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Why we’re educating a new generation of digital service designers
Yesterday was the first day of teaching in a new Digital Service Design Masters course that we’ve co-authored with Brunel University. As an…
Yesterday was the first day of teaching in a new Digital Service Design Masters course that we’ve co-authored with Brunel University. As an industry, we need to start properly investing in nurturing the next generation of brilliant digital practitioners.
By Sorcha Daly, Associate, Wilson Fletcher
Given the ongoing explosion in digital services and the simple truth that every aspect of daily life will inevitably be powered by them, you would think that people would be queuing up to work in this industry — and they are. So why do we still find it so hard to recruit, especially graduates? In the last 12 years, we’ve hired a handful of people direct from education. And by a handful, I mean five. That’s less than one person every two years. The problem is, if you’re a young person with ambitions to be a digital service designer, the education options available are far from ideal.
It’s hardly surprising: our sector moves so fast, in so many directions, that it’s difficult for educational programmes to keep pace. General Assembly, Hyper Island and others have stepped up to provide short courses that help people develop some skills in digital service design, serving the crossover crowd well. What they don’t do is help graduates bridge the gap between the skills they learned at degree level and the standards required for professional practice.
Our experience to date has been that it usually takes about a year to fill the gap between graduate skills and junior level design skills. Much of that is centred around professional experience, working in multi-disciplinary teams and accruing knowledge of current, real-world practices.
I’ve been asked regularly over the years how to get into digital service design and my typical response is ‘get a role and learn on the job’. Internships and junior roles should be the perfect way to develop the real-world skills needed, but in reality they’re often not. Interns and juniors are all too often used for low-cost production, adding nicely to the bottom line of the agencies using them in that way but without being given the time or education to develop real skills.
The good agencies (and in-house teams) out there do the opposite, helping interns and juniors build their skills by exposing them to as much as possible as quickly as they can cope with it. That takes time and effort, but the investment is well worthwhile, because we desperately need an influx of talented young people coming in to our industry.
Last year, I was moaning about this situation to a course leader from Brunel who told me that the University was looking to develop new, innovative courses and he thought this might be something they’d find interesting. So, we set out to create a Masters programme that would fix the problem.
Working with the great team at Brunel, we designed a new Digital Service Design Masters that is aimed at giving its students a different option to the ‘straight to work and hope for the best’ approach. The aim of the course is to provide a broad, intensive exposure to the practice of digital service design, based on real briefs and techniques that we, and a group of our peers, will provide. It’s more akin to an academic apprenticeship than a traditional theoretical course, and we hope it will create a group of graduates each year that we’re all fighting to hire.
Students will work in teams much more than on their own. They will have real-world briefs to work on, that we issue as close to the time they’re needed as possible to ensure students are always working on current challenges that require current practices to solve them. Each student will undertake three internships in the year and will be mentored 1:1 by an experienced practitioner — including me. Speakers will be from industry, topics focused on currency and professional value over abstract theory. Plus, there will be enough ‘academic’ content to ensure that the Masters moniker is meaningful — this is no lightweight option.
The course started yesterday. Come June, I’ll be looking to hire someone(s) who I can put straight onto a project team to work alongside experienced practitioners without them feeling overwhelmed or being unable to contribute substantially. From day one, they will be part of the team and will need to be able to function that way. I’m confident they will.
If we’re to build a new generation of digital design talent here in the UK, we need to invest time and effort in building the skills of the young designers that we want to join us. This is our investment in that agenda. With the help of the many generous industry partners who have agreed to play a part and the team at Brunel who are making it happen, we hope it will play a big part in helping to fuel our industry with qualified, talented young designers for years to come.
You can find out more about the course at: http://www.brunel.ac.uk/courses/postgraduate/digital-service-design-msc