Author: Katy Smith

Typography alumni talks: a look at our future

This week was a very special Baseline shift event. Alumni from the Typography department returned to give us an insight into how their careers have progressed since graduating. Graduates from the past 15 years shared their broad range of their different experiences in the design industry with a room full of Part 1 students. Some lucky Typography applicants even joined us for a portion of the talk before being swept away back to their portfolio day. For all of us, it was a look into our futures.

 

Sarah Newitt

Sarah Newitt graduated in 2003 and currently works as Design Director at Kiku Obata & Company. She works on brand identity, signage and editorial projects in the fields of art, culture, commerce and the public realm. Sarah was part of one of the last years to complete the four year BA degree course at Reading, and she completed her dissertation on wayfinding. This ultimately played a huge role in securing her first job, as she was approached by the  Design Research Unit after presenting it at her degree presentation. Her relationship with DRU led to her designing the wayfinding material for Clapham Junction station. Over time, her interests moved away from wayfinding, so when she was approached by fellow Reading grad Fraser Muggeridge (who also visited us very recently), she took a job working alongside him. Working at Fraser Muggeridge Studio, which is known for typography and book design, Sarah learnt a lot about refining the visual side of her craft in a 9-year stint. But she needed another move in order to expand her career in new direction. A decision to focus on branding took Sarah to another extreme – a job at Small Back Room, a leading branding agency. This was a stepping stone into a new area – and an insight into a more corporate, strategic world.

‘When I worked at a huge branding agency, it was more like two thirds thinking and one third graphics.’

In 2015, Sarah was approached by Kiku Obata & Company. She began working on a freelance project before being offered a permanent job with them. She now works there as Design Director, overseeing a range of complex projects for high end clients. Her roots in maps and signs still serve her well, but the creativity she is afforded at Kiku Obata lets her approach these disciplines from a fresh perspective.

‘I still work on signage and way finding, but in a much more exciting way than before.’

 

Liam Basford

Liam Basford is the most recent graduate among today’s speaker, having left in 2015. He currently works in Birmingham in the fields of branding and advertising. After graduation, he faced the problem of deciding whether to stay in his home town to work, or move to London, where there were many more design opportunities, but much more competition. He also faced the dilemma of which area within design he wished to work in, branding or advertising. During his studies, Liam completed two internships during second and third year. At the end of the course, he won a job at branding agency Fresh Britain where he learned about brand strategy and completed his biggest project, the rebranding of Bear Grylls. As of very recently, Liam works as an advertising creative at an agency called Chapter .

‘Advertising is trying to communicate what the brand stands for.’

Liam kindly shared some of his design top tips with us, emphasising the importance of sharing your ideas with others as design is a collaborative process

‘A great portfolio will get you an interview, a good attitude will get you a job.’

Within the term ‘graphic designer’ there are so many disciplines. It’s good to be a ‘jack of all trades’ as long as the quality of work is not sacrificed. Liam suggested that as designers, we identify our two strongest skills and use them. In his case, he combined his typography skills developed whilst studying at Reading and his love of illustration.

‘Enjoy what you do, don’t take what you do for granted. Design is one of the few jobs you can get where you can express yourself on a daily basis.’

Liam also emphasised the importance of always continuing to learn. He’s recently taught himself skills in film editing, for example. For him, the course at Reading provided a grounding in the theory of design, but kept his mind open to the need to keep embracing new technology and new ways to express ideas. A printed sheet of paper is not the only way (and, these days, seldom the best way) to convey a message!

 

Rachel Anderson

Rachel Anderson graduated in 2009, and then went on to do the MA in Information Design here at Typography. After graduating, Rachel worked as a visual designer at Nokia, designing many different types of apps including an app store. She moved on to join the design team at Microsoft as senior visual designer. She’s now a senior product designer and mentor at Firefly Learning where she works with UI, UX and product strategy.

She was asked for some tips about how she migrated from feeling like a ‘print’ designer at uni, to becoming so focussed on digital products:

‘A lot of the design principles translate across different types of design.’

