Welcome to the Werkhouse

Posted by Lynne Elvins on 04.04.17

Like many other professions, the design industry is changing rapidly and is highly competitive. Portfolios of work have to be exceptional and stand out above others, but there are other sides to studio life that are just as important for winning work. Gaining experience of dealing with short deadlines, unclear expectations and the fast pace of team working (not just with other designers, but with client teams and account managers) can be difficult to achieve in a university environment. But without this, the consequences are that many young designers face quite a shock when they try to enter the industry.

At the same time, the changing landscape for universities has made them more financially driven. This can reduce the all-important access to open studio spaces that are the backbone of the creative agency, and puts restrictions on budgets for visiting professionals and tutors. Whilst the design industry is embracing new technologies and more collaborative ways of working, universities can still need years to validate new courses. It’s a challenging back-drop to creating graduates that are fully prepared. And as a result, discussions about the current state of design education are on the increase.

It is in this context that a small group of design professionals from Bristol and Bath got together to deliberate the issues, with a view to doing something about it for the local industry. And so the Werkhouse project was born. It was based on their own experiences of too many graduates not meeting expectations in terms of having a grasp of what it’s like to work in studio – the pace, the way real projects get managed and the need for negotiation with clients.

In recent years I have seen an increasing numbers of graduates without a good understanding of design in the real world,” says Bob Mytton, Creative Director at Mytton Williams and a founder member of the Werkhouse team.

Jamie Gallagher, Creative Director at Hello, is another who was at that first discussion. He says, There is an assumption that the design industry will fill the blanks in student gaps. It’s time the design industry stepped in earlier to achieve a higher quality of graduates.”

Together with Jamie and Bob, the six founder members of the Werkhouse team (including Mark Dearman, Design Director at TrueDigital; Kate Lenton, Managing Director at Taxi; Emma Blackburn, independent Creative Producer; and Lynne Elvins, Design Strategist at Design Rally) created an offer to test their theory. The aim is not to criticise the universities in the region (everyone appreciates that design staff in the universities also see the same challenges for design education), but to see in the first instance whether the appetite is out there among students and young designers for a different dose of studio reality. The result is a weekend workshop to experience the pace and culture of design agency life.

The weekend begins with the scenario of a client call asking for a meeting about how you can help them with a new product launch. Participants will have two days to prepare a response that will catch their attention, make business sense and win the relationship. With support and guidance from the design industry mentors, the teams will experience what it is really like when working under the pressures of commercial realities. Can they think creatively, filter strategically and articulate a proposal in just 48 hours? The professionals will lead the teams through the approaches they use to rapidly develop concepts for clients, and then help the participants to sell their ideas.

This weekend workshop is a pilot project. Everyone involved has given their time for free and Taxi Studio in Bristol will open its doors so that the whole experience takes place inside a successful commercial studio. And during the two days the professionals involved will be telling their stories and inviting the teams to share their perspective on design education and how the design industry is changing.

It’s vital that we start trying to bridge the gap between what design students expect and what design businesses need – working on a brief in a studio to explore the topic from both sides seems like a great place to start!” adds Kate Lenton from Taxi.

The Werkhouse team believe this weekend experience will give the participants an advantage in their careers. And when it’s complete, they will be looking to see where this leads next in helping design education to adapt in the ways that so many in the industry are now discussing.

Werkhouse takes place 10th-11th June at Taxi Studio.

Apply for a space at www​.werk​house​.co​.uk.

Image credit: Mark Dearman.