Communication design

Communication design – professional practice stream  – 3rd year

This stream emphasises communication and how it works in contemporary communication design. As a university degree it is essential that students engage with a level of complexity and thought around communication. The stream structure achieves this objective by cycling through a series of communication practices, outlined below.  As a WIL based course, we source the project briefs from realworld ‘clients’ and where possible the student work and present their ideas in the public. The stream also offers vertical integration with research projects in the School.

WIL briefs and studio structure

Students are given four project options to choose from. For example, previous projects have included a communication strategy for Villa Alba, Museum of Surface Finishes, in collaboration with RMIT Textile Design; an ‘About Pool’ video for ABC Pool; The Island Project – research into climate change in Tasmania; Italian Museum Carlton, branding and exhibition proposal, with Angelina Russo; Legible Cities, wayfinding at Docklands with Michel Verheem IDLab; ‘Spoke’ bike shop branding with Catalyst/Knog Design; Stop Traffick child sex slavery campaign and fairtrade enterprise Cambodia with RMIT Stop Traffick group; and RMIT SEEDS [Student social enterprise development].

Students form a ‘design studio’ in groups of four; each studio runs 2-3 different briefs. The variety of briefs allows each student to do an individual design response, but work collaboratively with others in his or her studio. It appears that the combination of individual work within a collaborative context allows organic sharing to develop. The studio performs well, evidenced by studio presentations of the collective studio outcomes, and rewarded by appropriate assessment of group work.

Communication Strategy Document [CSD]

Each project has a number of communication outcomes embedded in the brief. Students  develop a communication strategy for his or her client as the primary outcome, presented in a Communication Strategy Document [the key assessment task]. Students propose a comprehensive strategy, including:

  • Design medium or media selection, such as a print publication or social media, web or television campaign
  • Alternative communication ideas, such as word of mouth, events, viral campaigns and so on
  • A rationale for the strategy with reference to a set of audience personas created in the planning stage
  • Personal reflection on the project and own learning experience [including visual reflection in forms like diagrams, maps, collages etc]; and
  • Production and expenses appendices, including:
    • Return brief
    • Style sheet [2pp style guide with essential information]
    • Development and production material
    • Concept development [summary of key ideas and creative development, e.g. design roughs, sketches, brainstorming]
    • Competitor research
    •  Job costing/Invoice
    •  Timesheets
    •  Purchase Order

Site visits and client interaction

Where possible students make a site visit, such as a briefing by VicUrban for the Legible Cities project, or Villa Alba, Kew for the museum brief. Clients  commit to a number of interaction points—briefing, interim review, and final presentation—in return for the student input into their design commission. Students undertake the work as a learning experience, however if a client chooses a design outcome to produce we negotiate a recompense or added return for the student involved. All student intellectual property is protected by a formal agreement with the client and the program.

The next stage for this stream is to develop a new level of interaction with design practitioners. For example, the design responses for the Villa Alba project are ideal museum shop artefacts, based on the villa Alba house and its decoration: etched wine glasses, broaches, postcards, patterned textiles, assemblage doll’s house models of Villa Alba, and publications.

In 2010 I worked with the Social Entrepreneurship course co-ordinator in the Business School to develop a business case and sponsorship proposal. Four business students chose to conduct the investigation and produced a series of reports—research, value proposition, marketing and merchandising—to detail the idea. This provides material to use to seek sponsorship to produce the work. Once we secure sponsorship we will invite design practitioners to supervise students to take their design concepts into production. The museum will manage selling the merchandise onsite and at other locations. An agreement is made on the return to the client, student designers, practitioners and the program.

Studio presentations

Each student contributes to a studio presentation or ‘pitch’, which puts forward the combined outcomes of the studio. These are delivered to the clients and other stakeholders at the end of the semester. This allows students to practice presenting in a professional context. Students script their talk, develop screen media and construct a concise delivery, yet with a personal approach. The presentation is based on the written descriptions developed for the CSD. I have noticed that by cycling through the visual design articulation, the writing for the CSD and the verbal presentation students not only enhance their ability to articulate their ideas, but importantly the quality of their communication design response improves. In other words, this feeds back into how they think about the communicative agency of the visual design.

iPoster: designer interactions

As this is the graduating year it is useful to connect students and designers in an informal environment. The iPoster event is one way that this occurs. Students design a poster that represents how they see themselves as a designer – some opt for literal descriptions such as publication, packaging or illustration; others delve into concepts such as what it means to be an art director, design researcher and so on. The posters are designed specifically as conversation-starters, not stand alone design outcomes. Practicing designers are invited to an exhibition of the posters and encouraged to interact with the students— to talk about the concepts and visual representations in the posters, discuss the student’s perceptions of the industry, and share their own experiences.  The visitors are discouraged from simply delivering ‘wisdom’ or advice, in order to humanize the design community and its sociability.  Students are shown how to network, present themselves professionally in a social situation and to recognize that they are already a part of the design community. We discuss what it is to be an active community participant and how to give evidence of a vital engagement.

Engagement scorecard

Students produce an Engagement Scorecard to underpin the value of their experiences in design and elsewhere. The scorecard operates like a database for later use in writing a Resume. Students are shown how to validate life experiences in a professional context. That is, to make sense of job requirements like team work, leadership, reliability and so on and how common experience can be used to show these capabilities, such as captain of a sporting club, client liaison in a retail situation, initiatives such as putting on an exhibition, and so on.

The scorecard includes headings such as:

  • working as a designer [work experience, internships, freelance projects and studio visits]
  • other work experiences such as part time work management, or retail positions
  • creative and professional engagements, such as going to product launches, exhibitions, seminars, conferences, workshops, short courses
  • design community initiatives such managing an event, exhibition, competition
  • other activities such as sport, performance, art, business, community

In summary, the stream over two semesters puts students in a public environment, challenges them to perform as engaged members of a community, and gives them practice in communicating their ideas in numerous ways – written, verbal and visual. It asks them to consider the social responsibility of being a designer and extends their understanding of the industry they are a part of. 

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