a supposedly intelligent person make.
(And yes, I said fucking. It’s unacademic, it’s unprofessional, but it’s how I feel, okay?)
Seriously, think about it for a moment. Try this scenario:

You go to visit your daughter’s school to find out how she’s doing. You chat to the young teacher who’s in charge of her class, and who your daughter absolutely adores. She’s young and you realise you’re getting old for noticing. She talks expertly about your daughter’s progress and clearly takes a lot of interest in her, and you’re grateful. You later go to the head teacher and compliment her on the quality of her staff, making particular mention of your daughter’s class teacher.
“Oh her,” she says. “Yes, if she keeps this up we might start paying her and take her on full time. But only during term. We can’t afford to keep her on during the school holidays”.

This is plainly nonsense. It doesn’t happen. New entrants to teaching are paid a decent salary (it could/should be higher, but let’s not get in to that – the point is, they’re paid a graduate-level salary and given responsibilities. They are also mentored and given time to continue with their development. Indeed, all teachers are. It’s how people stay on top of their game.
But can you imagine if you discovered that schools were employing unpaid interns to do the teaching?

Compare that to design. New entrants are not given responsibilities, they are often not paid (and if they are, it’s often peanuts) and, ultimately, they’re not trusted. Internships or placements are trials. A company that uses them as a way of recruiting new staff is acting in a bizarre manner. It makes little sense.

When I left college at 19 I got a job as a designer/marketing assistant. I hadn’t really wanted to be a designer but this was all I could get. So I effectively taught myself on the job, having gained a bit of experience with Pagemaker at college. Three days after joining the company, because of the oddities of their pay cycle, I received a payslip for three weeks’ salary. I’d only just started, and I wasn’t even up to speed. I didn’t even know how to use the phone system, or have my own desk. Yet there I was with more money than I’d ever had before. Because I was – get this – working for them. Giving them my time in return for money. They didn’t say “hey, you’re new. We’re effectively giving you our time so really, you owe us money. So how about we just don’t pay you and call it quits?”

Which is interesting because that’s exactly how internships work.

And you know how the company knew they wanted me to work for them and not someone else? They interviewed me. Twice. They looked at my work, they asked me questions about myself. They decided I was worth a chance and knew, as I did, that if it didn’t work out, either of us could say “thanks but no thanks” and I’d be on my way.
Yes, employing someone is risky, yes it requires time and effort on the part of the employer but you know what? That’s part of running a business. Building a team, nurturing it, valuing it.

I’m going to come back to this issue as there’s much more to say but let me end this first instalment with a pointer to Seth Godin’s blog where he talks about free work versus internships.
Like me he doesn’t like internships for some of the same reasons. “Most of the time, the employer thinks he’s doing the intern a favor, but he doesn’t trust the interns to do any actual thoughtful, intelligent work worth talking about.”

He loses me with the next bit: “And to be fair, most of the time the interns are busy hiding, not grabbing responsibility but instead acting like they’re in school, avoiding hard work and trying to get an A.”

I disagree with this assessment because an internship generally is not carried out as part of a course, it’s a prelude to employment. I think he’s mixing things up a bit here. Genuine work placements, part of a course, are rare. They shouldn’t be, but it’s not for want of trying. Many of the ones I know of are just a couple of weeks’ “work experience” but a truly educational placement should be well-structured, include shadowing, not working, and be assessed. Which means the host has to be heavily involved in planning, implementing and evaluating it. And if that were the case, then anyone “trying to get an A” wouldn’t do it by “avoiding hard work”. For one thing, they shouldn’t be working. That, after all, would be a case of the taxpayer subsidising free labour for the design industry, and in England and Wales, and other countries where students pay fees, it would be a case of the poor bastard literally paying to be “employed”. But really, if Seth’s first point is correct, that many employers don’t trust people on placements, then I really couldn’t blame anyone for not giving 100% in return. You get what you pay for, after all.

