Nearly a year ago to the day, I had just finished my A Level in product design [the final qualifications English students get at school (aged 18), similar to high school diploma in America.]; these twelve months later, I am able to reflect on my first year of design school with satisfaction and pride.
Throughout A Levels I knew that a degree in design was what I wanted to pursue, but no one actually told me how different it would be. The contrast in the standard of work expected is astounding – the level of thought, attention, that you are expected to put in to each and every detail of a design and the quality of the students by whom I found myself surrounded were equally so.
From the moment I started my degree, it was evident that the quality of work that I was expected to produce had increased exponentially from the kind of work I had been at A Level. In my first week, I was put into a group of first and second years to design ‘something to do with water’. Confounded by the vagueness of the brief, we eventually settled on a tap with the ability to signify to its users their own wastages of water.
Below, you can see the work we produced as a group, clearly demonstrating the substantial difference in quality of the final presentation board – even when really only a matter of weeks had passed – than one that might be required in school or college. Access to resources and materials, as well as other interested and interesting students and staff, means that while more is asked of you, you are also provided with the framework (and hopefully have the wherewithal) to rise to, thrive under, this demanding increase in expectation.
Another part of degree level product design of which I had not been aware was the freedom allowed to the students during the design process. Rather than (as you are at A Level) being presented with a checklist at the start of a project, detailing specific points and targets to meet for concept sketching, manufacturing and eventually evaluating, I am now given the freedom to know what I, as a designer, do best, and make sure that I use that to show off my final product in the way I want it to be seen.
This is possibly my favorite change between secondary and degree level study. While an important part of the discipline and the skills being acquired is tailoring products to a specific and existing need, function, or problem, as an undergraduate you are given the space and trust not to work “backwards” towards fulfilling assessment criteria in the same, limiting way.
My first year of studying design in a university department has taught me a great deal. Some of this is very measurable: the use of Solid Works, for instance, which has transformed the quality of my 3D CAD work, or Photoshop, which has allowed me to put my products in life situations and market my products. Below is my first individual piece of design which was also my first attempt at Photoshop.
The ‘university is the best time of your life’ promise has so far not disappointed. I have had the opportunity to continue with my passion for design, being challenged to become the best I can be on a daily basis while surrounding myself with other designers who feel exactly the same way: who are as thoughtful, have the same level of interest.
I would encourage those with an interest in design at the time of UCAS applications to look seriously into undergraduate programs, because if you are sincere and earnest about design and ready to embrace the stimulating step-up in all of its manifestations, I believe this already suggests the potential to enjoy (at the very least) a successful first year at design school.
For more information, visit issyjohnston.wix.com/johnstondesign.
Filed Under: Rapid prototyping