3 June 2011

reflection on three years of study

It all began on a glorious September's afternoon with our intrepid hero entering Plas Gwyn university halls for the first time. It was a time of anxiousness, fear and excitement. For our hero had not been thrust into this curious new world before. Many new faces came and went, some smiling and laughing; others more sullen and tearful. It was the latter that our hero new his parents would be. A brave goodbye and firm wave; with bottom lip held from trembling, the protagonist of this tale said farewell to the bringers and guardians of his life. He was now alone. On a three year quest that would bring anger, happiness, utter joy and crushing disappointment. And so begins the story...

The first year contained within it a very steep learning curve, having come straight from college (without the aid of a foundation course), I was not entirely aware of the differences between university life and that of a humble college goer. These differences, however, I would learn very quickly.

I am young for my age, in the sense that I was born later in the year (obviously nothing to do with the maturity that was well beyond my years), so I had never really fended for myself. The times I had been alone I had been equipped with beer and a take away menu, meaning that everything had been catered for. Living away from my parents was, and still is, a god send; no offence intended. Living in halls especially drives you to meet new people, possibly people you wouldn't usually talk to as well as those you would. It is an extreme transition whereby you meet seven new people within the space of fifteen minutes. It is hectic, chaotic and one of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever had.

Let us skip to the first day of university. As with many first days there are 'team building' exercises, I am pretty positive that most people's reactions to this were the same as mine, “really? Can't we just talk to each other? Instead of having to tell the person to my left my favourite flavour of fruit pastille?” Again, I can't really complain as it allowed a brief if not obscure way of introducing me to my peers and friends that I would spend the next three years of my life with. Moving forward and onto the first full project I undertook on the course. Typography! As cheesy and nerdy as it sounds there are few better words to me. The skill, precision and imagination it takes to creative a beautiful typographic piece still bewilders and entrances me. Who better than to teach you a subject based on style and clarity than the person who exudes it the most, Ruth Dineen. Whilst being truly insane, in the nicest possible way (she tap danced on the open day, need I say more?); she was able to make a complex subject, which is based on the most minute details and make it easy to understand and most of all exciting and enjoyable. Talk about learning curves! From thinking I was the dog's because I could combine letters in illustrator, to being rendered an absolute novice and then properly brought up through the ranks. By no means do I consider myself an expert in typography but, honestly, I know a hell of a lot more now than I did back then. This was a particular stepping stone for me as it helped introduce me to a topic that I had previously liked but never really understood. From here on in, I was in the game.

After this project a variety of different briefs ensued. From one where I convinced my flat mate to wear a roller skate as a hat to another where I and my fellow group members, Jon and James, designed a six foot tall mad scientist. However seemingly bizarre, each brief was there to teach us something, and get taught we did. A personal favourite of mine was the branding project we were set. We were given an occupation (bike couriers, engineers etc.) and from that had to generate a business, unique selling point and an identity to match. I was given tree surgery as a career (my own fault for suggesting it as one of the options, as a joke). Regardless of my twisted fortune I began the task and ended up thoroughly enjoying it. Branding, again, was an area that I held with high esteem and considered thoughtful, well executed identities to be one of the greatest commodities a designer could provide. In total the first year was a whirlwind; of emotion, of work, of hangovers. But the new life I had embarked on; design, university and living alone, combined to present me the best year I've ever had.
And so began the summer. Conflicting with the relative chaos of the year this period seemed subdued, I could not wait to get back. The nerves were settled and anxiousness was reigned in, in comparison to the previous September at least, I wanted to be back in the swing of things again. This year brought with it a new house and new housemates (both stayed the same through to the third year). Little did I realise how much of a big step I would be taking even by walking in to uni on the first day of term. The second year started and it did not stop, not even to take a little breath. The work load increased, briefs became tougher and things got serious! Sustainability was what awaited us in the first term, a topic that I had heard about but had given no significant thought. This was a long brief comprising of three separate parts, two group outcomes and an individual piece. I learnt a lot about sustainability in those weeks. Its importance and necessity shone through amongst the need for designers, possibly more than others, to take the buck and be a leader within the field.

I felt, at points, that I struggled with the second year. For some reason, unlike the first year, I found it difficult to connect with briefs. This happened predominantly with the portrait brief, which I felt I could have done better at if I had made different choices. Another first for this year was the introduction of the competition module. My favourites of these briefs were the Penguin and Puffin book cover designs. It was good to attempt a live brief, knowing there were other students and designers all around the country doing the same thing. I feel this is why I strived to create something different and original, I wanted to win (as did most others I would have thought). Even so, the thought of entering was exciting enough; especially after Ray suggested that I enter them into the draw (I didn't win, but it's the taking part that counts. Right?).

The second year ended with my first ever exhibition. One word I would use to describe it? Tense! Choosing work to show, modifying that work; and it was just for our own gratification, there were prizes at stake. Three people would be selected at the end of the exhibition to win a bursary work placement at Brand Union in London. Waiting for a call for an interview was nerve-racking, waiting to see whether you had won was nerve-destroying! Nevertheless, I spent two weeks in July in London. What an experience, seeing how a large company worked first hand was invaluable. However, this provided and interesting new insight, I don't want to work for a large design agency. Through no fault of the Brand Union I came to this conclusion, not a criticism more a newly developed understanding of how I want to work. Like I said, invaluable.

Again, summer was a tame and slightly boring affair. By early August my longing for student life was clawing at my insides. So I asked and so I received. September rolled around and so did the new academic year, excellent! However, as I had been astounded by the shift in gear in the second year, the third year blew me away. Continuing from the second year we had increased professional practice lectures, the ever looming dissertation and a work load that would have definitely broken the camels back. In spite of all this I was glad, glad to be there, glad to have made it there. Just another step closer to that piece of paper and wearing a gown. What am I saying? I was horrified! This was it, it is nearly over. The time had come to savour every moment and do as best as I could.

Sheer dread out of the way, well kind of, I'm glad I'm here now; even more glad that I came to CSAD to do a BA in Graphic communications. The lecturers have been fantastic, the people superb, the work...well that was there as well. I'm proud to have got where I am now from the lowly college boy that arrived in 2008. From that, believe it or not, relatively shy and nervous kid I have become more confident (some would merely say loud) and have developed a skill set that I am proud of and look forward to utilising in the future.

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