But Seth goes on to talk about the concept of “free work” like it’s something else entirely. Now I have long advocated “free work” to my own students but I mean working for non-profits – local groups, charities, schools etc – as a way to give something back to the community and to get something in your portfolio. I would never advocate working for nothing for a company that can not only pay you, but is getting paid themselves. Seth seems to excuse it by its networking potential or karmic value – but you can network without selling your soul. It’s this passage that really caused me to spit out my dummy:

“But you’d be amazed at how many fast-moving companies or influential individuals are all too happy to share credit if it helps the work get done.”

As I twittered to Fergus Bisset, ‘he says companies will “share credit”. Wow! Thanks! Er, why not the money then?”‘
If the argument is that a start-up needs help, and that if they’re successful you will be too fails on a simple logic test: if that start-up is going to be successful you can bet your life they don’t do it by doing free work for people. So why should you?3

And this ultimately boils down to the best argument against internships. I’ll discuss the social impact of internships and the legal implications another time, but let me leave you with this: if the company you are working for is making money from the stuff you produce, they should be paying you. There is, as far as I can see, no reasonable argument against this. To do otherwise is theft, plain and simple. And something needs to be done.

[end of part 1. Coming soon: why internships are unfair and why they are illegal]

Update: as you may see from the comments, as well as Interns Anonymous, you can also discuss internships at The Water Cooler

1For what it’s worth, I made a complaint about Mr Hammond to the Low Pay Commission. Phil Willis MP is, quite rightly, raising the issue on his site and via a press release.

2Easy answer: stop recruiting graduates and start recruting school leavers and run proper apprenticeships! Oh you used to do that. What happened? Oh yes, you “subcontracted” the role to colleges, funded by taxpayers, and saved the money didn’t you? Trebles all round, as Private Eye would say.

Critical Response to Art Projects

Monday, July 27th, 2009

It’s a dirty little secret in art and design education that the beloved routine of the “critique” or “crit” doesn’t work. Although many tutors cling to it as an essential way of providing guidance and feedback, plenty of research has shown that it leaves the vast majority of students confused and, in some cases, distressed (trust me, I’ve seen the tears – and from normally “tough” students).
The only purpose the crit appears to serve is to emphasise the tutor’s status as alpha male (or female, but it’s usually male).

The crit was wonderfully lampooned in “Art School Confidential” by Daniel Clowes (transferred moderately well from comic book to big screen in 2005).

The big problem with crits is coming up with things to say. From my observations they have to sound profound, critical and completely vague and meaningless so that what a student thinks is “encouraging” can later be claimed to have been a warning of dire consequences. And with so many students these days, it’s becoming much more difficult to come up with something new.

What we need is a tool to create endless amounts of critical responses to art projects (CRAP) from a few random seeds. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the CRAP generator!

Click the green button to start!

Disclaimer: the words come from a document circulating among staff at the university I worked at, and I don’t know who wrote them (I added some of my own).

Incidentally, if you’re interested in the research I mentioned, drop me a line and I’ll send you a list. It’s interesting that I’ve never found one bit of research that suggests the crit is a positive experience for anyone other than the person doing it.

A logical response to the "too many design students" argument

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

One of the common complaints that crops up every now and then from “industry” is that there are too many design students. In fact I had a go at Ken Garland about 18 months ago after he got up at a panel I was on and said exactly that – basically his argument was that design was a “special” craft that only an elite few should be allowed to pursue which, as I told him then, is a bloody stupid thing to say. I’m not one for hero worship, me.

But the usual motivation for complaining about the number of design students is either that it must in some way mean the overall quality is rubbish (oh really? Funny how that argument never gets trotted out when we call for more doctors, or teachers, or policemen. Or, indeed, plumbers), or that it’s unfair on students and/or employers because we’re training people the industry just can’t absorb. (In fact, the complainers are almost always employers* who, let’s face it, couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about students or graduates because if they did, they’d pay them decent salaries and give them decent jobs instead of expecting them to work for nothing until a “vacancy” arises).

Now of course the correct response to this argument is that education isn’t about training – that a good undergraduate education in design produces… graduates, not designers. Same as a degree in history produces graduates, not historians. And so on.

