Design agencies within university and designers in residence within school

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract / Description of output

Design Agency is the flagship means by which students on the Graphic Design programme at Edinburgh College of Art, The University of Edinburgh graduate from four years of full-time education with an honours degree and, simultaneously, four years of work experience. Winner of the Guardian University Awards 2013 prize for Employability Initiative, it was the first project of its kind in the UK.

Annually, the final year undergraduate students on the Graphic Design programme form design agencies which operate as profit-generating companies. They brand and advertise vacancies at all levels, from interns to senior designers, for which students in junior years are interviewed and appointed. Established design professionals provide voluntary dedicated mentorship, with further guidance given by The University of Edinburgh's Careers Service and Enterprise departments.

It is rare in academia that students work across the year groups of a programme, even though the potency of peer feedback is undoubted. Within Design Agency, regardless of age or experience, but based on ability, students work collectively towards a common objective. Responding to self-initiated and commercial projects, they experience work-like scenarios within the safety of the academic environment, developing rounded, 'real world' skill sets. This approach embodies Kinchelo and Steinberg's (2002) 'students as researchers', the goal being to generate: "student production of alternate bodies of knowledge" (Kinchelo and Steinberg, 2002 p.4).

"The [design agency] element changed the course for me, as it allowed me to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them in a safe space. Practicing leadership, communication and organisation, equally important skills to accompany design thinking has been vital to giving me the confidence to set up my own practice."
2016 Graduate Natasha Goldstein, winner of the David Pearl Prize at The New Entrepreneurs Foundation.

Mentors have commented on how Design Agency redresses growing industry concern over graduate readiness for work and on how it has helped convey, to students, what a design consultancy is looking for in a graduate and their portfolio. In parallel but at an earlier stage of the learning journey Designer in Residence (or Des Res) was created whereby a Creative Director from each student Design Agency has been challenged, on a weekly basis, to embed themselves within a local primary or secondary school as resident designer. This scheme responds to Scotland's Youth Employment Strategy to improve young people's ability to make informed decisions about future pathways. Work undertaken aims to bridge the gap between Schools and University, specifically helping young people understand the wealth of study and career opportunities within the (graphic) design sector. Logan describes graphic design knowledge as being "in circulation in the learning environment, [students] seeing themselves as one of the entities it flow[s] through." (Logan, C D, 2006 pp.331-343)

The project makes explicit to the school pupil what is being sought in graphic design, so widening access and realising Paulo Freire's "the fundamental effort of education is to help with the liberation of people." (Shor, 1993 p.24). The unexpected outcome thus far is the reflection of the University students themselves and their re-imagining of their own career paths.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationINTED 2018 Proceedings
Subtitle of host publication12th International Technology, Education and Development Conference, 5-7 March, 2018 Valencia (Spain)
Place of PublicationValencia
PublisherIATED Academy
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)9788469794807
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2018

Publication series

ISSN (Print)2340-1079

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • employability
  • graphic design
  • professional
  • collaboration
  • skill set
  • risk
  • career Journey
  • mentorship


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