In response to a query about how to present and sell work, she took a classic approach to getting clients to focus on objective criteria.

‘Don’t ask people if they like your design, ask if it solves the problem.’

 

James Hannaford

James Hannaford, a MDes graduate from 2008, is now Head of Creative at Jack Wills, working in packaging, branding, window design, social media, and digital design. He works on all design aspects within the company, leading a team of six people. Websites, shop windows, social media, branding material and brand identity are under his control, and he signs off everything creative before it is sent out, communicating with company members all over the world. Design is such a fast-moving industry, so the Jack Wills brand is constantly refreshing to ensure it stays relevant. It’s important for the branding to appear holistic, whether a customer opens an email or looks in a shop window the same key branding elements should be recognised.

Starting at Jack Wills as a junior artworker three months after graduating, James initially worked on catalogues.

Whilst at the University of Reading, he did some internships working on printing presses which really expanded his knowledge and understanding of the printing process and finishes that are available. But it’s connecting his diverse interests in design, print, advertising and fashion that provides James with his greatest satisfaction at work

‘The best part about working at Jack Wills is interacting with the team.’ – James Hannaford

As well as working full time at Jack Wills, James also does freelance work, mainly focusing on brand identity. When asked how he finds time to undertake so much work, he responded that he just really loved what he does and is very dedicated.

‘I find freelance really engaging, but you have to really want to do it.’ – James Hannahford

 

Q&A

The end of the talk played host to a short question and answer session with the alumni. When asked about how they felt the course at Reading fed into their everyday lives as designers, the prevalent response was that the strong emphasis placed on typography at Reading was a key underlying skill – and one not possessed by many graduates from other universities.

‘Typography is a differentiator. Not every course has that grounding in typography or the expertise that we’re exposed to.’ – Liam Basford

‘There’s a good grounding in theoretical, historical and practical approach. After you know the rules and have mastered what design is, you know when you can break them.’ – James Hannaford

‘I have friends who took courses at other universities and they sound a lot like fine art. It seems exciting when you’re at university, but it’s much more difficult to make the transition into the real world when you’re met with a brief.’ – Liam Basford

Another point brought up by a few of the graduates was the benefits of the Real Jobs scheme. Working to satisfy a client helps us to develop key skills, whereas BA courses at other institutions can be more conceptual. Real jobs give us stories to take to interviews, where you’ve had to overcome problems specific to you. They give you a much more unique experience in design.

The way the course at Reading is set up (receiving a brief and working on it with consideration to the client requirements), is much like the ‘real world’. The graduates all appeared to agree that the course at Reading really prepares graduates for going out into the world of design.

In concluding, Sarah made a point about understanding when to fight for your principles, and when to let things go. She suggested that a thorough understanding of design theory, copied with mature, help you know the limits of an argument

‘You need to know when to let things go and when to fight your battles.’ – Sarah Newitt

James’s final thoughts were focussed on making understanding the relationship between design print, and, contrary to what many people might expect, making the point that a digital-first approach without a full schooling on the many possibilities of print can lead to rather bland outcomes.

‘The grounding in design for print really helps when moving into digital design. With a purely digital background you’re very grounded in the use of grids, having a print background gives a much more fluid approach.’ – James Hannaford

We’re tremendously grateful to all our visitors for giving up their time to inspire and inform the next generation of Reading graduates. We’ll be keeping an eye on what they do next, and looking forward to another round of Alumni talks next term.

IBM iX: design thinking, processes and opportunities

Week eight of Baseline Shift’s Wednesday morning sessions marks a very exciting occasion. A visit from Milly Longbottom and Will Trickey, alumni of our department who graduated from Graphic Communication and Typography in 2016 and who now work at IBM.

Originally associated with being instrumental in inventing the computer, IBM is no longer focussed on physical product design. Instead, they take on service-based, user-friendly products for blue chip clients across the world. IBM designers like Milly and Will therefore produce and work on a lot of digital projects.