But for some reason that argument just butters no parsnips with some people so here’s a better argument. It’s perfect because it’s beautifully logical.

If you have a vacancy in your company, what would you rather have? A choice of one candidate, or the pick of ten?

Well there you go, then.

*What’s worse is when students say there should be a limit on the number of students. Nothing gets my wick up more than that. Well, almost nothing.

The Studio Unbound: Social Networking in Design Education

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

The Studio Unbound: Social Networking and Design Education from Jonathan Baldwin on Vimeo.

University of Dundee Master of Design student Lauren Currie, and design writer Kate Andrews explore the power of online social networking, and demonstrate the tools students they use to move ideas forward, form networks with practitioners around the world, and build a reputation before and after graduation.

“For the designer to become a producer, she must have the skills to begin directing content, by critically navigating the social, aesthetic, and technological systems across which communications flow.” (Ellen Lupton, 1998).

In highlighting the creative people all over the world using social networking to their advantage, Lauren discusses the dynamic, conversational value of online networking and shows how ideas of teaching and learning need to move away from the confines of the studio towards other, often ad-hoc and virtual, venues.

Joining from London via video conferencing, Kate Andrews, design writer and networker extraordinaire, shares her own insights into the potential offered by new technology.

Focusing on the new possibilities and opportunities the digital world presents, this talk will demonstrate that the world has changed and is changing, and that design courses must change with it if they are to stay relevant.

How do you define an under-utilised graduate?

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

My current research is looking at the way in which the design industry uses graduates of any subject in design and non-design roles (according to the Design Council only 15% of the UK design consultancy sector is made up of designers, and only 40% of those are graduates).

One of the central theses is that the design industry is not very good at utilising graduates, especially in design-related roles, compared with other industries. (This varies – I suspect that the service design sector does better here than the fashion sector but that some areas of fashion are better than others. The term “the design industry” is problematic).

An early issue in the research has been “how do you define a graduate position”? Mason (1999) studied the chemistry, steel and financial sectors and found that when the supply of graduates started to increase in the early 1990s different sectors took different routes. The steel industry started upgrading a lot of previously “non-graduate” roles so that they took advantage of graduate skills and knowledge, or began creating new roles to attract talent and benefit from what was available. In particular, they began to expand their employment of graduates in roles related to design of products and systems*.
The finance industry, on the other hand, simply replaced non-graduates with graduates often without changing the roles they were expected to do. This he views (rightly) as under-utliisation of graduates.

I suspect the UK design industry is more like the finance sector than manufacturing in this regard. The campaign by representatives of the fashion and textiles industries, Skillfast-UK, to get universities and colleges to ensure graduates are skilled to be pattern cutters is an obvious example of under-utilisation of graduates. But I’m also interested in how graduates from non-design disciplines are used, for example those from English, accounting, law and business. I have a suspicion that there may be a significant difference which points to a failure to acknowledge the potential degree-level design qualifications offer. However it will be interesting if there is widespread under-utlilisation of graduates in all areas of the design business. This would certainly change the current emphasis on blaming educators for the perceived malaise in the design sector and instead focus on how the industry recruits and uses graduate talent.

A common definition of “graduate level” employment is simply one of responsibility. Is a graduate employed in a role with some strategic responsibility, with a degree of autonomy? It’s not a satisfactory definition because you could categorise a lot of jobs in this way: someone working behind a perfume counter could be argued to be autonomous and to have responsibility to meet sales targets using their initiative. But basically working in a shop like that is not viewed as a graduate-level job while managing a branch of a large retail chain is. To many, including me, the reasons are obvious but the problem is explaining why. And linked to this is another issue, which is a value judgement. To many, managing a branch of a major retailer is not seen as “worthwhile” – I can imagine several former colleagues of mine thinking a graduate of theirs were a failure if this is what happened to them. And it leads to contradictions: a jewellery graduate working in a jewellers is probably seen by some to be working in a related field to their degree** while another who is training to be a police officer with fast track promotion is not. The former is in a non-graduate design-related post while the latter is in a graduate but non-design related post.
So who is better utilised? And of whom should we be prouder?

