Graphic Design in a Box

graphic-design-working-with-pupils-image-jpgcropIt all started with me wondering where all the Middlesborough boys had gone. Over the last 20 years as the Programme Director of Graphic Design within Edinburgh College of Art’s (ECA) Design School I have been accustomed to teaching a wide range of students with diverse backgrounds from across the UK. Keen to find out more about why this demographic had seemingly narrowed I began a secondment in January 2016 with the Institute of Academic Development in order to research further. With many innovative widening participation initiatives taking place within the University my approach was to challenge my own final year undergraduate students to create a design solution to this problem.

Poor, white boys are the least likely group to enter HE, and the gap is getting bigger (UCAS 2016)

My own initial investigations had led me to the conclusion that careers guidance staff and subject teachers at secondary school needed support. Twenty-eight BA (Hons) students were tasked with creating practical trustworthy tools for teachers to use when speaking to their pupils about career options.


If pupils don’t know what Graphic Design is, if there is a disconnect between what they are taught at secondary school and what we expect of them at University, then applicants’ portfolios (which are requested as part of the Design School’s admissions process) are on the back foot. November 2016’s project ‘Graphic Design in a Box’ brought final year Graphic Design students together with university careers advisers, experts in widening participation, and recent graduates, for an intensive, three-week sprint taking ECA out of the College and into the classroom to introduce high school learners to creative careers pathways.

The project has seen six university student teams help 14 to 16 year olds to think about their skill sets and where these might take them. At workshops in Forrester High School, talks and games were interspersed with demonstrations of prototype tools and concepts designed by the students, enabling the young learners to provide constructive feedback on ideas during development.

The final exhibition of the six completed tools and concepts at ECA was open to learners, teachers and parents from a range of local high schools. The tools devised included a light-up installation, Making up your Mind, which enables young people to build personalised brain maps to be discussed at careers events, and IDK (I Don’t Know), a mid-term creative festival of talks and workshops supported by a website, information pack and Snapchat filter.


Forresters pupil Amy Fletcher reveals:

“I really enjoyed this (experience) and have more of an insight into graphic design. Learning more has made me interested in going to ECA.”

The unexpected outcome was the reflection of the University students themselves and their re-imagining of their own career paths.

“Do something that excites you first and then make sure you are good at it afterwards” Hannah Hawkesley

This project started with a focus on supporting secondary school pupils with creative career choices specifically within graphic design but with a period of development it’s expected other interested disciplines within the wider University might want to utilise this framework.

Zoe Patterson

In 1998 after ten years working in the design industry both in Britain and the United States Zoe Patterson entered Edinburgh College of Art as Graphic Design Programme Director. Since that time she has maintained her professional practice and developed her research in the field of education. This has manifest itself in a number of design and teaching projects, the most significant of which won The Guardian University Award for Employability in 2013.

Next steps:

Find out more about ‘Graphic Design in a Box’ including a video featuring student Hannah Hawkesley talking about the project on the ECA website.

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