With the class of 2009 facing an economy in which jobs are thin on the ground, graduates are lining up internships and forming collectives to forge ahead with their chosen career
The picture on the graduate job market front is not rosy; this year’s figures from the Association of Graduate Recruiters show one in four graduate vacancies disappearing and competition intensifying with around 48 applications per vacancy.These figures are taken from graduate recruiters across 15 sectors, but the design industry has its own story to tell.As always, amongst the crowd there will be a few rising stars who do not go unnoticed.
Robin Grasby from Northumbria University 3D Design course, picked up both the Habitat Award and the 100% Design Award at New Designers for his sofa and multi-material desk that locks together. Grasby showed an undeniable talent for commercial contemporary furniture design, an asset that transcends any economic climate.Then there are the go-getter graduates, who have no intention of mailing out CVs with the rest of the crowd, and are intent on making some noise of their own.
Timothy Rumney and Aimee Pegram, graduates from Bucks New University are already seeking advice from Designersblock’s Rory Dodd on holding exhibitions in disused spaces around London.
“Doing my dissertation on the struggles of the industry was the best thing I ever did,” Pegram explains.
Her part-time internship with Matt Roberts Arts, helping to design furniture and installations will, she hopes, put her in a better position to get her and her colleagues’ work under the right noses.
Rumney will be joining her, having moved to London to follow his ambition to work with designers such as Ryan Frank and Tomoko Azumi. His fold down desk allows you to fold away your laptop with your paperwork. Exhibited at New Designers, it capitalises on wireless technology and is designed with the increasing number of people working from home in mind.
Northumbria Design for Industry graduate, Tom Oliver, is another who has thought laterally to get ahead of the crowd. His redesign of the office water dispenser caught our attention with its light design (to avoid dangerous lifting) and cool graphics. “My brother’s a brand manager, that’s given me the foot in the door I’ve needed to secure a lot of my placements. In fact I owe him big time.” His savvy ways got him a summer placement with the Manchester branch of the international advertising agency TBWA, which he hopes will launch a career in advertising.
Patrick Hannay, programme director and interior architecture tutor at Cardiff School of Art and Design, says the current climate has bought on a more politically acute approach in his 2009 graduates. This year his students have focussed on public projects and on revamping disused listed buildings, rather than on the commercial projects and shiny new-builds of previous years. There has been a greater emphasis on hospitals, prisons, schools and other recession proof institutions, he explains. One graduate, Sarah Bryan, designed a new English parliamentary assembly in Birmingham’s old central library while another, Rebecca Pitt, modelled a British postal museum and archive in a former chain-testing house in Swindon.
Not all office problems are tangible or visible. Jeremy Jewkes, of Northumbria’s Design for Industry course, identified stress and communication as the biggest challenges facing the office worker, designing a mouse that detects your heart rate and feeds it into a tailored intranet site that informs you if your stress levels are up. The same intranet site can also be used to encourage users to communicate with colleagues in bespoke forum spaces.
Samuel Wilson, who studied contemporary furniture design at Bucks New University, created his playful range of pet Office Buddies to liven up USB plugs and sockets in response to a brief set by producer/ distributor Thorsten Van Elton to create products to make the office a more interesting, companionable space. Chantelle Osborne, also at Bucks, responded with a range of desk tools, which faciliate precision and order to “aid the pursuit of perfection.”
The RCA show saw a range of post-grad designers honing their skills under the likes of Sam Hecht and Jurgen Bey. Matthew Plummer Fernandez, who studied engineering at Kings College – and who has exhibited in Milan and London with Designersblock – as well as having two large Selfridges window displays under his belt – created a mesmerising installation for his final show and will continue to work on commissions, including one from the Hayward, from his Manor House studio.
Maciej Wojcicki, who first studied design in Gdansk, Poland, and whose blog we followed in the lead up to his final L.O.F.T home workstation project at the RCA, presented an impressive final prototype that has reached the finals of the Helen Hamlyn Design Award 2009.
Chi Yu Chen presented a solution for the capital’s transport problems, with a public bike hire scheme that allows you to earn public transport credit by cycling to convenient points around the city, attaching the bike to stands with RFID readers and feeding energy back into a network of hybrid buses. Architecture student Siobhan Kelly presented an example of user driven architecture, examining sociological aspects of Hackney and providing architecture to benefit the borough that draws on biomimicry to create eco efficient buildings. Although the outside economy may tell a depressing story, these final year projects, tackling social design flaws, certainly didn’t.
As part of the Inside Edge debates at Free Range, the graduate show at Truman Brewery, John Tollis of Gensler told graduates that thinking and imagination are recession proof, and now is not the time to stop innovating. “Transition times are often the best times for designers to get new ideas out there. Life in the fit out world won’t be the same; clients won’t be calling in, paying fees, as per usual. There’s a big sea change, it’s a good time to do something with it.”
Trends that were always on the horizon are often polarised by a recession, so the greater interest in ecology, the family and virtual vs. real shopping are suddenly very much at the front of people’s minds. Graduates who grasp the mindshift will be in the best position to reap the rewards, he claims.
With redundancies on the rise, room for interns will grow: internships are the next course of action for most new graduates. According to James Soane, architect and director of Project Orange, the key to standing out lies in bringing new perspectives and challenging the status quo but in a tactical manner: “Interns are a radar for the future, but they must be able to intelligently gauge a situation.” As a graduate designer in this climate, it’s striking the right balance between being grounded and being an agent provocateur that counts.
Tent this year will see the launch of at least one new graduate company. Hundreds Tens Units was formed by Matt Bassett, David Horan and Tom Nelson, who graduated from Coventry University last year. “We were faced with the prospect of stiff competition for employment working on somebody else’s designs, and decided that this was a point in our lives at which to take a risk, to go it alone,” Bassett explains.
Their actions follow the orders given out by Hanna to the 2009 wave: “Interrogate the current situation, look at the clients who need to be supported by design and actively propose to them. If CVs don’t get you anywhere, you’re design graduates, create a new system for getting noticed.”