Something I found useful in Mason’s paper is a set of three simple criteria for judging whether a graduate is being utilised properly or not, and which removes the value judgement. I mapped these as a flow-chart for ease of reference:

utilisation of graduates flowchart.jpg

(The third criterion may be problematic for some but Mason explains it: “The latter condition is one way of testing for the possibility that graduate performance in unchanged jobs is significantly better than that of non- graduates and is recognised as such in higher salaries” – in other words, is the graduate performing better and being recognised as such even though the role does not meet the first two criteria).

This of course strips out questions of whether the job is a good one, if the graduate is enjoying it and so on, but I suspect it is value judgements like those that need to be removed from the equation, at least at the initial stage because it points to company policy towards graduates. Questions of whether the jobs are challenging, enjoyable, offer paths to promotion etc are important but can be tackled later. What the flowchart offers is a quick and simple way of evaluating if a graduate is being utilised as a graduate and this will tell us about the company’s attitude to graduates – are they employed strategically or seen simply as people to fill vacancies? In Mason’s research, the steel industry was doing this very well, while the finance industry used the sudden growth in graduate numbers to place graduates in to jobs traditionally taken on by school leavers.***

With some adaptation I think this flowchart could be a useful tool for very quickly judging if a design company is utilising its graduate workforce. If the artworkers are a mix of graduates and non-graduates, all on similar salaries, then the answer is no. If the pattern cutters are all graduates, the answer is no.
And if it turns out that agency X is utilising its non-design graduates well, according to the tool above, but under-utilising its design graduates, it points to a further issue which I’ll let you ponder.

My suspicion is that “the industry” is a mixed picture. That there are some companies that make good use of graduates from all disciplines, there are some that do not, and there are some that value graduates in some areas of its business more than others (e.g. a graduate in a business management role compared with a graduate artworker or pattern cutter).
What’s important is that the tool be used not to condemn those that don’t do it, but to educate them. It’s far better to change expectations and understanding of what a graduate offers a design company than to alter courses to meet incorrect beliefs. Instead of changing all fashion courses so that graduates are well-trained pattern cutters, we should change the fashion industry’s recruitment strategy so that it hires school leavers or manual workers from other sectors and trains them, and recruits graduates in to more strategic roles.

Mason. (1999) Graduate Utilisation and the Quality of Higher Education in the UK.

*It’s worth noting that despite what the design industry thinks, designers do not just work in design companies, but in-house. In this regard, its claims to be the “customers” of design courses are questionable. That would be like tabloid readers demanding that a newsagent stops selling broadsheets. Makes sense to the tabloid readers, but little sense to the shopkeeper.

**(And the former student will be seen by many in academia as “on their way” – it’s often claimed that design graduates take their time to make their mark which is an argument I get annoyed with. Barristers make their mark from day one. So do doctors, nurses, teachers. Why does the design industry think it’s okay that graduate talent languishes behind shop counters or in pattern cutting rooms? What if we changed that?)

***This, of course, inflates the number of graduates because if the only way to get an entry-level job is to get a degree, there’ll be a growth in demand for degrees. And if the only jobs on offer to graduates are entry-level, why bother putting in much effort? You can see where this argument leads: claims that the quality of graduates is dropping may be better explained either by the quality of the jobs on offer (advertising an entry-level job to graduates is not going to attract the best candidates) or by the minimum requirements (a degree). To further complicate things, expecting a graduate to have “school leaver” skills (a famous designer who shall remain nameless once complained he couldn’t find a design graduate who knew how to answer his phone properly) will only lead to a perceived lack of quality. If you hire a French speaker to deal with your Spanish customers, whose to blame when you find they’re not very good at it? Similarly, then, if you hire a design graduate to cut cloth, where should you look when it turns out they can’t do it?

Design versus innovation

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

I’ve posted a long (and typically, I hope, controversial) entry over at Design Cultures on the debate between design and innovation. I’m experimenting to see if a more provocative approach to that student-oriented blog will get them more involved rather than passive readers.