IBM iX is IBM’s client-facing design agency, working to produce products sold or used under the name of the client. Members work directly with their clients to follow a very user-centric design approach. Many of their clients are very large: well known companies including IKEA, Selfridges, Ford, the National Grid and Nationwide.

Milly and Will went straight into the company after graduating, starting off by undertaking a three week course in basic client-interaction skills. This was completed at an IBM office in Winchester and involved learning about business, design thinking and technology. They then worked together on a huge project conducted for BP, illustrating the true extent of the big-names they are involved with. It’s a sign of how big company’s, with the right recruitment and training in place, can let new starters loose on important projects at a surprisingly early stage in their careers.

In the loop

The design carried out by IBM iX is very people-centric. The client and the user’s needs are considered at every step of the creative journey to ensure that the end product result is suitable and usable. Milly and Will also explained the ‘design loop’ strategy that they use, based on the double diamond diagram common in many design thinking implementations. This involves an infinity loop with different points representing each stage in the continuous design process. These stages are exploring and observing users, reflecting in order to bring ideas together and finally making something that solves the problem in hand.

Connecting with Reading students

As well as informing students about their design process and life at IBM, Milly and Will also advertised the unique design opportunities available in the company. These include summer internships, year placements and graduate design consultant schemes (the path in which Will and Milly both entered the company on). Having placed a huge emphasis on the social aspect and the friendliness of everybody on the design team, these opportunities seem very attractive to students on the Typography and Graphic Communication course, which Milly and Will believe provides a brilliant foundation for a route into IBM.

‘The IBM session on Wednesday was a fantastic insight into the world of working in digital design, which drew on concepts of design approaches learnt in first year. It provided a detailed and exciting approach to what it would be like working in digital design, particularly at IBM’ – Aanand, Part 2

Workshopping: the design process

A project at IBM usually begins with a one to two day long workshop session with the client. Milly and Will took us through a condensed version of their journey, giving us an insight into how a highly successful agency functions, in the space of an hour.

 

This workshop emphasised the importance of what is known as ‘design thinking’ in producing a product which is functional and successful for the intended user. This involves ensuring that the user is at the heart of every product that is designed. Milly and Will emphasised the importance of this as being the designer, you are not the intended user of the product being designed. It is therefore essential to gain as much information as possible from the perspective of the user, who knows the problem and has specific needs which must be met.

Students were proposed the problem of trying to find accommodation to rent at university and used what is called an ‘Empathy Map’ to think the personality and situational traits of different types of people who could potentially be posed with this problem. This ‘user’ or ‘persona’ was placed in the middle of the empathy map and students were tasked with recording what the user might be thinking, saying, doing and feeling in relation to their situation or problem. These factors including actions, quotes, expectations, reactions and values of the user were presented on post it notes and placed in the correct section in order to create a massive ‘mind map’ of ideas and thoughts related to the problem and user. After this, post it notes were grouped together into themes and can be rearranged into a user journey. Stickers were used in a ‘dot voting’ process to arrive at a key user-centred plan for a problem solving strategy.

Portfolio review sessions

A few keen students were given the opportunity to show their portfolios to Will and Milly in order to receive feedback from a designer in the industry.

‘Both Milly and Will offered an exciting opportunity for us to take part in half hour workshops, where they critiqued and advised us on our portfolios and CVs. I found to it so useful. Overall, this session was of great value and has confirmed the fact I am on the right tracks in the design and content of my portfolio. It also inspired me into wanting to undertake a placement in digital design’ – Aanand, Part 2

‘I felt like the portfolio review gave me a general overview of what employers are expecting. Milly gave me a lot of constructive feedback and I now feel more confident about applying to summer internships’ – Sophia, Part 2

THANKS!

One of the strengths of the course at Reading is the quantity and quality of professional people we get exposed to, whether it’s printers, designers or creatives in other fields. For Milly and Will to give up their time to share their knowledge and time with us felt amazing. It’s also really positive to see how Reading graduates are valued by their employers, and can forge successful careers so soon after graduation.

