Back to the Atrium. For a day.

By Toward,

October 2012


Whilst a student at the Atrium, in Cardiff, I always had great relationships with my lecturers. They were the people who pushed me to become a better designer, the people who got me ready for the "real world" and people who I generally got on great with. Therefore, it’s nice to pop back from time to time.

Three weeks ago, I did just that. I had a coffee and a Welsh cake with my former lecturer, Mr Ryan Preece. It’s been a while, so we had a lot to catch up on. We chatted about many things. To list a few, we covered his sleepless nights thanks to his little ones (not the students), what I’ve been up to since graduating in 2009 and his brand spanking new second year students, who might just be in for the shock of their lives.

Ryan thought it would be good for me to share some my experiences of being a young(ish) designer, with his new second years. After all, I was in their shoes just four years ago, even if it does only seem five minutes ago. And here’s the proof:

gareth-graphic.jpg Atrium exhibition 2009 posters, designed by Gavin Johnson

A couple of days later, I was invited into the Atrium for a day to co-lecture with Ryan. When asked, I bit their hands off. Not literally, but I was extremely excited about it. I would be sitting down with students one to one, and feeding back on their current project.

Their brief included two challenges.

Firstly, they had to design a typeface, inspired by one of several crazy instances, such as Toy Tech Tokyo, Lost in Lunar, and Neptune’s Garden. There were way too many to list! Then, because creating a typeface wasn’t tough enough, they had to promote their new font, through a visual style. This part was extremely open ended – as the brief states ‘You’re in the director's chair, and the sky's the limit’, so a real chance to get creative, and show off their talent.

I came in at a very interesting stage of the process. The students were almost four weeks into their projects – the research and concepts were done (in most cases), so the development of the strongest ideas were just kicking off. Watching students flick through their folders, I couldn’t help feeling nostalgic and wanting to have a crack at the brief myself, but I reframed and focused on the work in front of me.

There were some very talented students, with lovely ideas. Each of them developing their own style, and some showing real potential. I was particularly impressed by one student, who sat quietly hand drawing beautiful display lettering, using only a few photographs as inspiration. Another guy, was really pushing the boundaries, in terms experimentation and creativity – and for me that’s exactly what he should be doing. In your university days, you can literally spend several weeks on a project, where the only clients are fellow creatives and yourself. If you can’t try new things here, when can you?

I asked questions of each student's software skills. When asked “What are you like with Illustrator?” most replied along the lines of “I’m okay, I’m getting better”. Which is why I take my hat off to Ryan for putting together this brief. It’s perfect for students to increase their knowledge of typography and get creative, whilst learning the fundamentals of working with vectors.

The day absolutely flew by, and by the end I felt exhausted, excited and inspired. Exhausted from talking all day, something I’m not used to – my jaw was actually aching. Excited to see what designers will be joining us in the “real world” in less than two years. Inspired to continue to look at the things with fresh eyes, always try to learn more and never stop experimenting with design.

To all the students I spoke to, and the ones I didn’t. I look forward to viewing your final projects on the Design@Atrium website, so make sure you get them on there! Also, if you ever think I could help you out with something, feel free to drop me a tweet (@garethstrange).