We’ll see…

Here’s a choice extract for you:

“Why do we still see the ability to draw a naked woman as the primary qualification to be a designer?”

Head over to see the rest and please add your comments!

Hooray another design manifesto!

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Bruce Nussbaum of Business Week (one of the few non-design publications to take design seriously, and arguably one of the few publications full stop to take it seriously) was at the World Economic Forum in Dubai, where design was discussed. The result? A new design manifesto:

Throughout history, design has been an agent of change. It helps us to understand the changes in the world around us, and to turn them to our advantage by translating them into things that can make our lives better. Now, at a time of crisis and unprecedented change in every area of our lives – economic, political, environmental, societal and in science and technology – design is more valuable than ever.

The crisis comes at a time when design has evolved. Once a tool of consumption chiefly involved in the production of objects and images, design is now also engaged with developing and building systems and
strategies, and in changing behaviour often in collaboration with different disciplines.

Design is being used to:

  • Gain insight about people’s needs and desires
  • Build strategic foresight to discover new opportunities
  • Generate creative possibilities
  • Invent, prototype and test novel solutions of value
  • Deliver solutions into the world as innovations adopted at scale

In the current climate, the biggest challenges for design and also its greatest opportunities are:

  • Well-being – Design can make an important contribution to the redefinition and delivery of social services by addressing acute problems such as ageing, youth crime, housing and health. Many designers are striving to enable people all over the world to lead their lives with dignity, especially the deprived majority of the global population – ‘the other 90%’ who have the greatest need of design innovation.
  • Sustainability – Designers can play a critical role in ensuring that products, systems and services are developed, produced, shipped, sold and will eventually be disposed of in an ethically and environmentally responsible manner. Thereby meeting – and surpassing – consumers’ expectations.
  • Learning – Design can help to rebuild the education system to ensure that it is fit for purpose in the 21st Century. Another challenge is to redefine or reorient the design education system at a time of unprecedented demand when thousands of new design schools are being built worldwide and design is increasingly being integrated into other curricula. Designers are also deploying their skill at communication and visualization to explain and interpret the overwhelming volume of extraordinary complex information.
  • Innovation – Designers are continuing to develop and deliver innovative new products at a turbulent time when consumer attitudes are changing dramatically thereby creating new and exciting entrepreneurial opportunities in the current crisis. They are increasingly using their expertise to innovate in new areas such as the creation of new business models and adoption of a strategic and systemic role in both the public and the private sector.

I don’t disagree with any of this but call me an old cynic… I’m fed up with manifestos. I want action!

(Imagine the scenes from Life of Brian where the supposed revolutionaries are sitting round arguing about the wording of their demands. Then wonder what would have happened if, say, Barack had sat with Michelle and never got further than writing down things they’d like to do. Or if John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had been happy just to write and not to act?)

In a discussion on sustainability in design education today I got quite frustrated with colleagues who kept saying that changes to the curriculum need to happen slowly, over time, to help people adapt.
No, I said, they need to happen now. I’ve been hearing that line about gradual change for ten years.

“People don’t like change. But make the change happen fast enough and you go from one type of normal to another.”
(Terry Pratchett, Making Money)

We have a choice: we try to be nice about it, persuade people, get them to come around to our way of thinking, and then in 20 years time we can look back and see how far we’ve come. Which, if we look back 20 years to 1988 and think how far we’ve come along, won’t be much.
Or we can say “look, we haven’t got time to piss about. This is serious. If you’re with us you’re welcome. If you’re not, then go off and tend your garden ‘cos we’ve got some windmills to chop down”. I appear to be mixing my literary allusions there but you get the point. Shirking the challenge isn’t an option. We claim to be creative, radical, free thinking, revolutionary. It’d be nice to show that were true. (I happen to think at Dundee we’re well placed to do that, and already are, with great results).

