The Democratic Lecture: Craig Oldham

Today we were treated to a guest lecture from Music’s Craig Oldham. This was from his Democratic Lecture series, where students at the university are able to vote on what they would like to hear Craig speak about. I thought this was a great idea, and was impressed by the choice we were given.

Anyway, today was the day, and based on the votes cast, Craig spoke about what Graphic Design actually is, Music (the agency he comes from), portfolios, the importance of placements, and the debate surrounding the assumption that Graphic Design is dead. All of which were very interesting topics indeed, and I will go into more detail on that shortly.

Craig Oldham Lecture Poster

If there was a type of medication created to prevent people from swearing, then Craig would be the first in line to have to sample it. Or trial it. He just doesn’t stop. In fairness, he did warn us about his language at the very start, and I remember him being quite swear-happy in his lecture 18 months ago. But even so, pretty much every sentence features one. So if ever you’re going to one of his lectures, be prepared.

He began by talking about what graphic design is, and the two types of graphic designer. He suggested two types – A and B, with A being the logical, rational designer who loves modern, Swiss, functional design and gets obsessive about kerning. B, on the other hand, is the emotional designer, who uses every form of communication and aims for human emotions by being witty, or nostalgic, or funny. He said that we, as designers, need to decide which camp we fall into, but he did acknowledge that some designers do fall into both camps from time to time – me being one of them, I think. I’m really into the emotional side, but I also enjoy the technical side of things too, and getting the details right. Craig made the valid point that we therefore shouldn’t work for a design agency who’s work we dislike, or doesn’t fit with our values and design habits – because it won’t work.

He then went on to talk a bit about Music, the Manchester-based agency he works at. He believes them to be a more emotional agency (so, camp B then!), which comes across in their work. Recently they have completed work for Chester Zoo and the BRIT Awards, both of which have seen fairly high-profile rebrands in the last two years or so. Music still work with both clients on these projects. Whilst we were on the topic of the Zoo, Craig digressed slightly onto the topic of dating and zoos, claiming that there has recently been a craze where people go to Chester Zoo on a date. He was clearly taken aback at this fact, but I personally know people who would happily admit to doing this! Our lecturer Alan Summers then surprised everyone by saying he’d been to the zoo as part of someone’s wedding! Fantastic. We were then treated to something a bit Christmassy, and were shown Music’s very own Christmas film, a cheeky parody of Feed the World – you can watch it here.

Music’s take on ‘Feed the World’ by Band Aid.

He then moved onto the important topic of portfolios. I think this was something I voted for myself, as it is essential that you get your portfolio right – a point Craig reiterated. It is such a key piece of work in its own right, which is bound to chop and change over time as you grow as a designer. Whilst he was on this topic, he pointed out some things to avoid, largely revolving around passing fashions that have recently been doing the rounds on Pinterest and people’s portfolio sites. One of these is the ‘Let’s hold the poster up to the camera to show everyone how big it is‘ trend. Craig noted that the same could be done simply by stating the poster’s size in the description. The addition of the person (including their hands, legs and often oversized t-shirt) and a background can distract from the work – something which should ideally be avoided. Luckily I haven’t been guilty of copying this particular trend, and I’ll make a point of avoiding it in the future. Let the work speak for itself.

The importance of placement was something that Craig felt passionately about. He asked us all whether we’d done placements – most of us said that we had, much to his relief. I was reminded of my time at AKQA in the Summer of this year, and the valuable skills and knowledge I gained from that experience. The shocking statistics that there are 15,500 design graduates each year really made me realise how competitive this sector is, and the importance of securing a job after graduation. He noted that having a placement (or a few) on your CV puts you a few steps ahead of the crowd, but also reminded us not to be taken advantage of, which was useful to hear. Making tea is a valuable skill, he said – I was instantly reminded of the cups of tea I went through on placement. And the subsequent trips to the bathroom, of course. Anyway. The importance of enthusiasm, punctuality and personality were all highlighted and it really encouraged me to get out and get something else sorted for this year – which I am intending to do very soon.

Craig talking about Music’s Christmas video.

Finally, Craig finished with the statement, ‘Graphic Design is dead’. In many ways, the term is. Graphic Design is no longer just about coming up with attractive, pretty visuals to communicate something, but it is also the ideas – events, a play, a song, an initiative to do the same thing. In this constantly changing world where people become immune/oblivious to certain things, it is important to innovate.

Overall it was a very useful and helpful lecture. Craig’s enthusiasm and humour never gets boring, and I’ve taken a lot away that I will look to apply to my design practice in the coming weeks and months.