Oxford University Press

Part 2 students who opted to design book covers for Oxford University Press in their design practice module this term were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to visit OUP headquarters in Jericho, Oxford last week.

The project involves the redesign of an existing set of AS and A Level psychology textbooks, which students have been working on since the start of term. Attending weekly feedback sessions, students’ work has developed week by week with focus on idea generation, exploration, illustration, hierarchy and typographic elements.

Having reached a stage in the project where concepts and ideas are beginning to form considered design pieces, students met with Fiona and Georgia from the design department at OUP for the first time since they gave the initial project briefing. They gave us a fresh outlook on the designs, offering valuable industry knowledge to help with developments and improvements we could all make. The designers were very helpful and enthusiastic about everyone’s work.

‘I thought that the feedback session with the designers was very insightful and I enjoyed hearing their different perspectives on our designs’ – Shiv, Part 2

As well as receiving this feedback from members of OUP’s design team, students were given a full tour of the OUP headquarters. This included an insight into the different design studios in the building such as children book design and educational book design (which our project falls under).

One of the OUP designers even talked us through her design process, including the style she uses when pitching concepts to clients. Students even got a sneak peak at some yet to be approved design concepts!

‘The best part for me personally was when they showed us their designs and what they are working on at the moment as it was useful to see how their design process works and the quality of their work’ – James, Part 2

‘I enjoyed the tour of the design studio, in particular, looking at the developmental work which the designers were currently working on. I also thought that the tour of the printers house and the history of the press was very interesting’ – Shiv, Part 2

Visiting the studio with tutors Jean-Louise Moys and Geoff Wyeth, they too had an insight into how the Oxford University Press is run, through a tour of the on-site museum and a thorough look through their library, home to thousands of OUP books.

‘From my perspective it was a very valuable day. To feel the history of OUP, that can trace itself back to the early days of printing in 15 century England, to see examples of Fell type matrices from the late 17 century in their own museum and then also benefit from the experience of a team of practicing professional designers made the visit such a unique experience’ – Geoff Wyeth

Overall, the trip gave Typography students at the University of Reading a unique insight into the world of publishing, an area many students wish to go into one day. Working on a brief set by a client so established in their field really gives Part 2 students a sense of what it is like working in the publishing industry, and a great opportunity to showcase their work.

The basics: a guide to good writing and referencing

In Typography at the University of Reading, a huge importance is placed on having a good academic writing ability. Week four and five of the Baseline Shift sessions therefore aimed to sharpen the writing skills of students, with talks on professional writing and referencing.

Week four kicked off with ‘Let’s eat Grandma!’, a talk from Kim Shahabudin from Study Advice. This session focussed on academic and professional writing, specifically the role and importance of clear communication.

Students were asked to choose one word to describe academic writing and a word cloud was produced. This incorporated the views of all students, with the bigger words representing a larger number of people who all responded with the same word.

From punctuation, spelling and grammar to writing styles and the impressions they give to others, the talk really covered a wide range of points. The importance of appropriate word choice and good paragraph structure was also emphasised.

‘I didn’t expect such basic things to be enforced so much’ – Joanne, Part 1

Typography student’s knowledge was put to the test with an interactive quiz to reinforce the information that had been given, with prizes on offer for the winners!


Following this, week five played host to a very important talk on referencing. The talk was led by Karen Drury, one of the Department of Typography’s two Liaison Librarians.

The talk included vital information for students of all years across the department, with as much as 20% of first year essay marks being dedicated to referencing. Even more so for Part 3 students, who are currently working hard on their dissertations.

The talk covered all bases of referencing including how, when and why referencing should be used as well as different styles of referencing, which involves guidelines as to how the information in the reference should be structured (the Harvard style being favoured within the department!)

As a little reminder, the Harvard referencing system is structured as follows:

Author (Last name followed by first initial), year published, title of work, place of publication, name of publisher, pages used

For sources such as journal articles, the publication information is replaced by the journal title, volume and issue numbers. Websites are also slightly different, the date the source was accessed must be included as well as the URL it can be found at.