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one”
(Spock, The Wrath of Khan)

Manifestos don’t work if all that happens is students write essays on them and critics celebrate them years later for what they said rather than what they did. Forty years on from the First Things First manifesto, what’s happened? Oh we got an updated version in 2000 and that’s about it. Forty years on from Victor Papanek’s Design For The Real World, what’s happened? It got reprinted for the anniversary.

What we need are not more manifestos which, by the way, are all saying pretty much the same thing. What we need are courses, institutions, industries and governments who say: “stop talking, and just do it”.

As it happens, my colleagues and I are currently writing our own manifesto for our course but the key thing is it won’t say “we should”, or “we want”, or “we envision” or even “we hope”. It’ll say “we will”. And “we do”. And “we have done”. Essentially, the difference between a wish list and a real manifesto is the grammar.

Actions, not aspirations. That’s my manifesto.

Northumbria University Design School

Friday, October 31st, 2008

I was invited to go down to Newcastle on Wednesday to give a talk at the University of Northumbria’s School of Design, now situated in its rather spiffy new building (the one on the left in the second image below)


Northumbria is Jonathan Ive’s old stomping ground. Like me, he got his first break designing for the toilet industry so it’s almost like we’re twins. Er…

I was given an open brief which is always a bit tricky so I decided to do an amalgam of two talks, my annual “Good Design/Bad Design” lecture (where I challenge conventional wisdom on what ‘good design’ is) and the best bits of the keynote I gave in Texas in June (where I suggested university-based design education should be about making a difference in the world, not just churning out industry fodder).
When I arrived in Newcastle (I hadn’t been there for a while and had forgotten how cold it can be, despite it being a few hundred miles south of where I live now) I was pleasantly surprised to see this sign:


Resisting the urge to add the missing apostrophe and correct the spelling of my name (ahem) I quickly took a photo with my iPhone and emailed it to my boss. I’ve now decided to make similar notices and pin them up around my own uni to make me seem much more popular than I am.

The lecture theatre we were moved to unfortunately was a little lacking heat-wise which (and here’s my excuse) led to me forgetting quite a few of the points I wanted to make, as did the fact that the head of design for Philips was in the room and I had planned on making quite a few criticisms of some of their products, including an electric shaver I was asked to review for! (I must post that this weekend, in fact – suffice to say it doesn’t get very good marks from me, largely because of the excessive packaging and use of proprietary chemicals for cleaning). Needless to say I hastily skipped all the slides relating to that but because I couldn’t quite remember where they were I was keeping half an eye on my presenter display ready to click my remote furiously.
I was told later he’d have loved to have heard my take on things. Oh well.

It was, incidentally, a pleasant surprise to be greeted by a never-before seen sight: students voluntarily sitting on the front row:


Despite the cold (the hats and scarfs above were a necessity) and having to skip through the last bits due to time constraints (top tip: when combining two different talks, both an hour long, you might want to chop half of it out if you still want to stick to 60 minutes) I think it went okay. I’m always a bit nervous about these things – as an outsider I’m able to be a bit more controversial than I could be normally and drop a few metaphorical bombs before leaving them to carry on the discussion, and I had planned a few zingers but was in the end a bit more restrained than usual, even skipping my traditional (half joking) rant about typography. Oh well.

I was also a bit down what with it being my birthday – enough to depress anyone the wrong side of 35.

Excuses, excuses.

I was really pleased to be asked and appreciated the audience’s participation in some of the ‘magic’ tricks (one of which I tried on a colleague in the pub when I got back to Scotland that night and, much to my surprise, it worked). I won’t tell you any more about it – if you want to see it you’ll have to invite me to come and talk 😉

My thanks of course to the students who found their way to the new venue and suffered through the cold (and my talk), to Jamie Steane, Head of Visual Communication and Interactive Media Design, for inviting me, and to Dr Joyce Yee for taking me to lunch and giving me a tour round the new building. Design is clearly a feather in Northumbria’s cap and the university’s investment in the building sends a clear signal about that. One that, I noticed on my way home, lights up for all in Newcastle to see at night:


Speaking in Newcastle later this month

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

I’m giving a talk at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle on 29th October – my birthday, as it happens!