Talking to some members of Part 1 after the talk, it became clear that, before university, referencing was not as strictly enforced as it is here.

‘I’ve done referencing in the past, but it was never this rigid and strict’ – Joanne, Part 1

Being from a department such as typography, the materials we are required to reference are often different to that in other fields. As well as the more common sources such as books, journal articles and websites, Karen really clarified how we should go about citing materials such as pictures and artworks. She emphasised the basic reference structure which involves four major pieces of information: author, date, title and publication details (such as the place of publication and the name of the publisher although this varies depending on the item being referenced).

Through interactive quizzes, handouts and a variety of examples, Karen really simplified the referencing process, giving students a greater understanding of what is involved in citing correctly.

‘Learning about the specific reference structure to use was really helpful, and the quiz really helped consolidate all of the information given in the talk’ – Ruth, Part 1

Karen also recommended some different tools which are available to assist in referencing such as reference managers (Endnote online, Mendeley and many others). There are also some library guides available as www.libguides.reading.ac.uk which can help in managing and citing referencing.

‘The different tools Karen spoke about will be really helpful, I didn’t know about all of the library resources which are available’ – Caitlin, Part 1


Overall the past two weeks have offered some very key information which is applicable in all areas of study. From Part 1 and 2 essays and reports all the way up to Part 3 dissertations, Typography students at the University of Reading now have a much more solid understanding of how best to structure and communicate written information.

DK at the University of Reading

Our first Baseline shift Wednesday morning session kicked off this week and Typography students were lucky enough to receive a visit from two members of the design department at Dorling Kindersley’s Knowledge team. Kit Lane, who is alumna of our department, and Karen Self, art director at DK, gave a very interesting talk covering many different aspects of the company, as well as promoting the varied internships they offer to students.

‘It was very useful to have industry professionals come and talk to us so early in the course. It was good to know about internships I could apply for sometime in the future’ – Ruth Bartley, Part 1

The DK difference

DK offered students an insight into the exciting world of publishing, from their own unique perspective as market leaders across a range of areas. They covered their practical design process as well as the design thinking that goes along with everything they do, emphasising the importance of considering the consumer (not just the reader) at every stage. The lasting impression was that DK operates very differently to many other competitor publishing companies. This was exemplified by the fact that the majority of design is done in-house, with comparatively huge amounts of time (often four or five months) are spent designing each book, spread by spread, as opposed to flowing text into a prebuilt specification.

Design challenge

Students were given the opportunity to take part in a workshop led by Kit and Karen in the afternoon. This involved generating ideas for a new book named ‘Urban Detective’. Students worked through a design process starting with some initial research into the theme before sketching out rough ideas for book covers and inside spread layouts.

    

These ideas were then refined through peer discussion and input from Kit, resulting in a handful of clear concepts. A group crit let everyone to receive feedback on their work. Throughout the process, students kept in mind the audience and aim of the book, in true DK style.

‘I enjoyed the workshop, as it made me consider more about book design, than I might have otherwise considered on my current project’ – Alex Ganczarski, Part 1

‘I really enjoyed the workshop and am taking away a greater understanding of how to plan my ideas and concepts, as well as how the 2nd and 3rd-year students plan and execute their work. It’ll help me a lot over the next 3 years of the course’ – Rory Tellam, Part 1

Portfolio reviews and interviews

Some students also took the opportunity of having a mock interview and portfolio review with Karen. This gave a feel of what an interview is like in a professional context, preparing them for heading out into the world of design beyond university.

‘Karen made the experience calm and professional, offering great feedback on how to improve my portfolio’ – Laura Marshall, Part 3

‘It helped me to understand the process and content of a professional interview in a relaxed and casual context’ – Fay Rayner, Part 3

‘I am so glad I took on this opportunity. It has made me feel much more confident and prepared for future interviews’ – Jacob Hawkins, Part 3

Overall, our visit from DK was a big success. Around 65 Typography students were offered an insight into what life is like in the graphic design and publishing industry, which will be very useful when considering career paths later on – and much sooner for our students in Part Three!